As a person who loves being home so much that I blog about it every week, I can’t imagine being homeless. That would be the ultimate desperate situation, in my estimation. According to OneCPD.com, on a single night in January 2013, there were 610,042 homeless people in the United States. I live in a city inundated with homeless people, partly due to the multitude of resources for the homeless. There is no lack of shelters and soup kitchens in my area, and the warmer climate is more conducive to a life lived in the elements.
My husband shared with me an encounter he experienced over the past weekend. A homeless man approached him as he was working downtown Saturday evening. The man unloaded the difficulty of his situation in a few sentences (new in town, trying to find work and shelter). Paul is very kind-hearted toward anyone who is disadvantaged, so he listened to the man and then offered a few words of encouragement – as well as directions to the nearest shelter.
Later on the evening, the man walked past the place my husband was stationed and told him he’d found a place to sleep for the night, but asked if Paul knew where he could get a meal. My husband wasn’t sure what hours the local soup kitchens operated, so he offered to walk across the street and buy the man a burger and some fries. The man was grateful and accepted the meal. Paul ordered the food, paid, and then shared a few words of further encouragement before he walked back to his post.
What do you do when approached by a homeless person? Most people are immediately touched by their desperate situation. It’s hard to look at someone holding a cardboard sign and not feel sorry for their plight. I’m by no means an expert on responding to the homeless, but here are my suggestions:
1. Be attentive.
Homeless people are very lonely. Listen to their story. They are likely in this position because they have no family to take them into their home. Listening can also help a discerning ear to determine whether or not their situation is legitimate (many are – but there are also some really sneaky, lazy people in the world).
2. Be aware of your city or county’s resources.
Find your local United Way office – they can provide you with brochures listing the available housing, employment, clothing and food resources. Paul could have pulled out a brochure like that the other night, made a few calls and found an open shelter (not saying he did anything wrong, it’s just an example). 🙂 Those resources take the burden off our shoulders and enable us to direct the person to a place that can truly help them.
3. Be smart.
I will be so bold as to say – never give cash to a homeless person. They may seem convincing, but that money could very easily be used for drugs or alcohol. Paul’s offer to buy the man a burger was the perfect and wise solution. Of course, I would never do that on my own. My husband is tall, strong and usually armed. If someone asks for gas money, find out where their car is located. Gas stations will often let you borrow a gas can (for a small deposit) that you could fill, take to the stranded vehicle, and return to the gas station. Of course that solution takes time – but is wiser and safer than handing them cash or putting them in your vehicle.
There is certain joy and blessing from serving those less fortunate than ourselves. In doing so, we can be the hands and feet of Jesus. Even in purchasing a burger and fries for a homeless man on a Saturday night, we can share a little bit of the comfort of home – as we do those things unto the Lord.
Do you have a strategy for helping the homeless? I’d love to hear about it!