I was in Chattanooga, Tennessee last weekend and had the awesome experience of meeting every “homeless” person working the downtown area. Most of the streets weren’t a problem but the heavily populated touristy areas were thick with every homeless type: mentally ill, drunk, and other categories I made up. My teenage daughter had been in town a few days before us and told us a story of the guy panhandling that she and her friends later saw in nice clothes; he would be in the scam artist category.
I was getting a little fed up, walking around saying NO and then NO, and then NO again as I started to worry how my younger children might see this. I know when I was young I was deeply troubled by people on the street asking for money for food. That’s what they said they needed and I believed them. My parents never filled me on what the truth might have been. But that was in the ’60’s before panhandling became a profession.
Then we ran across a guy probably in his late 20’s, beard, mustache, and a shopping cart who asked if I had some change. I was still processing whether or not to give someone some money and ended up blurting out NO. He wasn’t aggressive and that was it. We went an bought ice cream and came back and there he was. He was telling other passersby that he would jump for money. I couldn’t stand it so I ran back and gave him a couple of dollars, asked him his name and told him I’d be praying for him. He was thankful and the last street person to approach us.
Afterwards I continued to think about why I’m always so uncomfortable dealing with the “homeless” when they ask for money. I think the sole reason for me is ultimately that I’m worried that I’ll be taken advantage of. They say they want money for food but I REALLY know what they’re going to do with it. I think I do. If I could take the time to talk to them I might be able to discern whether or not they’re really in need but they NEVER approach me when I have time to stop and chat. I’m either out of town on vacation, downtown working, or at a corner in my car waiting for the light to change.
But seriously, what difference would it make to me if I give every homeless person I meet throughout the year three, four or five dollars without even thinking about it? Just saying “Here’s some cash. I pray this makes your life better.” That may end up being sixty bucks for the entire year. I personally can afford that without batting an eye. It’s like the tv commercial “For only five dollars a month you can support a homeless person.” I soon came to the conclusion that all of that is beside the point and is not what’s at the core. We all WANT something.
Think about this: what if WE(the non-homeless) started demanding that strangers give us money to buy what we WANT? “Hey, would you like to contribute to the fund to help me buy an iPhone 5? My iPhone 4 isn’t fast enough to do Facebook and talk on the phone.” That would be ridiculous, right? Kind of. We don’t ask or demand from anyone because we will absolutely move mountains to make it happen in our own power. We’re full of pride, arrogance, self-sufficiency, greed and fear. We’re really closely aligned with the scam artist my daughter described.
What do the homeless want? If I think about all the times I’ve been asked for money and the reasons it’s needed, it’s usually money for food, drink, cigarettes, or gas for the car. Sometimes they just don’t tell me, “can I have your spare change?”. Their wants are closer to basic needs in comparison to ours/mine.
Who’s in worse condition, us or them?
Think about what you will do the next homeless person approaches you. Plan on giving them something and think about what you will say that won’t make you sound like your shocked, scared or mean. Don’t judge them at all. Think about what you have, and despite that, what you still want.
The bible says “give everyone that asks you…” and “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God”. If those verses don’t move you, think about this “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” Hebrews 13:2