Saturday, January 20, 2007

The least of my people

Do you believe in coincidence?

My son, like all those of childlike faith, wants to help the homeless. When we visit our city's libraries, parks, and thrift stores, we are approached for money every time. I'm ashamed to admit it, but my gut response is less than Christian. It's one thing to support the Rescue Mission or contribute food to the church's Room at the Inn. But in person? I hurry my children into the car for safety, then drive home, awash with guilt.

My husband and I were once involved in a church ministry on a major urban street; we spent time serving and worshipping with the homeless. I saw just enough erratic behavior to make me fearful now that I have young children to protect. Sometimes we stop at Richland Park for a nursing break. Watching homeless men creep closer and closer to my bench always sparks a fight-or-flight reaction.

In reality, who should be more in tune with the hungry than a nursing mother?

Here's where the story gets interesting. Remember those diapers I bought as a yard sale, which were such a symbol of God's provision? I sold them on Craig's List to a nice young couple when the baby outgrew them. A few months go by, and I recognize the father's name on a local website. His own blog explores radical Christianity and social justice. He has become an advocate for the homeless. I decide to send him my question in hopes of some concrete suggestions. Do read his answer--the last sentence is so powerful.

Those diapers have certainly challenged my thinking.

Postscript: in another bit of synchronicity, Christy at Abundant Life just shared her encounter with a homeless man on the road.


Anonymous said...

"Today it is fashionable to talk about the poor. Unfortunately it is not fashionable to talk with them." - Mother Teresa of Calcutta

"The poor are Christ himself" - Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Anonymous said...

Meredith - Very good post. Thanks! I clicked through and read all of the links. We used to do a bag with a loaf of bread, bag of oranges or apples and some processed American cheese. Did it with my older kids for years. I'm not sure, exactly, why we stopped, but we did. I'm motivated by your post to put together some bags again.

Milehimama @ Mama Says said...

We've always put together bags. They usually just have food in them, though. A sandwich, piece of fruit, drink - a sack lunch basically. Even if I didn't have the lunches, I always tried to keep some bottled water in my car - to give drink to the thirsty.
If you do make lunches, remember that many homeless have very bad teeth - so avoid the apples, raisins, crunchy granola bars, etc.

ravengal said...

I feel it is my duty to protect my children, especially when my husband is not with us. Drugs and alcohol make people do strange, sometimes evil things. Furthermore, life on the streets also brings out the predatory nature in people. Please be careful.

Marie said...

I just avoid giving them money. I know they usually use it for crack or alcohol.

I've also been yelled at by them when I give them food! I think it's fine to give them food, though.

Heather @ Marine Corps Nomads said...

I think that when our children are with us, we do need to be more cautious. God has given them to us to protect. We often help the homeless, but we do it in a more controlled manner. We go to the homeless shelter to donate. We have been trying to work out being able to help at the soup kitchen as well, but something always happens (one of us gets sick, the car breaks down...) If my daughter is not with me, depending on the circumstance, I will give food.

I will not give money to a homeless person because of my experiences with things that have happened -- buying booze or drugs with that money. I've had several people get extremely angry and curse at me with I wouldn't give them money, but offered them food. My daughter does not need to be exposed to that type of thing.

I do like the idea of the Homeless bag with food for the homeless person. I may need to implement that idea.

Anonymous said...

It's just difficult with small children and no babysitter. I can't leave them to go help other people and do most of my volunteer work from home or by donation. Yet, when a preschooler is old enough to recognize need and doesn't SEE me helping others, all my behind-the-scenes effort is wasted, at least in terms of his character education.

I think it will be less threatening to work with homeless women and children in my area. Hopefully, I can find a way to do that with the kids in tow. This should also ease my husband's qualms about subsidizing people who choose to live on the street. However, I plan to have a few homeless bags in the car for when we're approached in town. It's hard to differentiate when someone is really in need and when someone is trying to scam you for drug money. If they're hungry, they'll take it, though, right?

Anonymous said...

Wow. Thanks for sharing the links. I followed the links you provided and was thrilled to find resources on homelessness in Nashville (besides the Rescue Mission) that I didn't know about.

Anonymous said...

I highly doubt people actively "choose" to be homeless. Bad stuff happens, people lose jobs, houses go into foreclosure. We shouldn't rush to judgment about the poor/homeless.

Marie said...

I think the emphasis on women and children is wise.

Anonymous said...

Like a lot of people I live paycheck to paycheck and I am but one missing paycheck away from being out on the street. No-one chooses to be homeless. I have known people personally in this exact situation, and I can assure you that they did not choose to be homeless.

I have to say that I am saddened and disappointed to read about you and your husbands thoughts on the homeless in our community. I guess I expected more from you because you are Christians.

I may not own a home, and live paycheck to paycheck, but I have a lot more than other people have and consider myself blessed. I have a roof over my head, food on the table, a warm bed to sleep in at night, and most importantly a family that loves me. Not everyone is as blessed as I. I give whenever I see a need. I don't want to start boasting about what I do, so I'll just say that much.

Why is it that the people with the least are the ones that give the most?

Meredith said...

I didn't mean to infer that all homeless choose to live on the street. Please give me the benefit of the doubt, Anonymous, as you are clearly a giving person. I was trying to respond to comments with a sick baby on my lap--not the best time for clear writing.

What I meant to say was that in previous church work, we encountered several homeless men who repeatedly refused help and offers of semi-permanent housing. Whether those choices were made by mental illness or addiction, I don't know. One woman even "lived" on the streets within a few blocks of her family's home. It left a lingering impression on my husband. Did it put us off helping people we encountered one-on-one in the street? Yes, it did to an extent. We worried that our help was going to addiction instead of rehabilitation.

I don't recall saying how much or how little my family gives. We don't brag about our good works, either, Anonymous. We give often and freely when we see a need. With the homeless, we have always given through organizations and churches. We figured that they knew best how to help those who couldn't help themselves.

I wrote asking for advice because I wanted to learn how to give personally, not through an organization. Yet I didn't want to give in a way that was not safe, helpful, or wanted.

I said I would feel best about helping women and children in crisis because I think I could do the most for them. We are all only a few paychecks short of being on the street, every one of us. I am not making a moral judgement by choosing to work with one group over another. I just want to help, I have kids along, and my husband doesn't want me, alone, carrying cash around to give to strangers in a park.

Do honestly think I am less Christian for choosing how I can help?

Chrissy said...

Meredith - don't let the naysayers get you down! Some people just like to stir the pot.

It never ceases to amaze me that, because you reveal a bit of yourself via your blog, people feel that they know you well enough to say whatever pops into their heads. There are some lines that shouldn't be crossed and people need to remember that.

Hang in there!

Mom of thirteen said...

Meredith I really appreciate your transparency here and was doubly blessed by the post at the "Trying To Follow" blog. There are some very powerful nuggets in his article! It sure touches on some soul searching I have been doing,not about the homeless, but the whole comfortable, safe, suburban, Christian life. **sigh**

I was telling my husband there are no new challenges for us lately and that I do feel we are too comfortable. Not rich, still live on one income for 14 of us, but God has grown us through the years as being "those that go against the flow" (twelve kids, home school,mom who stays at home, etc). I think God is giving me an itch to break out of this comfortable life and take our faith to the next level. Exciting and terrifying! lol.

Thanks again for the post and link.


Anonymous said...

First, congratulations on your pregnancy!

My comment may not seem related to the homeless, but it came to mind when I read the response you received from "Trying to Follow:"

I chose public school over private school (and over home schooling) as a conscious choice to "contribute toward" versus "protect from." I hope that makes sense.