I parked my car in a coveted parking space directly in front of Starbucks. I was glad for a short walk since it was cold enough to snow. I locked my door and rushed against the wind toward the tantalizing aroma that wafted out of the double doors.
From the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of someone approaching. I walked a bit faster. I had a feeling it was a homeless person who was going to ask me for money. Sure enough, I heard his voice despite the violent wind.
“Excuse me, ma’am.”
I wanted to just keep walking. I was almost to the doors and warmth and coffee. But my conscience wouldn’t let me ignore him. I turned and faced his strained eyes. Although his look was disheveled, he appeared to be quite young under his overgrown beard. He wore a beanie and a dirty, threadbare coat.
“I don’t mean to scare you,” he said, raising his shaking hands. “Can you help me?”
I’m sure many of you have been in a similar situation. Perhaps you’ve seen a homeless-looking person near a place of business holding a sign. And if you’re like me, you become extremely uncomfortable and maybe even a little afraid. Many of the homeless are on drugs or alcohol, or are mentally ill, right? It seems so much easier, and safer, to just avoid eye contact. To walk on by and pretend we don’t see them. But ignoring them does not make them go away. In fact, Jesus said, “You will always have the poor among you…” (John 12:8).
According to a one-night national survey done last January by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, there are 564,708 homeless people in the United States. That’s more than half a million people living on the streets, in cars, in homeless shelters, or in subsidized transitional housing. Of that number, 206,286 were people in families, 358,422 were individuals, and a quarter of the entire group were children.
Those numbers don’t reflect what I have believed about the homeless. I never imagined there are that many homeless children here in the United States. According to the same survey, there are approximately 550,000 unaccompanied, single youth under the age of 24 experiencing a homeless episode of longer than one week. About 380,000 of that total are under 18.It’s difficult to get an accurate counting of homeless children and youth. The National Alliance to End Homelessness explains, “Homeless youth are less likely to spend time in the same places as homeless people who are in an older age range. They are often less willing to disclose that they’re experiencing homelessness or may not even identify as homeless. They also may work harder to try to blend in with peers who aren’t homeless.”
It’s difficult to get an accurate counting of homeless children and youth. The National Alliance to End Homelessness explains, “Homeless youth are less likely to spend time in the same places as homeless people who are in an older age range. They are often less willing to disclose that they’re experiencing homelessness or may not even identify as homeless. They also may work harder to try to blend in with peers who aren’t homeless.”
So, there I stood face to face with a young man who asked for my help. I could hear Christmas music playing from the speakers outside of Starbucks. I thought of the gifts that were in the trunk of my car, and how I was about to go in and buy a $4 cup of coffee. Surely I could help him with something to eat.
“Wait here,” I said. He nodded, looking at the ground.
I went to my car and grabbed a granola bar. “Here,” I said handing it to him. “I’ll go in and get you some coffee too.”
“Thanks,” he said, still looking down.
When I returned with the coffee, I was compelled to asked, “Do you have a family?” I struggled to find the right words. “Uh, I mean, why are you out here? It’s Christmas time.”
“My stepdad who beats my mom kicked me out,” he said flatly. This time his green eyes caught mine briefly before he looked back at the ground, stuffing his hands in his coat pockets.
That was not the answer I expected. Honestly, I don’t know what I expected, but it wasn’t that. I hesitated then finally said, “I’ll pray for you. I’m so sorry.”
Driving away slowly, I watched him through my mirror. A scripture from James 2:16 echoed in my mind: “..and you say, ‘Goodbye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well’—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?”
As I laid in my warm comfortable bed that night, I prayed for the young homeless man, realizing I never even asked his name. Where would he be sleeping? Where would others like him be sleeping—other nameless faces I’d passed on so many occasions without an acknowledgment? I could picture him pressed up against the back wall outside of Starbucks laying on the cold ground. The thought made me shutter.
“Lord, forgive me for turning a blind eye to people on the streets. Please show me how I can do more,” I whispered.
I compiled a list of what kept me from helping the homeless and what I have learned may prevent others as well. Then I compared the excuses to the Word of God.
Excuses Why People Don’t Help the Homeless
- There are “programs” to help them.
Loving and helping our neighbor is the responsibility of each and every Christian. In the parable of The Good Samaritan, (Luke 10:30-37) Jesus explains this. The takeaway from the parable is this: Our neighbor is any fellow human being, especially one in need. I encourage you to read the parable even if it’s one you know well.
“ If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person?” 1 John 3:17
“Blessed are those who are generous because they feed the poor.” Proverbs 22:9
2. I don’t want to enable an addiction or laziness
Many don’t want to give money because they fear an addict will use it for alcohol or drugs. You don’t need to give money unless you feel God leading you to do so. Giving food is not enabling. Jesus freely gave to the sick and the poor.
“Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Matthew 19:21
“Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.“” Luke 6:38
3. What Can One Ordinary Person Do?
Many of the programs designed to help the homeless and the poor are successful due to the help of volunteers from within the community. The existence of programs and organizations does not exempt the individual Christian from our God-given responsibility to love our neighbor as ourselves. The best way to shine our light is to show love and compassion to others.
I used to read the Bible and think I could never accomplish the things that the men and women of scripture did. As I became more familiar with the Bible, I realized my thinking didn’t line up with God’s teaching. God, in fact, uses the ordinary person.
“Elijah was as human as we are, and yet when he prayed earnestly that no rain would fall, none fell for three and a half years! Then, when he prayed again, the sky sent down rain and the earth began to yield its crops.” James 5:17-18 (emphasis added)
“ The members of the council were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, for they could see that they were ordinary men with no special training in the Scriptures. They also recognized them as men who had been with Jesus.” Acts 4:13 (emphasis added)
I love the idea that others recognized them as men who had been with Jesus!
The same goes for us today.
Can others recognize that you've spent time with Jesus? #dailytimewithGod pic.twitter.com/OunkZIYUn7
— Beckie Lindsey (@BeckieLindsey_) December 13, 2016
Showing compassion to a homeless person is something even just an ordinary person can do. Remember, God takes our ordinary and makes it extraordinary! We have no idea the power one cup of coffee can hold when the Holy Spirit is involved.
4. I Don’t Know How to Help
Most every community has at least one homeless shelter or rescue mission. With the convenience of the internet, it’s easy to search your local community’s resources.
My suggestion is to look for an organization that does the following: States their mission. Shows a breakdown of where the donations received goes. Keeps track of the people who come in for help. Prays for those who come in. Assists in finding work if this is applicable to individuals seeking help. Bible studies are a wonderful resource as well.
It wasn’t long after the incident with the young homeless man that my women’s Bible study got connected with our local rescue mission. I knew this was an answer to my prayer. Our study began making hygiene bags for the homeless that we call Blessing Bags. Many of us are still doing this on a regular basis. We keep some of the bags in our cars which are handy to give out on the spot (in lieu of money). Additional bags are taken to our local rescue mission to give out to those who come in for help. They’re really simple and pretty cheap to put together. I bought all the items from the dollar store.
To make your own Blessing Bags, here’s what you’ll need:
Gallon size zip lock bags or quart size for smaller bags
Packages of tissue
Toothbrush and toothpaste
Pack of gum
Water bottle or juice box
Hand wipes and/or hand cleaner
Warm socks, gloves
Information about your local homeless shelter or missions
A note of encouragement or scripture
When researching shelters in my community, I found out that 41% of homeless individuals are women and children. I spoke with a wonderful man named Michael from my local rescue mission. Four years ago, he was on the streets himself. Today, he works for the mission, serving the less fortunate and homeless.
Many times the average person would like to do something but is concerned about safety and of being scammed. When I asked Michael about those who are addicts or who “scam” the system, he told me that his organization works to keep from enabling those who attempt to take advantage of the programs by keeping records of its recipients. As I stated previously, this is a good thing to check when you are researching organizations in your community. We want to help, not enable. Michael also said they give out about 40 hygiene bags on Fridays. It made me smile to know I was doing something that may make even a small difference.
I still think about and pray for the young man who was homeless at Christmas. I wish I would have known then what I do now. I wish I could have directed him to a shelter where he could get a hot meal and a shower—a place where someone would share the love of Christ with him.
Instead, the Lord used him to teach me. I hope his story touches you too. The fact is, there are a lot of people— many are women and children—who are homeless this Christmas. We have the opportunity to show Christ’s love in tangible ways if we will just open our hearts and our eyes.
God bless you and yours this Christmas!
Please let me know your thoughts below.
I enjoy linking my blog with other great blogs. Please check them out:
Literacy Musing Monday: http://www.brandiraae.com/10396-2/
Mostly Blogging: http://www.mostlyblogging.com/inspire-monday-linky-party-111/
Create With Joy: http://www.create-with-joy.com/2016/12/inspire-me-monday-week-258.html
Wow — very moving. I was touched by the conversation you had with the man and the research you did. Very powerful especially how you provide a solution and way to help.
Wow — what a moving piece. I loved how you shared the conversation and provided research. I also liked how you provided a solution with the blessing bags. Great writing. Del
Thanks so much, Del. I appreciate the encouragement. I hope this helps people to feel empowered to “do” something.
