I’ve spent 7 years in relationship with a whole slew of people living on the streets in Hollywood and Orange County. One of the most common questions I hear is, “What should I do when someone asks me for money?”
I’ve answered it in classes, and as brief as I can in conversation, but don’t think I’ve ever blogged about it. It’s not an easy question, so I’m going to do my best to sum up some options, fully aware that there can be a lot going on with a person that could negate any of these suggestions, or be inappropriate for a specific circumstance. So with that disclaimer (and a hopefully obvious disclaimer of SAFETY FIRST), let’s start with:
1. I Don’t Know. But God Does.
You’re the person in that situation, talking to that person, so you can always ask God for discernment on how to respond. I’ve had moments where I said no and left with no interaction because I didn’t feel safe, and others where I sat down and we talked and prayed for the next 30 minutes. Don’t go with your mood, DO go with your gut (being tired and in a bad mood isn’t necessarily a gut reaction from God that allows us to refuse help.) In fact, half of the time I’ve had the most amazing interactions was when I really had to suck it up and push past my lack of motivation. Listen to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and move accordingly.
Ok, I know that’s vague, so let’s get practical…
2. Give Cash….or don’t. But build a relationship.
Many times I will pull out a few bucks, always accompanied with an introduction of myself and asking their name. Sometimes I’ll do all of the intro first, then find out if I can buy them anything instead to find out the real need. I wrote a blog a few years ago about a man named Jacques who I met on the street. This is how we got to know each other.
I was walking home from the gym and told him I had no money on me, but still introduced myself and asked him about himself – how long he’d been in this situation, what his needs were, etc. I’d see him every week or two, and we’d spend some time talking and getting to know each other. We never talked about money after that. In fact, quite often, money is not the real need. Look past the question to the true need being presented. Just a hint: it probably has to do with relationship – with God, and with others.
3. Meet Another Need
I’ve carried water bottles and granola bars in my car. I recently helped a group of elementary school kids put together toiletry kits to give to those experiencing homelessness in their neighborhoods. Is it because these people really can’t get toiletries? Not really. I mean, they are a need and everything helps. But it’s also a way to show you care, without having to give away money. It’s personal and, once again, provides an opening to conversation.
Likewise, carry resource cards for all of the places in your area that provide showers, food, beds, laundry service. Those are some of the real needs, and a few bucks aren’t going to provide those. Those resources are also likely far better equipped to help them long-term – send the people you meet to those who have the resources to get them on their feet.
4. Provide an Opportunity or Solution
Call me crazy, but consider also carrying information for your church, and maybe a few bus tokens. That way, you can invite them into a place of community and get to know them in a safer environment. Granted, this will likely be refused, but you never know! And call me really crazy, but consider asking if and how you can pray for them – then do it right there. People need people, and people need God. If your Bible is the same as mine, it says to heal the sick, cast out demons, and give to those in need. Is the person in front of you sick or injured? Pray for it and expect a miracle!
Again, look past the ask to the need. They’re homeless for a reason, such as not having a job. They probably don’t have a job because they’re mentally ill, physically ill, or simply ill-equipped. I remember meeting a man who knew painting, construction, yard work, etc and just needed an opportunity. So I told him I’d ask my brother-in-law (a general contractor) if he had any work.
Another man I met on the side of the road also needed work, so I looked up jobs on Craigslist, printed them, and then had him meet me in a public place so I could give them to him and talk about applying. Eventually, it became clear he just wanted to go home after getting off of parole. So some friends helped pool money and I bought him a bus ticket home where he could be with family.
I could go on and on, even getting into reasons why some of these could be harmful depending on the person and their situation. But you don’t want to read forever or get into psychology right now (I don’t think..and if you do, check out this training).
What I boil it down to is, no matter the situation – good, bad, ugly, misunderstood, everyone needs the love of a Savior, and the love of people. Start there with whatever you decide, and you can’t go wrong.
Of course, feel free to comment with your own ideas and to ask me questions – I love helping however I can in this area!