Life As I Know It, Thoughts in the Faith

How DO we handle the homeless?

Every time I see a homeless person walking down the street, or standing on a corner, or sleeping in a doorway, I experience the same emotions–guilt, sympathy, nervousness, awkwardness–and I ask myself the same question “How am I supposed to handle this?”.  I know there isn’t a single correct answer, but it’s something I struggle with almost on a daily basis.  And every time I consider the same pros and cons:

1.  They are people too.

I had a friend who lived as a homeless person over spring break.  One of the things she said to me when she got back was, “It’s amazing how many people just pretend you don’t exist.”  And it’s true–how many times do we see someone walking toward us, and we instantly divert our attention as though we don’t see them.  Do they deserve this?  Do we have the right to treat them sub-human?  I don’t think so.

2. They could be dangerous.

I love this one because ANYONE could be dangerous.  Don’t we watch enough CSI and Law and Order to know that it’s usually the well-dressed folks with leather brief cases who are the most dangerous?  Our fear of homeless people stems from our stereotypes–we think everyone’s homeless because they’re drug addicts, so therefore they are probably on something and crazy.  This is so untrue.

3.  God loves them.

I know this is SO cheesy and silly, but what right do we have to judge other people at all?  Really, we were all created with love for a purpose, and even though we don’t know someone’s story, they still have a life that is valuable.  So we don’t get to decide what they’re worth–God does.

4. We don’t know their story.

Yes, some people are probably homeless because they’re lazy and don’t try to get work.  But others can’t get work because they’re homeless, and they are homeless due to circumstances beyond their control.  I’ve met a lot of homeless men and women within the safe walls of a rescue mission, and the majority of their stories are based on situations that simply snowballed out of their control.

So what am I “supposed” to do when someone asks me for money?  People get mad and say, “well, he’s just going to buy drugs or liquor with the money I give him” and that may be true.  But once you give it, it’s not yours to decide what he does with it.  So you give it with a hope –with a faith–that maybe it will help them get through their day.  And maybe your kindness will help them even more.  This doesn’t make it less uncomfortable or awkward (I am admittedly SO awkward in these situations) but I do know that “loving your neighbor” doesn’t just mean your friends–it means everybody, no matter how difficult it may be to accomplish.

3 thoughts on “How DO we handle the homeless?”

  1. I don’t do it often, but when the spirit moves me, I offer to buy a homeless person a meal. I refuse to give out money. Most of the time, they take me up on it. Usually I take them to something like Fuddruckers or a pizza place or whatever affordable restaurant is within eyesight. I find it very interesting to talk with them, look them in the eye, learn their name and their story and treat them, well, like they are human beings deserving of dignity and respect. I figure I’m feeding their body and soul by just being kind to them without any strings attached. If they reject my offer, then I figure they were out for the $$$ for other reasons and I don’t have to feel awkward about not helping them out. Just an idea.


  2. I do the same as Esther. If someone asks me for money, I ask why. If they say petrol or good I buy it for them, sit with them and talk. If they say, No I just want the money to buy food, I say No.

    I had one guy ask me for $3. I asked why. He said for a hot dog. I said Okay, I’ll buy you something. We started walking to a fast food place; immediately he asked me for $5 – obviously he picked me as an easy mark – so I asked why. He said he wanted a drink too. So I bought him breakfast and we talked a bit. It turned out he was begging because he smoked two packs of cigarettes a day. At that time, one pack cost about $7 I think, so that’s $140 per week he spent on cigarettes. The government payment for pension is about $200 per week.

    He had no embarrassment about asking for money, so he seemed to prefer staying on the cancer sticks and living this sort of life.

    He asked me to buy him a pack of cigarettes too.


  3. I am like you, I don’t exactly know how to react on meeting or seeing the homeless. I know this ambivalent feeling needs to be sorted out so that I can be true to my beliefs.


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