How to Help a Homeless Person

Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. -Matthew 25:40

What do you do when you see someone holding up a sign, “Will work for food?” or similarly, “Homeless, need help”?

There are different arguments and ideas from multiple sources on what you should do when meeting a homeless individual or are approached by someone who is homeless.  Our answer: Do what you feel led by Jesus to do.  There is no single face to homelessness and as such there is no blanket answer as to what should be done.  Not every homeless person has the same background or situation.  Therefore, each of them in their own right deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.  For some of them, all they truly want is $5 to get a meal.  If you’d feel better buying a meal for them and giving it to them, then please do so.  For others, they are asking for money to get their next “fix”.  The unfortunate part is we do not know what they would do with the money we might give them.  We MUST have faith that the gift we are giving them will help them in some way.

Do you give them money or do you pretend you don’t see them?  There is no easy or right answer to this question.  Each of us have a different opinion or theory.  As well, we all have a different heart and level of caring.  We would suggest you use your own best judgment.  But in doing so, ask yourself what you might need if you were in their shoes.  Also, perhaps you can think of the commandment to do unto others as you’d have done unto you.  

Some things to think of when you meet or encounter a homeless person:

  1. If you feel led to purchase a meal or give a homeless person a few dollars, do so with the intent that it is going to help them.  Don’t consider the what-if’s or the what will they do with the money.  The man you meet at a stoplight might truly be asking for money to provide formula or diapers for the infant child who is with the mother at some other location right now.  Never underestimate the power of one single, good deed towards another.  A dollar can buy a bottle of water and that might be the one thing that keeps a homeless person going for today.  You may also want to keep simple snack bags full of water, nabs, a granola bar or something similar in your car.  Hand those out without reservation.  That may truly be the only thing they have to eat today.
  2. Talk to a homeless person just like you would talk to any other person you encounter.  Yes, some of them may not be mentally stable.  In those cases, take precaution by keeping a safe distance, not displaying your wallet or electronics, etc.  However, many of them want to be treated with dignity and respect.  A simple and honest conversation can go a very long way.  Offer encouragement.  Ask what they need.  Show a genuine interest in their well-being.  Don’t look through them or disregard them like they don’t matter; we all matter.  Take time to speak in a friendly, respectful manner.  For many of them, this could and will be the highlight of their day.
  3. There is no single, solitary face of homelessness.  Men, women, children, transgender; they are all different and come from different backgrounds.  Sure, many of their stories may appear like those of other homeless people.  However, none are exactly the same.  Homelessness happens for any number of reasons.  Loss of job, loss of home, substance abuse addiction issues, recently released from jail, medical issues, domestic violence, poverty, lack of education, lack of job skills and the list goes on.  Each one of them is experiencing homelessness for a myriad and variety of reasons.  As such, there is no one-size fits all remedy or solution.  Keep this in mind should you encounter a homeless person or persons.  What is true for one is more than likely not true for the next.  And the old adage applies; don’t judge a book by it’s cover.  
  4. Jesus definitely wants us to be the “light” for the homeless.  A beacon to shine on the path that may lead them out of their current predicament.  What does that look like?  Each of us love, revere, respect and worship God in a different way.  When you are speaking to a homeless person, don’t come off as “holier-than-thou”.  Condescension is definitely not something that a homeless person needs or is looking for.  Lift them up.  Provide a scripture verse or words of encouragement from the Bible that shows them Jesus loves them, accepts them and will take care of them.  Remind them, if you can, that nothing that they have done in the past is not forgivable.  If you have a spare copy of the New Testament or could pick up multiple copies of the Bible at a local dollar store to hand out, that would be most beneficial.  Who knows…you providing a copy of the Bible might be the one thing that could change their path.  
  5. Jesus reminds us to pray daily and without ceasing in 1st Thessalonians 5:17.  If nothing else, all of us can recite the Lord’s Prayer as found in Matthew 6:9-13.  Simply praying with a homeless person can perhaps offer more hope than any other single thing.  If a homeless person decides that they want to follow Jesus and are a believer, put them in touch with your local clergy/pastor, etc. or refer them to us at the Mission.  Many who are homeless see no end to their plight nor do they see a way out of their current situation.  By using God’s word, we can show them that there truly is a pathway to a brighter future and better tomorrow that is based upon the scriptures.  Never refuse or deny a homeless person the chance to pray with them.  
  6. Be safe when you are approached by or talking with a homeless person or group.  NOT all of them are dangerous, however, some may have underlying health issues that may make them unstable.  If you can, talk with them while you have someone else around.  Never display your wallet, electronics or valuables to them.  As well, never offer to take them to an ATM machine or other money-giving location that could be dangerous to you.  Not all are dangerous or violent, but it only takes one unfortunate situation to leave a lasting image.  Should you decide to give money at an intersection, only roll your window down far enough to give the money to them through the open slot.  Be sure that you offer assistance in an open area, preferably with others around at the same time.  Most of all, use your own good sense and judgment.  
  7. Since the mid 1970’s, The Rescue Mission of Cape Fear has been in operation to help those who are in need and are experiencing homelessness for a variety of reasons.  Refer the homeless men that you encounter to us.  We’ve helped 1000’s of people over the last almost half-century.  Our help goes much further than 3 hots and a cot as some would say.  Our Mission is the only one in Wilmington for men that is a residential shelter.  We are here for them and welcome the opportunity to provide them assistance in any possible way we can.  If you know of a man in need of assistance, please send them our way.
  8. The Rescue Mission of Cape Fear depends on revenues from our Bargain Center thrift store, donations from churches and individuals as well as bequests from others.  ALL of these funds go towards helping the men in our program and operating the Rescue Mission.  From keeping the lights on and the water running to food in the fridge and freezer; it all goes to help the homeless.  Rest assured, we are working to help the homeless in the Cape Fear Region.  If you can, please consider making a donation to this effort.  Either by donating food to feed our men to a financial donation to donation to our Bargain Center, all of these donations will go towards helping us help the men in our program.  We thank you and praise you for all that you do to help us at the Mission to continue to mission started over 45 years ago.  
  9. Finally, and most importantly, we ask for your prayers and thoughts.  Please pray daily for the men in our program at the Mission, the staff and volunteers who give of their time freely and without reservation.  Without all of these people, the Mission would cease to operate and help.  Please put us on your prayer list at home, church or other places of worship.  This is perhaps the most important thing that you can do to help the homeless along with the men in our program and staff at the Rescue Mission of Cape Fear!  God Bless!!

WAYS TO HELP THE HOMELESS:

  • Give and show respect.
  • Take a moment to interact with them and learn what they need.
  • Talk with them and see who they are.
  • Show care and concern for their plight.

PROVIDE HELP ANY WAY YOU CAN:

  • Give a care package full of food, toiletries, water, etc. to help them with what they need. 
  • Offer words of encouragement including scripture to show them that God loves them.
  • Refer them to a place that can potentially provide help such as the Rescue Mission of Cape Fear.

OFFER TO PRAY WITH THEM:

  • Ask them if they’d like for you to pray for them, their family or loved ones.
  • Offer specific Bible-based prayers or verses specific to their situation.

ENCOURAGE THEM TO GET HELP AT RESCUE MISSION OF CAPE FEAR OR OTHER AGENCIES:

  • Meals, shelter, and vital care can help them get back on their feet. 
  • If the Rescue Mission of Cape Fear is not the best alternative, refer them to another location such as the Good Shepherd Center, the Salvation Army, Family Promise or other locations for assistance.