"I want you to share your Bread with the Hungry, open your homes to the homeless poor, remove the yoke of injustice
and let the opressed go free." - Isaiah 58
What do you do if you round a street corner, say,
and there is a homeless person?
by Greg Plant, Homeless Advocate and
Coordinator of the Presbyterian Network to End Homelessness
Well, don’t just walk past the person -- unless you sense an element of danger, such as a mother with two young children facing a man talking to himself.
Mike Yankowski, who went homeless for six months to write up his experiences, said that the worst part of homelessness was the way people stared through him. To those people he (and other homeless) did not exist. (see link below to Mike's book, "Under the Overpass," and website)
The best thing you can do, he said, is to look that homeless person in the eye and offer what you can: food if you have some to spare, a gift card to a fast-food restaurant like McDonald’s or Taco Bell or to a local grocery chain. You can also carry and offer bus tokens given by your city or county bus lines.
Another helpful item would be a list of soup kitchens, clothes closets, and shelters in your area. Your local city or county may have a list, or go to the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH), which has a nifty database of local organizations if you drill down from state. The web site is http://www.nationalhomeless.org/resources/state/index.html .
Offering to buy a meal involves more interfacing, but you can learn about that person, perhaps.
Just handing out money is not always a good idea (it can be converted to an abused substance) – but something is better than nothing. It is not, after all, ours to judge homeless people.
Overall, try to (1) acknowledge the humanity of the person, (2) try to be helpful, and (3) spread the word about helping the homeless. For example, if it does not exist, suggest that your church or presbytery or Synod establish a fund for emergency help, such as overnight housing, bus fare, and an “emergency” food pantry.
After all, what if that homeless were YOU? (We may all be just two missed paychecks away!)
Presbyterian Network to End Homelessness
Homelessness and Affordable Housing Sunday
Under the Overpass (book and ministry of Mike Yankoski)
Download PNTEH Handbook on Homelessness
2008 The Presbytery of San José