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So, do you give money to a person holding a sign or a cup that says they are homeless and need help?

We’ve all come across people like this.  There have been times when I have given money and times when I haven’t.  There hasn’t been a rhyme or reason as to why I have sometimes and why I haven’t other times.  Sometimes I give because I feel like it.  Other times I give because I follow a feeling inside me that tells me to give.  And other times I don’t give.

Here’s an article from someone who has decided to always give.  I have a lot of respect for his reasoning and for what he does.

I’ve been thinking about this a bit lately.  The reality for me is a little different – I don’t come across people who are homeless where I am very often.  I do come across people who need help though, so I think it’s similar.

Here’s the ideal solution – first, I stop worrying about time.  Yes, I have to get away from my East Coast, middle class concern about time and promptness.  Because anyone who needs help is going to take an investment of time.  As I preached this past Sunday, healing is messy.  I think that’s true for helping people too.

Second, I have to have resources.  That doesn’t always mean money.  Sometimes just giving money is an easy way out.  And often it isn’t the answer.  It’s giving a fish when someone needs to learn how to fish and you are the one who can teach fishing.

Here’s the biggest thing when it comes to someone asking for money – it’s not about the money. Move the situation beyond the financial transaction that is seems to be.  It’s about a person in need – even if it’s not money that they really need.

Find out the person’s name and offer yours.  This is a person after all, not just a sign or a thing.  Talk with the person and find out what the real need is.  I mean the real need.  It may take several questions.  There may be lies involved.  There may be truth.  Here’s the deal – you won’t know.  Put yourself in the person’s shoes – they are desperate and asking for money.  Would you be completely open and honest if you were desperate, for whatever reason?

Ask yourself some questions – how can I really help this person?  Is this a short term problem or long term?  Can I connect them with someone who can help them?

My experience has been that someone who really needs help is willing to talk.  Someone looking to get some money out of you usually isn’t.

Then, do something.  We’re not called to judge the person.  We’re called to do what we can.  Even if it’s small.  And often, I’ll offer a prayer with the person for their well being.

Here’s the biggest concern – homelessness is a big problem.  Your job isn’t to solve homelessness – it’s to help one person who is there right in front of you.  But you aren’t there to fix the other person either.  Sometimes helping someone is just finding out their name – reminding them that they have value and worth because they are human.

And, be open to being helped yourself too.  You have your own challenges, you aren’t perfect.  Sometimes the people we are aiming to help end up helping us.  We aren’t called to be strong.  We’re called to be love and be vulnerable.  Like I said, it’s messy.  Be ready to get messy.