Wednesday, March 10, 2010

It's never that simple...

I thought it'd be fairly simple. Go to the agrm home page or just google to find a sheet explaining the best way for compassionate individuals to react when encountered by someone who is homeless. What I found at first surprised and then concerned me. Most of the google responses had to do with questions that individuals posted regarding what to do when approached by a person who said he/she was homeless or by someone requesting money. The responses to these posted questions, again from anonymous individuals, ranged from unwisely compassionate to dangerously hostile.

We're all taught by our parents not to talk to strangers. Don't tell strangers your name or give them personal information. It's a safety issue that really doesn't end when you become an adult, especially in this age of identity theft. Just because you have a compassionate heart and see someone in need does not mean that you suddenly forget this valuable lesson. It is better to be helpful but remain anonymous.

One should also always be cautious about handing out money. Though it may seem to be the quickest answer to a problem, money rarely is the "easy solution" everyone touts it to be. The few dollars you give to a stranger on the street could go to supporting a self destructive habit, rather than providing a local service agency with the means to combat the man or woman's addiction or situation. If you feel a desire to give monetarily, call your local homeless shelter or visit their website to make a donation. Keep a list of service agency numbers to offer if someone comes to you for help.

In our area (Michigan's capital), 211 is an excellent resource for those looking for help. Not only is it easy to remember, it's also a free call from any landline phone. The person looking for assistance calls 211 and reaches a friendly operator, who searches their database and provides the caller with the names and numbers of agencies who can help meet their specific need.

To return to our google postings, the responses varied on either extreme. The unwisely compassionate were those willing to go to any extreme to help someone in need. Discretion is always the best practice, even in matters of compassion. You want to be sure that your "good deeds" are actually doing good, not enabling self destructive habits or merely "patching" a bad situation.

The other side of the suggestions came from those whose anonymity gave strength to their voice of hostility. Opinions ranged from "punching the bums" in the face or threatening them with weapons. In fact, these suggestions only underline a growing trend of violence again the homeless. The National Coalition for the Homeless reports that 106 homeless individuals were violently assaulted in 2008; 27 of those assaults resulted in death. In 2002, two young men made a business out of taping homeless men fighting each other for the promise of a few dollars.

At the City Rescue Mission, our desire is always to meet the physical and spiritual needs of men, women, and children in Michigan's capital area. We seek to nurture an attitude of compassion to our guests and to encourage those who truly desire to help to become as educated as possible, not only about homelessness but also about our ministry (visit our website at

Some good resources for information include the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions (, the National Coalition for the Homeless, and the Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness.

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