What If You Had To Answer This Question?

A few weeks ago, I shared this video on Facebook. It’s a little long, but if you have a couple minutes, it’s a challenging scenario on homelessness from the TV show “What Would You Do?”

Literally, the very next day after I shared this, I found myself in a similar circumstance and was forced to see what I really would do.

A man walked into a fast food restaurant while we were there and started asking Billy for money. It turns out that I will act a bit confused, focus exclusively on my children and shuffle with them to a table, leaving Billy to decide what he will do.

Things escalated when the staff noticed he had entered the building and began shouting for the security guard. Suddenly, it felt like the whole restaurant was zeroing in on this man and hollering for him to leave. For a moment, I expected the cameras to emerge.

But again, I stayed out of it. Kind of like the guys who most annoyed me in the video...

I have always struggled with how to approach homelessness in the most loving and dignified way. After years of living in the city, it still baffles me.

Do you often encounter the homeless in your community? What do you do?

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  1. Part 2/2
    - Money: I've had conversation about best practices plenty of times and there still is no consensus. But here's what I've wrestled with lately. I know many people don't want to give money to people who are homeless because they think they'll use it for drugs, booze etc. That very well may be true. But we just don't know...and if I go to the Bible and hear Jesus say give to the ones who ask you for help, I don't hear him say "only give if you're sure that person is going to use it in the exact right way and if it's not to the "right" place than don't give and just ignore them and keep your money that you probably don't need as much as they might." He says give freely because God has given freely to you. And I can't help but think about how many times God has blessed me with things: friend, money, opportunities etc. And how many times have I squandered those or mistreated those? And how many times does God continue to give to me in big and small ways? There are PLENTY of perspectives on this of course, many points to argue and many Scripture references to look at and analyze over and over again - but lately, I've felt convicted to just GIVE. just DO IT. I don't need to know where it's going and to what...if I allow having power over my sacrifices to control whether or not I actually give - I'm in trouble. Because I'm no longer giving from a loving heart, but from a place of privilege and insecurity. So yes- sometimes my money may go to things I wish it didn't. But that's not my fight. I think at some point I have to give up control, let God be God and just do what he says - give. I don't want to enable someone to make destructive choices...but when I'm confronted by someone I don't know, saying they need money for food, everyone else is ignoring them and I have 1 second to make a decision without gaining any other knowledge about the person...will I choose to judge and condemn? or will I choose to let the Spirit lead and offer assistance?
    - Education, education, education. I try really hard to actually learn about the issues surrounding homelessness and hear the stories of those that are struggling. I've volunteered at countless homeless shelters and community resource centers in Boston trying to understand how and why and what can we do. How else will I ever let of my preconceived notions and fear? It's complicated. There's SO MUCH to learn. But I have to try or else I will never have even the slightest clue about how to interact gracefully. This goes for all people and all things in my book.
    -Finally, I want to start trying to ask people something simple, yet incredibly meaningful and undeniably useful. In my interactions, whether I give money or not or if I buy them a sandwich or not, whatever happens - I want to ask them if there's anything they need prayer for. I want to get to a place where I've truly cast aside my fear enough that I can engage in real conversations, every time, and ask - Can I pray for you? Right then and there. Not at home where I feel safe. Praying for them and WITH them. I dont know what will happen. Maybe they'll say yes. Maybe they'll say no. But what a fool proof way to love someone by lifting them up to God and asking for provision, peace, safety and healing. This is my goal. Time to stop talking about this one and starting TRYING and doing.

    I don't get it right nearly as many times as I wish I did. In fact, most days I let the fear win. But once I realize its really MY brokenness that is the problem in these interactions...it's a lot easier to come up with a plan to love better.

