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.