Perspectives on the Needy and the Homeless
Examining Issues Related to Helping the Needy and Homeless
When problems of the needy and concerns about homelessness are probed the results offer some thought provoking surprises. My attempts to post comments on the issues are sometimes rejected because of length or because of my views, but it was an event on December 3, 2013 that caused me to finally write about the topic.
Private Organizations Reaching Out to Help
Reading the tone directed at Christians in some posts on homelessness also helped me decide to share a little about what I know of working with needy people groups. That not everyone calling themselves a Christian really is one doesn’t seem necessary to say. It is not news that some of those people are actually predators who couch their own agenda with Christian terminology.
To judge all Christians by the bad behavior of some people is no fairer than viewing homeless people stereotypically. Unless a person knows all about how Christians truly live, the judgements come across as a writer trying to cover their own lack of actions to help the needy and homeless by pointing fingers at others.
While I do not work directly with the homeless, I do some direct work with the disadvantaged. As well, I do help support several Christian ministries whose goal is to reach out to the needy and/or homeless in various ways. By highlighting three of them as samples of the work being done I hope to help others better understand the efforts.
These ministries receive little to no government assistance for their non-profit works specifically because they are Christian-based even though they abide by all government health and safety regulations. The majority of their fundings come from individual Christians and church bodies.
Their employees and volunteers are approved via official background checks and they choose sacrificial service rather than the popular entertainments that most people are involved in during their personal time away from jobs. The organizations are structured so that there are multi-levels of accountability to both religious and non-religious officials.
Samples of Outreach Ministries
• Example 1 is a longstanding but small work overseen by a large church. It is small because those running it have close interaction with and oversight of those who come for help (resulting in a high success rate). It is a ministry specifically for men who have been caught in the web of substance abuse and it works with parole officers. I just recently spoke with one of the men who benefitted from the program a few years back. I see how he not only maintains the benefits he received, but also works to continue growing personally. He now purposefully reaches out to others.
• Example 2 is a larger ministry working with local law enforcement on behalf of women and children who come from abusive situations. The successes are wonderful, but the burnout of workers is high. As an example, one of the facilities is well maintained (by the funds of many Christians) with individual living quarters so the broken family members can have some privacy for healing and then work toward solutions for their future. For the safety of everyone in the building at any given time, and to aid in the education efforts, there are some rules. Often--way too often--those who are taken in rebel at rules such as participating in the cleaning of the facility. This kind of person will damage plumbing/cause flooding, set fires, and more, all because they are not allowed to do anything they want at anytime in the facility. They create constant stress for workers who are doing their best to provide safety and opportunity for many needy women and children.
• Example 3 is a considerably larger organization with shelters specifically for men, shelters for women/children, children’s homes, food/clothing programs, education/work opportunities, and more across the region. In such a large ministry there are many successes as well as the failures. No one can know whether a person who walks in the door will benefit from the ministry. These Christians can only reach out to those in need. They are heartbroken when anyone who comes to them for help refuses that help and chooses to go back into a lifestyle that destroys. A few years ago the media took the news of a man who died in this area’s freezing temperatures one night and used it to highlight the plight of the homeless. What they did not report was that the man went to one of this group’s shelters (on such nights they do not turn away anyone who wants help). He refused to stay because they could not allow him to endanger others by continuing his substance abuse there. He chose to leave the shelter and go back to his preferred lifestyle. It was a terrible decision on that night.
The truth about what happens in some of these situations is often enlightening. The education can be heart rending, but that fact does not deter the true Christians who are working to reach out to the helpless in our society.
These experienced workers and generous contributors are not uninformed. Most are highly educated, many with amazing day jobs. They do not hate, consider the needy to be criminals, or want to see them shot as some writers indicate. To them, the successes make it all worth the effort, but the failures do make their work very difficult.
Do we need more volunteers like these to establish and work in shelters? Most certainly, but there are roadblocks in the process. Society in general does not like that they are Christian based. Our government has come so far from the principles our country was founded on that not only does it refuse to promote or protect many truly Christian organizations, it opposes them.
