This is a good post by Nathan Graves. And it’s a big issue I think everyone should know how they want to respond to these interactions with homeless people and why they’re doing it. Read Nathan’s post first, this is a response article.
[I started writing this as a comment on Nathan Graves blog, but realized that it was getting far too long, so it became my own blog post.]
I pass the same intersection (West Pennway & I-35) every morning and often see a guy, not always the same one, standing at the corner with a sign. Sometimes it’s as simple as “Homeless, please help.” Other times it has been a bit more verbose, “US Veteran. No job. No food. Anything Helps. God Bless.” I think there are few people in my circle of friends that do not have at least a degree of compassion for the homeless or otherwise less fortunate people around them. The question is ‘how do we respond in the best way?’
No more money
I have made a decision to no longer offer money – almost with no exceptions. This is due to several interactions over the last few years that have left me reconsidering what I give and probing the truths about street beggars. (“Street beggars” might sound like an offensive term, but I think it’s accurate.)
— More than once I’ve offered a part of my lunch (or the food I had with me) to a man at the I-35 / West Pennway off ramp intersection and been asked instead for cigarettes or cash. When I told him I didn’t have either of those but I had an apple and sandwich, he waved me off and rolled his eyes as if to say, “Why are you bothering me? Stop wasting my time.”
— I was once approached by a man while I was at the gas station on 37th and Broadway asking me for money to get him and “his girl” (who was no where in sight) something to eat from inside the convenience store… hard times, explanation explanation explanation. I gave him $5 and he never went inside.
— More than once, I’ve been asked for money to help someone out and when I offer to go inside some place and buy them a meal, they refuse, but usually ask for the money one more time.
— On cold nights I’ve offered to give guys a ride to City Union Mission where I know they could get a bed to sleep in and a warm place out of the elements. I’ve never had any takers. In fact, most have a down-right negative reaction to that.
These are how the majority of the interactions go. And this, to me, says that they don’t want to improve their situation. I don’t want to sound I’m cynical about it, although I probably am. I know that there are hurting people out there and they are struggling to get by and they are held down by addictions and brokenness. I want them to find healing and growth and purpose and the love of Jesus Christ. I just don’t want to perpetuate a cycle of no self-respect and no sense of accomplishment by giving them hand-outs. And I don’t want to reward people for lying.
I don’t want to contribute to a system that ends up keeping people down just because I don’t have the time to help in a more meaningful way. I’ve decided that if I don’t have time to help in a meaningful and engaging way, then I will just live with looking like a heartless jerk for that moment.
Why I haven’t given up
On the flip-side, I had a guy come up to me at a gas station in Mission, KS a few months ago. He was very sincere, had his family in his car, and asked for some help with gas just to help them get back home to Olathe. “Economic downturn… lost job…” etc etc. I went to the pump and swiped my card and said “go ahead and fill it up.” He declined and said, “No we’ll just take a little bit, thank you very much, we appreciate it a lot.” I went inside to grab some gum. Checked the pump when I came back out and he’d only pumped $7. Man of his word. Not taking advantage, just getting enough assistance to make it. I pray for all the people I get the opportunity to help, but for this man I may have prayed a little more.
There’s no conclusion to this post, it should be an on-going and open discussion. Most of us live in a city (or close enough to one) that has some sort of homeless population. If you’ve never been approached by or even seen someone begging on the street – you might want to leave your gated community a little more often. We can help. We should help. But we need to be educated and intentional about it. There are several beautiful outreaches in Kansas City that are worth partnering with or donating to.
Feeling guilty for not giving your change? Feel better by checking out these websites and giving to organizations that are making a concerted and organized effort to help the less fortunate.
|City Union Mission||Care of Poor People||Kansas City Rescue Mission|
|reStart Inc||Cherith Brook||Just One – Kansas City Hub|
Not in Kansas City? Search out “Homeless Outreach” in your city or get in touch with your local church.
6 responses to “Helping the Homeless”
I always have a tendency to contemplate a bit harder about everything soon after I read somebody new’s weblog and their particular posts. I am quite grateful for the invention of the blog along with how it has changed the net in to a enormous set of distributed thinkings. I actually wound up here by way of Google when I was first doing a bit of research for some course work which I’ve got. Totally enjoyed reading through your posts and I’ll be adding you to my Google Reader to keep track in the future. Enjoy the week.
It’s impressive how long this comment is and yet it doesn’t say anything. It has got to be the most carefully worded spam I’ve ever seen. I removed the URL, but approved the comment anyway just because it was kind of impressive like that.
This really resonated with me. I ran into a veteran outside the DMV in a wheelchair. He asked if I would go buy him some alcohol and bring it back – he was entering rehab the next day, supposedly. I said I wasn’t comfortable with doing that but asked if there was any other way I could help – he said, “no”. I still prayed for the man, but I also went on about my business in the DMV knowing that he didn’t really want to be “helped”, he just wanted a fix, and I can’t offer that.
Too true, Amy. It is interesting to think about… I hope that I can think about it enough to propel me into actually BEING in constant communion with the Spirit. The difficulty certainly lies in the practice. We can’t make assumptions as to what the Lord will do in someone’s heart even if it appears that our expectations are sorely disappointed by the outcome. I suppose we shouldn’t be motivated by outcomes anyway, but only by doing what is right.
I will always enter a conversation with this topic, due to my heart towards the homeless. I agree with you both. Expanding on what Nathan said . . . all that matters is your response to what the Lord has guided you to do. If He has laid it on your heart to give to a particular person, it matters not what that person then does with your gift. On the flip-side, if the Lord has laid it on your heart to focus your gifts to an organization that has good stewardship of their finances, then do so! Oh, how our lives would look if we were just in constant communion with the Spirit.
Fantastic perspective, my friend. You always bring both insight and an encouragement to take things at least one step beyond the computer screen.
I think my biggest hurdle on the “No More Money” issue is this: I’ve been swindled by the “street beggars” too, btu everytime I come upon someone and all I have to offer is a few dollars, I am reminded of a quote someone once said that I think is true. They said “God always blesses what you do for those in need.” I feel that applies, even if those in need may have done it to themselves, or have become embittered by events and feel they have no recourse but to abuse the charity of others.
If I look at Christ, He continually puts Himself in our midst, and in the midst of those who would shun him and even deny Him to His face, yet He still offers them what He has.
I guess it ultimately rests within to feel like it is my actions, regardless of how they are received and then later used, that contain the attitude of the heart in those moments, and if I am asked to forgive 7 times 70, would it benefit me and those I interact with to be charitable in that same way too — even if means the charity may eventually go to something less fortunate.
As you can see, it is a worthy discussion and I have a hunch there is no one solid path to walk when caring for those who have nothing.