How To Serve the Homeless With Your Family Part II: 7 Great Opportunities

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 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: 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? 


5 thoughts on “How To Serve the Homeless With Your Family Part II: 7 Great Opportunities”

  1. Natasha @ Christian Mom Thoughts

    One of the volunteers Bryan serves with weekly emailed me some great comments on his perspective with respect to serving the homeless. I wanted to share those comments here as well:

    When I first started going, I would keep very busy serving and working, and very little time talking to people. In the last year, I’ve reversed it. I do almost no work, and spend most of my time talking. I like the talking better. In the course of my jabbering, I’ve become fairly friendly with three guys.

    One guy was a manual laborer, and is now in his mid 50s. One is from Nigeria, had a masters degree in aeronautical engineering from US and one was in the Army until the mid 80s and has bounced back and forth with substance issues for the last few decades.

    I talk to all three of these guys almost every week. I would estimate half of our conversation is about current issues they’re dealing with, staying warm, baseball, life, etc. And the second half of the discussion is about solving the homeless problem.

    Part of every conversation I have with someone who’s homeless is to ask them how to solve the entire issue. In fact, when I’m out there talking to people who are interested in a conversation, I always ask them how we can all work together and solve homelessness. What’s missing. What is America doing wrong, what are we doing wrong as a society and how can we end this.

    I ask that question because I’ve had long conversations with each of these guys, and none of the three are interested in getting off the streets. There’s a hierarchy among the homeless, they’re senior guys, they have a dry place to stay, and while there are disadvantages of being homeless, like, not having a home, they believe the advantages outweigh the disadvantages and they can think clearly enough about the problem that when I ask them the question, they respond by talking about other people who have problems like drugs or alcohol.

    In other words, the homeless problem is not a problem for them, it’s a problem for people who don’t want to be on the streets. Which is interesting.

    To put it another way, there’s no homeless problem. There are drug problems, drinking problems, poverty problems, mental problems, but it’s not a homeless problem. Each of those specific issues has a different method to be successfully addressed.

    So I would say that you should pick as specific issue, address that issue, and a side benefit would be to reduce the incidence of homelessness related to that specific issue.

    For example, the estimate is 25% of the homeless have drug problems. If you fix the drug problem, by definition, you fix the homeless problem. Well, how do you fix the drug problem? That gets trickier. There’s social policy, legal changes, the nature of addiction, broken families and the vested interests that aren’t interested in change. It requires a massive change in resources, treatment and consequences. But those discussions aren’t happening seriously by either side, so the drug problem continues, and the number of homeless with drug problems doesn’t change. So instead of dealing with the root cause, it’s much easier to try and solve the homeless problem.

    Now, from a social standpoint, we’re still a long way off from addressing any of those problems seriously, so while people figure that out, I’m very happy to still serve on Thursdays. In fact, that experience for me anchors my week. It’s profound in what it does to me. So, in a selfish way, the act of serving others does more for me than it probably does for them.

  2. Natasha, this is wonderful information and I feel so inspired. Thank you for sharing!! I’ve pinned to Pinterest and will be sharing in Facebook as well. 🙂

    1. Natasha @ Christian Mom Thoughts

      That’s awesome, Rosann! I’m so glad you found it helpful. And thank you for sharing it with others! Let me know if you end up doing any of the things. I would love to hear!

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