I see the successes of these ministries and others in our area. Other successful Christian ministries are doing the same work in other places and I cannot help but wonder what would happen if those who attack Christians for their methods would instead support the positive work being done.
Fundamental Issues Need Solving
The blindness of the government’s methods that have resulted in such colossal failure to truly help people is stunning, but it speaks the truth of Proverbs 4:19. Squaring the methods of Christians who try to help the homeless with the government’s methodology that is rife with corruption and abuse is an inequitable comparison that leads to wrong conclusions.
Examining and trying to solve just the entitlement issues that the government’s welfare programs have created would be a monumental task, but continuing in the same path with those practices is creating an ever bigger class system that is holding citizens embracing it in a grip that continues to tighten.
Working to help these people successfully rise above their circumstances requires a fair study of the history of the welfare system, getting in the trenches with those working to help today’s needy get out of the system (many now second and third generations into it), and making an honest evaluation of all the facts involved for every type of homeless person (which ranges from the truly needy to those with a welfare mindset that handicaps them for life).
Another possible look at solutions is to think of what could happen in the private sector if for just one season all football proceeds went to provide for the homeless. Can we expect the businesses in the industry to donate it? Would it be more reasonable to think that the patrons could be convinced to donate one season’s worth of ticket money to the cause?
Either way, the amount of money that could be used for relief would be huge, but not one dime of it would be a solution for the large and varied issues of homelessness. The questions on whether the goals are to solve the problems or to encompass a society with regulations that limit them on every level because they are dependent beg to be asked.
Can Government Solve the Problems?
While a number of concerns and solutions could be discussed here, an experience that I could have seen coming if I had been paying closer attention to the signs in our current society has stunned me into speaking up.
In early December I was behind a smiling lady checking out in a store. She had a cart full of items, I had only two, but her items were already being rung up when I stepped into line.
As the checker worked to ring them up, the lady ran back to get one more thing, and we all smiled ‘tis-the-season smiles. On returning she was chattering about how she is like a kid in a candy store at Christmas time. I merrily replied, “Well, you only get one chance a year to enjoy Christmas!”
Just as I said that, two poor looking women walked in the door to shop. I don’t know if they were homeless, but they certainly looked quite needy. They heard my comment and laughed very loudly at me. They began saying that "because Obama is in power we get to enjoy Christmas every day of the year" and more.
Can you imagine how shocked I was? The cashier, the lady in front of me, and I just stood there blinking at them. My heart went out to them with compassion--what could be said to such ignorance? They were indeed needy, but the welfare monies they were apparently enjoying certainly were not meeting their true needs.
They rauciously cackled at us as they walked on into the store. There was no shame, no desire to better themselves, no understanding of where such thinking will lead them, their families, and this nation--nothing but a determined mindset to take from others. What had already been provided to them had not helped them.
Please understand--they brought the President into the conversation (if it could be called that), not me or the other ladies standing there. This came from their thinking, and their thinking is a result of a government’s complete failure to give people what they really need.
That failure is always inevitable because governments do not have the power to produce in people what they need to make them respond responsibly in life. We need government because one person’s rights end where harm to another begins, but government cannot change a heart’s thinking.
Dealing with Those Who Ask for Help Requires Discernment
Several years ago our church was having a picnic in a park that is local to our buildings. A panhandler who was often seen in the vicinity passed through the park at the time. One of our men offered him food and drink, then began a conversation with him. He answered questions freely.
Long story short, he was asked why, when he was obviously able-bodied, he would stand on street corners with a sign begging for help when he could be working in the area. His reply was that he could not make nearly as much money. He was satisfied to take from others using a lie.
Another large ministry that reaches out to homeless men is located near a downtown area so the outreach can be more convenient to the men who congregate there. While on the property or in the buildings the men are not allowed to smoke, drink, or use illegal drugs, of course. Advocating enablement would be foolishness.
