To Give or Not to Give

If you are unsure about what to do when you encounter a homeless person asking fro assistance, you’re not alone.  Some people give pocket change as a way of “buying themselves out” of an uncomfortable situation.  Some give money, hoping the person will do the right thing with the cash. Other shake their heads or mumble a “no”, irritated at feeling accosted .

Many not knowing what to do, pretend they don’t notice and pick up their pace; or they keep their windows up and increase the volume on their dashboard CD player.  None of these are ideal responses.

Sooner or later, you will encounter a homeless person on the sidewalk, or, at an intersection, you will pull up beside someone out of work, holding up a sign. When that happens, here are some things to consider.

1. Anticipate the meeting

Anticipate the opportunities you will have to engage with another person and be “salt and light”.  Develop a game plan. In time, you might find that you are intentionally walking closter to the person on the sidewalk, or merging into the left lane, just to ensure you have an encounter.

2. Acknowledge the person

Simply acknowledging the homeless people as human beings and taking some time to talk to them in a friendly, respectful manner can go a long way. Treat them no differently than someone else you casually meet on the street or for a get-together.  Linger for a moment and talk. Becoming homeless can be very isolating, discouraging, and embarrrasing; remember that we all need the consistent love and encouragement of other human beings to help us make smart choices in our lives.

3. Recognize that the homeless people (and their problems) are not all the same

The person you meet may be a battered woman, an addicted veteran, someone who is lacking job skills, or an individual facing another seemingly insurmountable challenge. Encourage the person to get help through a gospel rescue mission, but remeber it’s ultimately his or her decision. Gospel rescue missions offer immediate food and shelter, and many offer job training and long-term rehabilitation programs that deal with the root causes of homelessness.

4. Don’t give money

For many people, panhandling is their livelihood. And more often than not, they are panhandling for something you don’t really want to support with your money.  However, if the Holy Spirit of God makes it clear to you that money is needed in a particular situation, give responsibily.

5. Provide an alternative to money

If the person is aksing for food, instead of giving money, give McDonald’s or Subway coupons.  They are generally inexpensive and easy to carry. Better yet, bring carryout from a restaurant and sit or stand with the person and share it.  Depending on the person’s expressed needs, you can also offer gloves, socks, tissues, a granola bar, bottled water, and the like. Refer him or her to an agency that can provide food and shelter. meeting the actual need is always better than giving money.

6. Hand out business cards of people at the local gospel rescue mission

Go to your gospel rescue mission and find out which caseworkers are happy to have their contact information circulated on the streets. Carry a stack of their cards in your briefcase or handbag. If business cards aren’t available, simply print up slips of paper with the mission’s name and addres, and the name of a contact person at the mission.  If your church is well versed in helping hungry, homeless, abused, and addicted people, you can provide that information, as well.  During daylight hours, you might consider accompanying the person to the mission or your church and personally introduce him or her to the folks.

7. Don’t hesitate to call the police

It’s not uncommon for homeless people to find comfortable, out-of-the-way locations to congregate — under the end of the bridge, on a grassy flat near the creek bank, by a certain fountain in the park — and then adopt them as their habitat.  After a passerby get used to seeing them in these locations, they seldom take the time to observe movement. Be on the lookout.  When it’s very cold or very hot, a stationary individual might be on the verge of hypothermia or a heat stroke. Don’t ever hesititate to go over and check on a homeless person.  When in doubt regarding someone’s condition, call the police. You might just save his or her life.

8. Pray

As you see people in need, ask God to bring them peace and encouragement that day.  Ask God to meet their physical and emotional needs, and to satisfy their spiritual hunger. And specifically ask God what He would have you do in each situation.

Christian Community Development Association