People often say to me, "I see homeless men and women on the side of the road. They beg for money or food. I don't know how to help them. What should I do?"
Let me start by saying I am NO expert on this subject. In many ways, I know just as much as you do. Second, I do not think there is a perfect formula.
Some people strongly advocate never giving money. I understand why—their perception is that people will use the funds given to buy drugs or alcohol. Sometimes this happens. But it doesn't always happen.
There are no "rules," in my opinion. Each person is an individual person, and so I try to treat people as individuals. They all have different stories and different needs.
I think the best way we can help the homeless is to send them to groups that are focused day-and-night on helping support the homeless while they are homeless, and those that provide services and support to move them out of homelessness. Two organizations that are experts in helping the homeless in Dallas* are:
I recommend storing these two organizations' information in your phone and/or printing out little cards/sheets of paper to hand out to homeless men and women when you see them. I have included their physical address and contact phone number at the bottom of this post so you can copy and print it out easily**. (I have also included the information of a shelter in South Dallas called Austin Street Center. They are a privately funded shelter where many of those we serve with CitySquare stay.)
Second, bus passes are in strong demand. What if you purchased a few bus passes to hand out to homeless folks when you saw them?
Third, especially as it gets hot, people can easily get dehydrated. How simple would it be to store some water bottles and perhaps granola bars in your car to hand out when you were stopped at a light and saw that homeless person approaching? Instead of thinking, I feel so much guilt because I see that person and they see me, but I have nothing to offer them, you could roll down your window, shake their hand, introduce yourself (it's so wonderful to share names...it's such a human thing to do!), and pass on a water bottle and granola bar!
Finally, the number one thing I'm doing when I approach someone who is homeless is pray. I ask God to help me see what he would have me do. He knows their story, he knows their life, he knows their needs a hundred times more than I ever could.
Recently, I gave a man money who was on a bike and approached me at a 7-Eleven service station. As I left the station, I felt like I had been hoodwinked. I just had this sense as I left that he had lied to me. I sort of beat myself up about it for a while, until I have been able to process it a little more...
In retrospect, I realize it's not about "getting it right" every time. It's not about my being a human lie-detector test. It's about being present with that one person in front of me, and in that little time we spend together, acting to help them the best way I can.
Sometimes, I'm sure we are "taken," but sometimes I bet we are spot on. Sometimes the money probably goes to drugs or alcohol; sometimes I'm 100% sure it goes to a meal or a cold drink.
Who are we to judge?
Isn't our job just to love the person in front of us, and leave them responsible for their decision?
We will only be held responsible for what we do, not for what they do. So let's in loving-kindness extend grace to those in need...those on the streets and those in our homes, in our families, and in our hearts!
*If you are not from Dallas, ask around or search on Google to find organizations in your city focused on dealing with the root causes of poverty & homelessness. Please feel free to send me your stories, too!
**If you live in Dallas, please print the information below and create your own "cards" to pass out to the homeless men and women you see. You can even personalize it if you want and include a favorite quote or verse or anything else!
The Salvation Army: Carr P. Collins Social Service Center
5302 Harry Hines Blvd
Dallas, TX 75235
511 N Akard Street, Suite 302
Dallas, Texas 75201
Austin Street Center
2929 Hickory Street
Dallas, TX 75226