I Was Homeless and You Helped
What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. – James 2:14-18
The homeless who were fed and covered with blankets at Christmas are still on the streets and in shelters, about to face the coldest and loneliest days of the year. I know; I was homeless once myself. It all began when my husband, Kevin, fell asleep while driving and broke his shoulder.
Our house loan was denied, and we owed money to every motel in town. A rainstorm destroyed our tent. We sat staring at our 1981 station wagon. How did this happen? We were a normal, Christian family.
I laid aside my pride and asked our church for help. For the next month, our congregation and local agencies supported us. For two months, we stayed in a motel that was comfortable, yet inexpensive. One generous church even loaned us a car and offered financial assistance when we found a permanent place to live. I was surprised when people still cared during our leanest months after the holidays. They loved us like Jesus. And they made a difference.
-Martha Jo Walton, “I Was Homeless and You Helped,” Virtue Magazine
(Jan/Feb 1996)© 1996, Christianity Today International, Carol Stream, IL 60188
Wisdom for the Caregiver
The following words of wisdom are from Meladee McCarty and Hanoch McCarty, Acts of Kindness: How To Create a Kindness Revolution (Deer field Beach, FL: Health Communications, Inc., 1994), pp. 113-116. Used by permission.
- Get to know one homeless person. You can find them in shelters, soup kitchens, public health clinics, park benches and bus stations. Don’t have a set agenda other than just getting to know him. Be honest in your discussion with him. Tell him that you are concerned about the plight of the homeless….Don’t apologize for having more than he does, just share yourself as one person to another.
- Recognize them. The homeless know they are invisible to us. Give them the gift of knowing somebody realizes they exist. Share with them a smile, eye contact, a laugh or an experience. It is so painful to be so totally invisible, many homeless report.
- Simply listen to them. Avoid the urge to blame them for their situation or label them as victims. Such talk is dehumanizing.
- Look for their strengths and their talents. Reinforce them when they speak of options. Stand in line with folks on the street. You don’t need to dress up or down or be extremely jovial. As you spend time in the line, it will help you become aware of the forces and choices that put folks on the street. Be authentic with them and absorb and enjoy their stories.
- If you have a talent for problem-solving, help them learn the skills to do so themselves. Not everyone is good at making choices and would do better if they knew how. Practice your own understanding of their condition, and then teach skills. Refrain from trying to solve their problems.
- Help your friend open a bank account so that his money will be safe.
- Help him with strategies for money management and be understanding and persistent with him when mistakes challenge his skills.
- Educate yourself about the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program (AFDC). Call your local welfare office and ask them about the amount of money a typical family receives, how food stamps are used, and what provisions they offer for rent, medical, and childcare assistance.
- Volunteer in a soup kitchen. If the thought frightens you, ask a friend to go with you.
- Visit a homeless person in jail. Don’t assume you have answers before you get there; just ask about her story. The act of kindness is to listen and learn.
- Volunteer in a day shelter for children. Learn and build trust.
- Attend a city council meeting when an agenda pertaining to homelessness is being discussed. Speak of your experience with the homeless; be authentic and state the facts.
- Build a house for the homeless. There are organizations that do just that. The best known is Habitat for Humanity in the directory in most cities under Habitat. You can contribute money to them directly, and their group of volunteers will use the money to build houses. Another option is to have your club or organization take on a construction project with their support. This is a good investment of your time and money.
- Persuade your church congregation or organization to offer a day shelter for women and children. Work within your community to provide regular, low-cost day care for poor, working mothers with homes. Some families are only one or two house payments away from being on the streets. If you support the opportunities for them to keep working, they can continue to have a roof over their heads.
- Make a gift of a public transportation pass to a homeless friend. This can provide the opportunity for the family provider to get to and from work until she gets her feet on steady ground.
- If your community or county has a task force for the homeless, join it, learn from it, and see what you can do to help. We have joined the Sacramento County Task Force for Homeless Children, and it has been a real learning experience. We discovered the very special problems of homeless kids. Can you imagine never getting to go to school, or going to a different school every six to eight weeks as your parents wander from county to county seeking benefits? (County welfare benefits in many locations expire cyclically.)
- Talk with distributors of children’s clothing and ask them if they would be willing to donate seconds to the local clothes closet. Research indicates that homeless students want to attend school, and will, if they are not embarrassed by their clothing.
- Some dry cleaners will clean jackets and coats and distribute them to Goodwill or other social service agencies. If you have a coat or jacket you no longer need or care to wear, it might be of great comfort to someone in need of warmth.
- Habitat for Humanity International, 121 Habitat St., Americus, GA 31709. 1-229-924-6935, ext. 2551 or 2552. Founded in 1976, Habitat is a non-profit, nondenominational Christian housing organization. Homeowners and volunteers contribute the labor to build affordable housing, and homeowners’ payments are recycled into building more homes. Habitat’s website has a wealth of information about homelessness around the world, as well as information for volunteers and prospective homeowners. The website also contains an affiliate directory that provides contact information for its local chapters which can be found in all fifty states and in more than eighty countries.
- National Law Center of Homelessness and Poverty. The Center advocates to protect the rights of homeless people and to implement solutions to end homelessness in the United States through impact litigation, policy advocacy and public education.
- Supporting Communities Partnership Initiatives (SCPI), National Secretariat on Homelessness, 156 rue Hotel de Ville St., 8th Floor, Hull, PQ K1A 0J2. This program of the Canadian government supports collaborative community efforts to address homelessness in ways specific to a local region.
- The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Check out this site for a wealth of information on the homeless in America, as well as information about HHS assistance programs, publications, research results and other resources.
Books and Other Resources
- Beukema, George. Stories from Below the Poverty Line (Scottsdale, PA: Herald Press, 2001). This book is both a message of hope and a challenge to live among the poor as God’s people. We can learn much from the faith and courage of people who struggle below the poverty line.
- Hurtig, Mel. Pay the Rent or Feed the Kids: The Tragedy and Disgrace of Poverty in Canada (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2000). Combining the latest statistics with the heart wrenching stories of those living in poverty and the callous comments of politicians and their corporate supporters, Hurtig calls for a reexamination of today’s society.
- Layton, Jack. Homelessness: The Making and Unmaking of a Crisis (Toronto: Penguin Books, 2000). Layton addresses the crisis from its roots in order to not only understands the problem, but to find workable solutions. Combines research and personal anecdote, as well as analysis from social scientists, housing economists, mayors, journalists, clergy and the homeless themselves.