Lovely, well-researched post. I try to always have a $5.00 gift certificate in my purse from McDonald’s to give if approached, and I find if I carry one for too long I start to look for someone in need to give it to. Everyone has been so thankful, and they tell me, “Bless you!”
Mary, Thank you for mentioning gift cards. That is something I will start adding to the blessing bags. Great suggestion! Thanks for sharing.
Merry Christmas to you and yours and God bless!
Reblogged this on Christian Poets and Writers.
If I can stop crying, I will type. Conviction set in. I feel like I help by giving to the downtrodden, but can I do more? The answer is YES. I wish there was a way to sort out the dangerous homeless from those who aren’t. I’m being honest. I get scared to approach in fear I will get hurt. When I worked in downtown Providence I made friends with a few homeless. I remember one honest man. He confessed to wanting the money for booze. I would say hi daily, “Sure you don’t want a sandwich?” He would always say, “just money for booze.” Wish they were all that honest. One day he came up behind me and said, “Is that offer for a sandwich still available?” I purchased him a large Italian from Subway. Each one heard about the love of Jesus. I’m not patting myself on the back. I understand the difficulty in helping, HOw much do we do? Only the Spirit can guide us.
Cherrilynn, My friend, Michael, who now works at my local mission tells me that he too used to take advantage of the kindness of folks. But then…one day… because of God’s love shown again and again through the programs and people of the mission, he fell to his knees!
There are those on the street who are mentally ill and can be dangerous. There are also those who just want money to “feed” the addiction. This is why it’s good to first: allow the Spirit guide us, secondly, partner with our local agencies, and finally to have gift cards for food and blessings bags available to give out. But keep in mind, many of the homeless are women and children. So sad. Another reason to partner with our agencies because most women and children are not panhandling.
Thanks for your comment. Believe me, sweet sister, I am convicted as well. Lord, help us to have your heart for ALL people.
This absolutely convicted my heart, Beckie. I’m definitely going to get into the business of making those blessing bags and offering to volunteer at some of our local missions. It truly is what being a Christian is all about – helping others.
Martha, Amen! Please keep me posted. I’m excited to hear about what the Lord will show you.
Great reminder. And I love the Blessing Bags idea. I’ve had the same experience, which is what led me to write The Haunting Gaze. This presses on me more at Christmas time than any other time of the year, when I am wrapped up (no pun intended) in the stress and season of buying, buying, buying.
James (The Daddy Blitz), Thanks for leaving a link to your article. I hope readers here will take the time to read it. I know what you mean about this time of the year. Exactly why I believe the Holy Spirit convicted me to not only write about this subject but to become more aware of what one person can actually do.
Wishing you and yours Merry Christmas!
Beckie, Great post! And very convicting. I am guilty of passing by quickly, not wanting to stop. You’ve given me a fresh perspective on this and challenged me to seriously consider what I can do to help. Thank you! Merry Christmas!
Crickett, I’m convicted too! I’m so glad the Lord used the post in your life. Let me know how it turns out. I’ve feel blessed beyond measure. Here I was setting out to be used by the Lord and I think I’ve gotten more out of this than I’ve given.
Merry Christmas to you and yours too!
Loved this, Beckie. You had my attention and my heart from the beginning. I have a soft spot for the homeless and I always have blessing bags in my vehicle. Our church serves and supports a national program called Family Promise for homeless families. They rotate every 7 days to a new church and sleep on cots in classrooms. Four times a year our church provides the meals and overnight volunteers. We have Christmas week next week and have a pizza party and Jesus birthday party planned on Christmas Eve. The program helps them find jobs and get back on their feet again and secure housing. I definitely believe these are part of the “least of these” Jesus mentions in Matthew 25.
Karen, How wonderful! Thanks for sharing. These are the type of programs I’m talking about that many cities have available. With the help of Google, we can find out all about them right from our homes.It’s important for us to realize that many of these organizations run effectively with the help of volunteers. There are so many little jobs that even children can do! And there are things that can be done from home too. I know of some elderly folks that cannot get around well, but they make blankets, hats, and gloves.
May God bless your church for reaching out to the “least of these.”
Thank you, Beckie, for being real. Real thoughts and real actions in a real world of hurt, pain and loneliness. We’ve all avoided eye contact while sitting at a traffic light or stop sign. It’s hard to know when to help and when to walk away, but the blessing bag is the best idea and to carry them with you at all times is very helpful. I was in a ministry lunch meeting today when a homeless man got up from his table and was having conversations with invisible people. The male church staffers in our meeting went into protective mode, walking us to our cars because you never know what state of mind these people are in. This particular man needed more than a blessing bag and I didn’t have the resources to help him, but I do have the resources to help others and to share Jesus with them. Thank you for being a blessing today.