Out on the sidewalks and in nearby parking lots, though, some of the men spend their time loitering as they smoke and there’s no doubt about other activities for the police are constantly trying to solve the problems created by their substance abuse. They obviously have some money coming in and they choose to squander their lives with it.
Not all needy/homeless people make that choice, but we have too many examples of those who do. These selfishly use up public and private resources that should go to help those who need and want real help. Thanks to ministries like this one and the ones mentioned above, there are some wonderful success stories.
They Uphold the Rules, It's Called Care
Solving the issues so there can be more successes must include addressing the corruption and abuse within the government’s welfare system and reassessing its ability to provide what people need. Privatizing the system on local levels would be a big step in the right direction, in my opinion, but some who are in true need do not want the accountability that comes with what is offered from private organizations.
In the meantime, volunteers doing what they can to work with and support those who are intensely working with the needy is not a small thing. It has to happen one person at a time on a personal level if it is to be effective. It isn’t easy, but it’s important, and it’s important to do it right rather than to increase society's dependence on a government mushrooming with its own obeseness, doomed to die if it does not change its ways.
With Good Will Toward All
Are You Willing to Take an Opportunity to Help?
Searching “homeless shelter” offers anyone who really wants to help some tremendous opportunities. As well, getting in the trenches with those who are already reaching out to the needy and homeless will give those with little knowledge of what it takes to provide what is needed a beneficial education.
I live in a quad where four states hold hands. Just one of the many opportunities to help in the Atlanta, GA area includes Atlanta Mission. South Carolina has a state SCIWAY that lists Help for Homeless People. One report highlights more than 30 homeless shelters in Charlotte, NC. Tennessee’s shelters listed on the HUD.GOV site are spread across the state.
Checking out homeless shelters across the nation that could use donations and perhaps volunteers is not difficult. A quick look at Indianapolis provided a list of 17 shelters on yellowpages.com. Skipping down to Texas there is an easy-to-find list of about 40 shelters. Catholic Charities alone lists 4 shelters in the Denver area. The number of cities listing shelters in California was 360, with Hollywood having a total of 82 shelters.
Other opportunities to make a difference in lives include the Angel Tree program with Prison Fellowship that reaches out to the families of incarcerated parents, and the Salvation Army Angel Tree program provides gifts and clothing to needy children during the holidays.
I just finished shopping for four children thanks to a group of people who banded together to generously provide the funds (some in the group are Christians, some are not, by the way). My husband purchased eight bicycles for the same program thanks to a different group of similar donors.
Also, there are several organizations that provide crisis help to military families such as USACares (working to stop foreclosures and rental evictions, provide job assistance/relocations, and more). There are also opportunities to reach out to the specific needs of these families with organizations like cru when soldiers are suffering from PTSD.
Do you try to help the needy and the homeless by any of the following methods?
Young Professionals Reaching Out to Help Others
Learn More About Issues Related to the Homeless:
Reading up on the issues is important if we want a balanced look at how best to offer aid to the needy:
• A short discussion including 4 sound ways for Christians to help the homeless in their communities with useful links to more information
• An NPR interview that touches on several points, including the addiction to public assistance. Worth reading through, but it’s important to remember that this is a random sampling of homeless experiences.
• Stay safe when anyone asks for help. Families who have had children kidnapped by someone they tried to befriend highlight the dangers that must be considered when helping the homeless. Nonprofit Risk Management Center offers some good advice. Volunteers should use discernment.
GoodWill Industries Job and Employment Services
More to Consider:
Offering a needy person a job is one of the most beneficial things people in a community can do, but what keeps a person working when it's easier to depend on government subsidies or handouts? What keeps a person from giving up on a job in the first place? 48 Days to the Work You Love by Dan Miller gives people a tremendous opportunity to look for more than a job. By stepping back and exploring just what it is that would be fulfilling to them many people have used Miller's method to find a new and satisfying career. It is a great resource to recommend to anyone in need of a new start.