“Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” – John 4:13-14
Have you been in this situation before? You’re walking down a street, something else on your mind and looking for your car when a stranger walks up to you and asks for money? What do you do? How do you react?
This is the question I am often faced with in various cities across the US. Some people say, don’t give anyone who is homeless money. Others say, sometimes its ok it’s not up to us to judge. Yet others say give to organizations that can help. Which is the right response?
I was recently in a situation where I tried to help a homeless man who was in need. I didn’t know this person and perhaps it wasn’t the safest thing to do but I couldn’t help but think, “if I don’t help who will?”
But it was a lame attempt to help this person because in the end, the person was just as bad off as he was when I met him. He had an issue with his feet that I couldn’t help, even through prayer. He needed food but couldn’t eat what I bought him and he needed a ride to a place where he was kicked out.
This man needed someone to give him a chance at a job, he needed medical attention and he needed food/shelter. None of these things I could provide since I was not from the area, I no idea where to point him. I could not take him home nor did I know a local shelter. In the end, he was back on the street, in pain. I had changed nothing in this mans life for the better.
As I drove home, discouraged and sad, I realized that I have no idea how to help the homeless – so I decided to check with the experts. That’s when I reached out to Henry Demers at Harmony House in Manchester.
Henry started Harmony House less than two years ago and has since made a huge impression on the homeless community in Manchester – there is now hope for the homeless.
I went to visit Henry to get an unofficial lesson on How to Help the Homeless 101. He kindly wrangled up a few people who were either homeless or who spend time with the homeless, to share about their experiences. These folks voiced their stories about what helps and what doesn’t from their own perspectives living on the streets - it was brilliant.
Here are a few of the things I learned about what helps:
Organizations that help the homeless like 1269 Café, Harbor Homes, Harmony House, Helping Hands and other services for the homeless
Kindness of strangers, treating them like a human being and not judging
People willing to give someone like them a chance
Those willing to really listen to their issues and to help
Things like phone cards, food gift cards, power stations to charge phones or other devices, place to rest where they won’t get kicked out or have to pay
Things that are not helping the homeless:
Places that kick out the homeless like restaurants or stores
A lack of transportation to get to work or apply for work
Lack of ways to communicate as phones are often stolen in shelters
Restrictions to accessing documentation as it can easily get stolen or lost, to prove they are who they are so they can get work
Not enough places to charge devices if they have them
A shortage of safe places to sleep
A few folks said to be mindful that there is a difference between those who are out on the streets asking for money. There are some who profit off of pan handling and use it for vices like drugs. However, there are also others who are homeless due to devastating circumstances; like losing their house in a fire, being let go from a job or falling into depression that need support to get on their feet again.
Whatever the cause, they are now stuck in what feels like a black hole with no way out. However, the homeless I spoke with told me that many are keeping their hopes up because of what people are doing at places like Harmony House. One man said it is due to the relationships and kindness that keep him coming to Harmony House. He said Henry once gave him the shoes off his feet, which meant so much to him in his time of need.
My initial question was from such a “worldy” point of view. How can I, in 1-5min help someone whose life has been completely destroyed and then quickly go back to my normal and blessed life? My worldly view also involved the flawed thinking that I could somehow help another unique human being through a one-time interaction. If I’ve learned anything of late it’s that everything in the Kingdom is relational. I cannot possibly expect to help someone I just met in one meeting. How could I possibly think I could know what this person’s been through and discover what they need?
It is so important to remember that we are all human beings, created in the image of God and no one, no one wants to be homeless. We are made to live in a community where we are cared for and supported by each other. In order to help each other, we need to take the time to get to know our neighbors: to know those who are in need around us. After meeting with these individuals I realized that no matter what time I spent with homeless individuals, I am blessed to go to a home and have food in my fridge.
So, if you also want to give, if you see this need in your town or city and want to do something about it, I hope this is a helpful guide as to a few things you could do. It is clear that the organizations like Harmony Home and the people who have a heart to serve the homeless are making a true impact. Also, if you really want to see positive change, take the time to get to know the homeless individuals in your neighborhood.
There are so many in tough situations that leave them homeless and they are trying to find a way out. However, there are so many road blocks that make getting a job hard or affording a place to live so basic needs are met. When they are fighting for a place to live and scrounging for food, how do they have time to get a job? And who will hire them if all they have has been taken from them?
It is a terrible cycle and it’s time to see hope realized for our fellow brothers and sisters because it could so easily be you or I in this situation and I hope, I hope that there would be someone who stopped to truly help us if the tables were turned.
Galatians 6:2 “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
Hebrews 6:10 “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.”
Hebrews 13:16 “And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”