  2. Part 1/2
    Hey Sarah! I've lived in Boston for the past four years and issues of housing and homelessness are very much present around every street corner. I was lucky enough to be educated on the topic right away, the first week of my freshman year of college through a program called the First Year Student Outreach Project at Boston University. It got me thinking early on and I haven't stopped thinking, learning, observing and trying since. I think TRYING is the most important part...we can think and talk about homelessness a ton without ever actually trying to DO anything except continue to ignore, dehumanize and degrade people who are homeless. So here's a few things I try and a few things I've been thinking about lately.
    - Firstly, in all things, I always try to use person-first language. It's really important and something a lot of people surprisingly don't know! Instead of saying "the disabled boy" we really should say "the boy whose disabled." Same with "the autistic girl" versus "the girl with autism." It's about valuing THE PERSON first and foremost. Someone's identity is not (or should not to us or them) be defined by a singular characteristic. In the same way, I try to use this language when talking about people who are homeless. So I say, "the man who is currently experiencing homelessness" and NOT "the homeless man."
    - Early on in Boston I learned that even though this issue is complicated and how we respond feels confusing, the #1 golden rule of thumb is: acknowledge the human being in front of you and treat them with dignity. So I try to never, ever just ignore a person who is homeless when I pass them on the street or anywhere else. If nothing else, we need to get over ourselves and our own insecurities/fears and look the person in the eye, smile and say hello. When we don't even do this, we completely dehumanize people who are homeless and relate to them more as pieces of the sidewalk than real people. - not ok.
    - I try really hard to overcome my basic fear instinct and see my own discomfort as a sign of MY brokenness, not theirs. If I see a person who is homeless up ahead, I may feel nervous for many reasons. Maybe I have some preconceived notion that they are "unpredictable or dangerous." Or maybe I'm just nervous because I want to "do the right thing" but I don't know how. Either way, I try to snap out of it!! Fear is only going to thwart my mission. So I try to get rid of it.

  3. Hi Steph! Thanks for sharing some of your journey. Clearly, you have a heart that cares deeply for others and you have spent intentional energy praying and thinking about how to love those in this particular situation well. It's encouraging and inspiring. Thanks for being specific in some of the ways you've tried to show respect and dignity!

  4. Helping the homeless is definitely a sore subject in our household. I blame this on the fact that Mike has been a police officer in downtown Nashville and seen the worst case scenarios. He is very cynical about people asking for help, and tells me stories about people who stand on the streets with their signs, and then drive home to a house that's nicer than ours. He also knows all the help that is available to the homeless, and gets really irritated with guys who won't go the Mission for food because they don't want to listen to a sermon. I see his side, but I also see the side that Steph pointed out. Jesus tells us to give to those who need help, and it doesn't matter what they choose to do with it. I guess my compromise is that I try to give food, not money. My dad carries around gift cards to fast food places to give away, which I also think is a good idea. It is definitely something that I struggle with, and Mike as well.

    1. Hi Heather! Thanks for your honesty about this difficult topic. I can definitely appreciate that your husband's experiences have affected his views. I have heard folks joke of "scams" but never actually heard of someone who'd witnessed something like that. So unfortunate. Especially for those who really are struggling.

      I have also seen some organizations offering incredible services (with and without sermons), and I do hope the folks who needs those resources will get connected.

      Thanks for sharing how you wrestle with these questions!

    2. Okay, this is going to sound weird, but I think God had me read your blog yesterday so I would be prepared for a situation I ran into today. I was at Aldi's doing my weekly shopping, and when I went to put my cart away there was a homeless man sitting near the carts. He didn't ask me for anything, and in fact, had his head down. But I really felt like God wanted me to go talk to him, so I went and asked if he needed any food. He said yes, that he hadn't eaten all day. I told him that I didn't have any cash (which was true, I only had the quarter for my Aldi's cart) but I would get him some food in Aldi's if he wanted. He said okay, but didn't want to come inside with me. So, I went back into the Aldi's and tried to think like a homeless person: What would be good to eat if you were homeless? I settled on beef jerky, trail mix, almonds, bread, peanut butter, jelly, and Gatorade. He was really sweet and grateful, and before I left I told him that Jesus loved him, which is something else I am not good at doing. Anyways, thanks for your blog post that got me thinking about homelessness, and how God calls us to help people, not judge them.

    3. Wow! What a surprising follow-up to our conversation. Way to put feet to our words! I'm thankful for your testimony.


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