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.