Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Simple Facts on Panhandling

NOTE: These words of wisdom were written by a representative of a faith-based nonprofit in Colorado Springs; nevertheless, most of the advice applies to how to handle homeless people in general, many of whom suffer from mental illness. I could add from personal observation that most panhandlers are genuinely surprised when you offer them a chance to do some work or buy them a meal instead of handing them some money. Don't be startled or offended if they turn you down.

"The difference between what we are doing and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world’s problems." - Gandhi

Focus – On what matters most

Execution – Making it happen

Lyn Harwell
Springs Rescue Mission

What do you do when you see someone holding up a sign, "Will Work for Food"? Do you roll down your window and give them money? Do you pretend you didn't see them? Most people don’t like to be confronted by the homeless - their needs often seem too overwhelming - but we all want to treat them fairly and justly. Here are some simple guidelines to equip you to truly help the homeless people you meet:

1. Never give cash to a homeless person
Too often, well intended gifts are converted to drugs or alcohol - even when the "hard luck" stories they tell are true. If the person is hungry, buy them a sandwich and a beverage.

2. Talk to the person with respect
Taking time to talk to a homeless person in a friendly, respectful manner can give them a wonderful sense of civility and dignity. And besides being just neighborly, it gives the person a weapon to fight the isolation, depression and paranoia that many homeless people face.

3. Recognize that homeless people (and their problems) are not all the same
The homeless are as diverse as the colors of a rainbow. The person you meet may be a battered woman, an addicted veteran, someone who is lacking job skills...the list goes on.

4. Share God's love whenever you can
If Jesus were walking the earth today, He would certainly spend time with the homeless. He would speak with them, heal them, and help them. Today, Jesus chooses to work through those who believe and follow Him. Jesus instructs us all in Matthew 25 to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit the sick and imprisoned.

5. Pray for the homeless
Exposure to the elements, dirt, occasional violence, and lack of purpose all drain years from a person's life. God can use your prayers and the brutality and the futility of life of the street to bring many of the broken to Himself.

6. Take precautions for your own safety
Some living on the streets are criminals and fugitives running from the law. Always be prudent while talking with street people. Stay in areas where other people can see you. Don't take unnecessary chances.

7. Encourage the homeless to get help through your local Rescue Mission
Springs Rescue Mission offers immediate food, clothing and shelter referrals to the homeless. We offer free year-long rehabilitation programs that deal with the root causes of homeless. Marion House, and Salvation Army are other local providers that can help the homeless. Also, in El Paso county, you can simply dial “211” to receive a complete local listing of agencies offering services to those in crisis.

8. Print out and carry this Free Meal coupon [distributed by Springs Rescue Mission and other nonprofits] to give away
This coupon can be given to homeless people and can be exchanged at the Mission for a nutritious meal and a safe place to get out of the weather and to talk with counselors about further help and assistance.

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