This is the second post in a two-part series on serving the homeless. If you missed the first part, “Why Are the Homeless Homeless?” be sure to read it first.
I hate to say it, but it is pretty easy to look at a homeless person and do absolutely nothing. We feel uncomfortable, we feel sad, we feel intimidated and we don’t know what to do.
But what if you had ideas of how to serve the homeless? What if you could raise your kids to be the hands and feet of Jesus for the homeless rather than walk or drive by? Would you take the challenge?
Today I am giving you that challenge. Here are 7 great opportunities to serve the homeless with your family.
1. Pray for the homeless.
Please don’t gloss over this first way to serve as a “no brainer” unless you already do pray for the homeless regularly. Too often we chalk up prayer as a given on any Christian list of ways to help but never actually do it.
Prayer is something you can sit down and do for the homeless today with your kids.
Here are some ideas for approaching prayer on this topic:
- Start by asking your kids why they think people are homeless. Use my previous post as a guide for your response/conversation. Be sure to discuss the Timothy Keller quotes at the beginning. This discussion will get your kids thinking about homelessness at a deeper level. (If you have very small children like mine, use this time to explain that not all people have homes to live in and food to eat, and that Jesus wants us to help those people.)
- Take turns praying for the needs that come to mind, such as food, shelter, health, safety, wisdom, openness to the Gospel or motivation to pursue life change. Pray for all homeless or make it more specific by praying for the homeless in your town.
- Ask God to place the opportunity to serve the homeless on your heart so you can do His work. Ask for His guidance in finding those to serve with your gifts.
- If you decide to pursue one of the following serving opportunities, pray specifically for God’s work through that.
2. Donate money directly to homeless ministries or charities.
There are many ministries and charities that serve the homeless. To start, you can simply Google “homeless ministries in (your town).” This is a good starting point for your research, but I know it can be difficult to sift through the many search results to find an organization you feel comfortable donating to. When you do find an organization you like, search for it on www.charitynavigator.org. Charity Navigator provides a wealth of information on more than 5,000 charities to help people evaluate the financial health and accountability of an organization.
There are two great ways for your kids to get involved in donating money. First, if they are old enough to use a computer, have them do the research on the charities. This is an excellent way for them to learn how charities work, figure out how to evaluate them, and have the joy of selecting one. Second, no matter how old they are, they can participate in raising the money you are donating. This is far more impactful than you, as the parent, making the donation on their behalf. Whether it’s a lemonade stand, a yard sale, or a family car wash, pick something together that you can do as a benefit for the homeless.
You may be wondering about giving money directly to homeless people you see. The vast majority of people and ministries working with the homeless do NOT recommend giving money directly to them. Unfortunately, the money is often not used in the way you would hope. See numbers 3 and 4 below for non-monetary items you can give. From an alternative viewpoint, one could say that we are not in a position to judge how the money may or may not be spent and that we should instead give in an unqualified way with a gracious heart. What you decide to do when approached by a homeless person for money is a personal decision. But share your rationale with your kids!
3. Create informational cards or flyers to give the homeless.
Something that Bryan had to get used to when he started serving the homeless was the fact that they are not necessarily just waiting for someone to give them the opportunities they need to get off the street. For many of the reasons I described in my last post (particularly with respect to substance abuse), many are not at the point of being able or willing to seek help. However, those who are temporarily homeless are often willing to accept help. While you might think that someone who doesn’t want to be homeless will quickly figure out what to do, that’s simply often not the case. Finding county, church, private and other resources can be a complex task outside the emotional, physical and/or intellectual scope of someone who has landed on the street. They may be too bankrupt of motivation and hope to seek the help they need.
Do the research for them.
Put together a flyer that lists resources for them to call (yes, the only possession for many is a cell phone) or places to go in person. Resources could include local shelters, substance abuse hotlines and help centers, battered women’s shelters, transitional housing centers, soup kitchens, or churches with homeless ministries. Once again, this is a fantastic way to get your kids involved with online research. Have them research the resources in your local area and make the flyer themselves. Be sure to discuss that not everyone is ready for help, but you never know when God will put your flyer in the right hands at the right time. We keep flyers for the local Orange County Rescue Mission in our car so if we see a homeless person on the freeway or elsewhere, we can hand them an opportunity for help. If you prefer to not give them money (see number 2), this is a great alternative.
When you print your flyers, print extras for your kids to give to their friends! It’s a great way for them to spread the word about helping the homeless and to get more families to give out hope.
4. Organize a donation of goods.
There are several common items that homeless people need. You can donate these things by either having them in your car ready to give when you see someone in need or by donating a number of them at one time through an organization/event.
If you have the items in your car to give to individuals, simply ask when you see them, “Could you or anyone you know use this?” and offer the item.
If you want to give to a large number of people at one time, identify a local organization that regularly serves the homeless in some way. Before you get started on collecting your goods, call the organization and ask three things: 1) Is what you are thinking of providing acceptable to them (they may have specific rules)? 2) Is the timing appropriate (you may want to give hats, but they may have given out hundreds of hats the day before)? 3) How many do you need to bring (you don’t want anyone to be left out – about 300 of an item is needed to cover everyone where Bryan serves each week)?
Here are some ideas for things to donate. Note that it can be expensive to do this on a large scale, but yet again, this is a wonderful way to get your kids to involve their friends and work together. They can either work with friends to collect the items or work together to raise money and then buy the items.
- Gift bag of toiletry items: Travel size toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, shampoo/conditioner, comb/brush, chapstick, sunscreen, lotion. Next month we are going to start working with the kids on putting together 300 of these gift bags for our local homeless! We’ll do 10 per day until we’re done.
- In the winter: Warm hats, socks, gloves, blankets
- Small flashlights
- Packaged food that can be opened by hand and doesn’t require preparation (note that canned goods do not meet this criteria!)
Remember, you don’t have to start by creating and/or donating hundreds of anything – you can always start by putting a handful of these items in your car to give when you see just one person on the street. Your children can have the blessing of handing out items whether they are giving to one or 100 people.
5. Get involved with the homeless ministries of your church or other local churches.
Your church or other local churches may serve in very specific ways that you can plug into right away. The benefit of going through an organization already “on the ground” with the homeless is that you can get involved with the fellowship aspect of serving more easily and comfortably than approaching on your own. While the homeless have many physical needs, their needs for friendship, fellowship, and the Gospel are even more important. There is one local organization that brings nothing but a large pot of coffee downtown every weekday morning as a conduit for conversation with the homeless.
When you look into a serving opportunity, ask the organizer what the appropriate age range for volunteers is to make sure your children can participate. Children can often hand out food (or other items) and/or play with the children being served. There are often children from low income (not homeless) families that come to events serving homeless people.
6. Pray for, donate money to or get involved with ministries to root causes of homelessness.
In my last post, I looked at various root causes of homelessness (e.g., substance abuse, mental illness, the foster system, etc.). If you feel particularly passionate about one of these specific causes, you could serve in any of the previous ways with respect to that cause.
7. Pray for, donate money to or get involved with ministries to segments of the homelessness population.
Similarly, if you feel passionate about specific segments of the homeless population (e.g., battered women, veterans, the temporarily homeless, etc.), you can serve in ways targeted at them. For example:
- Donate clothing and other accepted goods to local organizations that support homeless veterans.
- Volunteer at a local women’s shelter.
- Volunteer at a transitional housing location. For an example, check out the Orange County Rescue Mission’s Village of Hope: http://www.rescuemission.org/. There are all kinds of volunteer needs at facilities geared at helping people transition from the streets – tutoring, career guidance, kitchen help and much more.
So there is the challenge. What will YOU do?