Question of the day: helping the homeless.

Nick over at Multitude of Counsel sent me a text last week and asked me a question. Seconds later he sent me another text and told me that his question should be featured on today’s question of the day post. So, without further delay – here is Nick’s question…

How are we in cities supposed to react to scores of homeless people every single day just going frmo point A to point B?

What do you think?
Do you have any ideas on how one could handle this situation?
How should Christians respond to homeless people when they simply “don’t have the time”…?
Thoughts? Ideas? Scripture? Questions?
Leave a comment below and get the discussion rolling!


Posted on January 24, 2011, in Question of the Day and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. To this, I’d have to say there are at least 5 parts to the answer:

    (1) Understand why. Many of the “visibly” homeless are that way because of habits like drink. But my own family – I, my wife, and our two teenage children – wound up homeless for nearly 6 years. Most of the other homeless people we met (several hundred) hadn’t lost their homes to that, but to (1) layoffs – that was us, (2) sickness, compounded by how few government health programs there are in the US, or (3) divorce.

    (2) Christians “don’t have the time?” Jesus said that loving and helping our neighbors – certainly including the homeless – is equally important to loving God, and that as we do or don’t help them, he counts it as helping or not helping HIM. So how can we say we “don’t have time?” If our priorities don’t let us make time for what Jesus says is most important, are we even Christians? Still, today, with all our society’s drug and drinking problems, be careful about taking the homeless into your own home (Romans 12:13), unless they’re people you know well. Try to refer them to an agency that is set up to help them.

    (3) Yet this is clearly beyond what any one of us can do. So, first, as churches we need to work together. And we need to follow the Biblical principle (2 passages in Deuteronomy) that says that a third of our tithes, long term, are to be used to help the poor. (That’s not limited to the homeless, but helping any kinds of the poor – like widows, orphans, or immigrants) in the Biblical way will prevent many of them from ever becoming homeless.)

    (4) We may not all like government, but government agencies that help the poor are one set of agencies God most certainly does want us to support. And it will take all of us – which means using our government – to really deal with this problem. That includes making sure there are GOOD homeless shelters in our communities – not just for men, but for families with women and children too. And open all year around.

    (5) Help out agencies like Habitat for Humanities. Volunteer to work. Donate. If there isn’t one in your community, contact them to ask how to set one up.

    “I don’t want my people losing their property and having to move away” (Ezekiel 46:18)

    God bless you all as you help in ANY of these ways.

  2. Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
    Isaiah 58:7

  3. Practically, I would say the following:

    Always make eye contact, never stroll by looking the other way, pretending to ignore them. They’re loved by God as much as you.

    As well as giving to your church, give to the government departments in your city which run the homeless shelters and soup kitchens. Do it every month like clockwork.

    Listen to whisper of the Holy Spirit. In my experience there are times when I have heard His whisper “Give that man your Yorkie chocolate bar”, “buy that lady a sandwich when you buy yours”, “pass over that spare change”…

  4. This is always a difficult subject. I believe we get a little jaded and resent those less fortunate then us. Our pastor likes to remind us that it’s by God’s grace we were born in America, presented the Gospel and saved by God’s amazing grace. I truly enjoyed Pop the Collar response. Our Church gives to the local food center and we are endeavoring this year to grow a large garden where those without can come and pick freely the goodness of God’s green earth. We just have to invest a little sweat, labor, time and money. Very thought provoking…indeed

  5. May I clarify just a bit of what I said above – and also compliment Nick on his site? I did go over there, Nick, and was very impressed. You’ve put a lot of good work into that site. I’ll visit you.

    To clarify my first point – there are a lot of genuinely needy, homeless out there. Helping them is as important a command as any in the Bible. But there are also “con artists.” And there are a few guidelines to help separate them out.

    Our local Wal-Mart parking lot more often than not has one or two or three shabbily-dressed people with cardboard signs saying one of a few things. Most commonly, either that they’re stranded or that they’re broke. Occasionally, just “Why lie? I want beer! (I’ve seen that one twice.)

