Brian Jenkins

A reflection on his service with Greater City

Brian Jenkins, co-founder of Greater City

Q: What’s the story of how you became interested in helping the Williamsburg homeless community?

One Saturday morning, two friends and I just drove around to local motels. We walked right in and asked the managers some questions about their residents and whether or not they had anybody staying at the motel who could benefit from food assistance. Out of the fourteen motels that we visited, all fourteen managers said yes, which was terrifying, just to realize the sheer scale of the issue. But, I think a big part of it was having friends who saw the same problems and together could give it a chance.

Q: How does Greater City work?

Every Saturday morning we get together, spend some time in prayer, and then we prepare the meals. After we prepare the meals, we get into cars, load everything up, and drive to the motels. Once we get to the motels, students are divided up into pairs and each pair has a route of rooms to go to that they go to every week. They see the same people every week. The timeslot after that is two hours so students can go to the rooms, see their friends, and spend two hours having whatever kinds of conversations and doing whatever they would like to do, whether it’s playing jump rope with the kids at the motel or having a long discussion with a friend at the motel about Polish food or scripture or whatever it may be. But, they spend two hours during that timeframe so they can spend a significant amount of time with every person who is on their route. We don’t really force anything. Then we come back together and drive back to school.

Q: How has your view of the homeless changed through Greater City?

Massively. Part of the premise of Greater City is that poor people aren’t just empty stomachs. But, in a way, it was also learned through Greater City that poverty is something that people experience in every aspect of their lives. They experience deficits in not just their bank accounts, but in their relationships and in their health. Not having a support network available to you, like so many of us do, makes you realize that poverty is not something that is caused by a single individual’s poor choices. It is a broader picture that, yes, involves poor choices, that involves mistakes, but it also involves circumstances that are outside of a person’s control in almost every example that I could think of. Even that makes you much more compassionate to other people. There’s this American idea of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. But if you’ve ever tried that, [you know] it’s not possible. It’s essential that we come alongside one another. 

So I guess this is a bigger thing: instead of seeing poverty rates, I see the names of some of my friends. They’re real people with real experiences that are valid and we should care about them.

Q: What fuels your compassion?

For me, the fuel of my compassion is the Gospel. By the Gospel I do mean the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the world. But I also mean the effects of it. The effects of that Gospel are the redemption of individuals, which is fantastic, but it does more than affect the individual. That individual then goes out and affects their friends and affects their family and their community. So, the Gospel is something that not only redeems individuals but is actually supposed to flip the entire social framework. It’s a social revolution. It’s something that’s supposed to make the least into the greatest and the greatest into the least. Suddenly the poor are the most important. The meek in spirit and the humble are those that are great. And that’s not what we experience every day.