Melanie, I’m glad you mentioned the possibility of a homeless person being mentally unstable and potentially dangerous. I’m researching this fact and have found that approximately 33% of the homeless have some kind of mental illness. You are correct in saying these individual need more than a blessing bag. However, there are things the average person can do. Stay tuned here on Spotlight as I continue to write on this very important topic. For now, I’m hoping to bring awareness that many of the homeless are women, children, and the downtrodden.
Thanks for caring and for taking the time to comment.
Thank you for being faithful to the direction God is giving you. These words of encouragement will touch more people than you can ever imagine. Thank you once again and have a wonderful Christmas.
Mike, I cannot thank YOU enough for allowing me to interview you and for your heart to help the less fortunate. I look forward to working with you soon. Merry Christmas to you and yours!
Beckie, I related to all your thoughts and questions about homelessness. At times I’ve helped and at times I’ve walked away. Your story and research put things in perspective for me, and the blessing bags have jumpstarted me into action. Thanks for sharing this story.
Deborah, You brought a smile to face. Thanks for partnering with me in making efforts to help those less fortunate. Stay tuned here on Spotlight as I report more on the HOMELESS CRISIS and what the average person can do. Blessings and Merry Christmas to you and yours!
Deborah, Thanks so much for sharing. I’m glad to hear you will participating in the blessing bags. I guarantee the recipient as well as the giver receive the blessing.
Great stuff, Beckie. This is not my original idea, but I started carrying fast food gift cards in my car. The chosen restaurant is found in all cities and most smaller communities as well. The gift card can only be used for food at that restaurant, not to purchase items to support vices, and can be handed out a very small window opening for safety.
Leigh, I love the food gift card idea. It can be handed out on its own or put into the gift bags. Thanks for sharing!
I love the idea of the blessing bag. It always helps to be prepared. One day as my daughter and I were shopping for Christmas, we saw a homeless man asking for food. She wanted to give him something, so we pulled up and offered him a bag of potato chips (it was all we had). He politely declined telling us that he couldn’t eat it because of his teeth. We wish we had had more to offer that day. A ‘blessing bag’ is a great way to be prepared. Thank you for your suggestions.
Karen, I’ve been told the same thing about the teeth. A few readers have suggested fast food gift cards that can be used only for food. This way they can choose something soft.
Merry Christmas to you and yours!
Very inspiring article! It reminds me of the song lyrics I wrote a few years ago:
Picked up a penny on the street today, I watched the people going on there way
They passed the coin without a glance, their minds clouded with fiance
“What’s one penny to me?” they say, while men die penniless everyday
“I’ll pass the coin without a thought, just like the man begging in the parking lot.”
Invisible…how can we see, when our eyes are blind to reality.
Open your heart, open your soul, we are not invisible.
Thanks for always sticking up for those that can’t voice their own needs! Love you mom.
Chad, You brought tears to my eyes. I’ve learned a lot about loving those who are “invisible” from you, son. I appreciate your support and encouragement. Love you!
I’ve done a Blessing Bag before, but I had forgotten about it–thank you for the reminder!
I absolutely love this! What a great reminder of how to give in honor of Jesus. Thanks!!!
Shelly, Thanks for your encouragement. Wishing you and yours a Merry Christmas!
Merry Christmas to your family as well!
Heather, I would encourage you to put a note/business card for the missions and/or shelter into your bag. So glad this post served as a reminder. Blessing to you!
This is such a good reminder. It’s so easy to get caught up in our own holiday bustle that we don’t think about people like this who have nothing over the holidays. It’s also a reminder for me to refresh my own blessing bag. We kept one in the car for quite some time, but I haven’t replaced it after the last time we handed it out!
Thank you for linking up with Literacy Musings Monday. I’m sharing your post as one of my favorite!
Leah, I’m so glad this article was a reminder for you to replenish your blessing bag. Keep shining your light, dear sister!
Merry Christmas to you and yours!
I am grateful that you have two solutions for not knowing what to do when you meet someone who asks for money. You keep a snack in the car and have a Blessing Bag ready! Also, to know where the shelters are in our communities is an excellent idea. Thank you for sharing your story, and I pray this young man finds his way to help and hope too.
Katy, Thanks for your support and encouragement. I’m so pleased this post resonated with you.
Wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas!
Thank you so much for your thoughtful and compassionate blog. I am a homeless woman surviving the streets of Los Angeles. I always appreciate when someone who is not homeless can empathize with our plight. I hope you’ll take a minute to follow my blog about my experiences with being a college-educated homeless woman.
Warriors and Ghosts, Thanks for taking the time to comment. I’m now following your blog. I’m so touched by what I’ve read so far.
God bless you as you continue to tell your story. I’m praying your circumstances change soon.