    Just down the street is a church that’s active in the “traveler’s aid” program here. Since we’re on I-80, a major east-west interstate, being stranded is believable. It happens. But we know that particular church can and will help them on toward where they’re going. Several times, we’ve pulled up beside men with “stranded” signs, pointed out the church, and told them it would give them whatever they needed. EVERY TIME, they looked embarassed and waved us off. They didn’t want the church’s help. They were getting much more in donations. And, most likely, they weren’t stranded at all.

    How to tell? No perfect answer, but a few methods – (1) If someone’s hungry, don’t give them money. Buy them a meal. (2) If they say they’re stranded, buy gas for their car, or buy them a bus ticket – or pay for a motel room – but don’t just give them money to do it. Too many just take that money to the nearest bar.

    By the way, Heather, I’d guess the man you helped really DID need it, that he was NOT a “con artist,” and that he did appreciate it. A key reason? He was trying to help himself, by collecting cans and bottles. I’ve NEVER seen any of our “con artists” do that.

    For any of you who want a little more info, click on my name, then on “Bible study,” then on chapters 5 (the poor), 6 (immigrants, orphans and widows), 16 (tithes, offerings, and loving our neighbors), or 17 (principles and examples of loving and helping our neighbors today).

    Best wishes – to Heather Joy, Nick, and all of you. God bless you.

  6. A few things come to mind. First of all, Jesus told us we would have the poor with us always. This could be one of those “you can’t have evil without good, you can’t have an up without a down” things…but really, if God wanted all men to have everything they desired, He could have made it that way, right? Come to think of it…He did. Sin ruined it in Eden.

    So can we remove the results of sin ourselves? Can we reach everyone? Obviously not in the plan.

    Secondly, some people we are not to take care of. Like I mentioned in your last post, God states clearly if a man won’t work, he should not eat. Hunger then becomes a motivator for filling one’s spot in the world’s workforce.

    Additionally, the church is not to care for widows that are not 60 years old..or who have family to care for them. This is God’s command. Because He knows they will become lazy, unprofitable gossips looking for handout.

    So to balance that with giving water to those in need, and clothing the naked. I think the balance has to be to do what God prompts you to do. I was reading a friends FB status, and he (a pastor) was becoming discouraged with all the many calls from people looking for his church to provide money for their needs, people who would not come to the church for a service, or stay for a minute to hear the Word. They only wanted “silver and gold”. They had no esteem of the things of God. Someone made the comment, tongue in cheek, “Kick the missionaries out!” joking that the ones with their hands out were missionaries.

    Which got me to thinking…is it right to take money the church can be using for winning souls, and use it to give to feed someone’s habit, buy cigarettes for a man who used all the rent money buying beer? How much money could be pouring into the poor…and the work of winning souls neglected?

    I do not think food banks, charity, helping poeple with bills, or giving soup to a hungry person is wrong. I just wonder how much we can do to help the problem…and what things we are neglecting if we have a wrong focus. Far be it from me however to be Judas who said “this money oculd have been used to feed the poor!” when he really just wanted the money for himself.

    It’s a problem a lot of people and even pastors struggle with…so the best advice in that instance I could give would be to pray…listen, and do what God prompts you to do. We all know He can give money to those who would be used as His channel if we are willing to obey and use it as He leads. This post seems a bit discombobulated – so I hope it makes a little sense…but just thinking out loud.

  7. Oh, and to add a little more. Do this through your local church as much as possible. God’s plan is through the local church. There needs to be accountability – and we all know so many govt or charity dollars go to the administration and not the need! You chould be able to trust your local church ministries. If your church doesn’t have one – try to start one!

    When we lived in San Antonio many years ago, the news station there did a human interest story on the “homeless”. One of the news reporters got a tip that there was an incredible amount of money going through the hands of the homeless into the drug market. So for a week, he dressed up as a homeless man. He got old baggy clothes, a cardboard sign, a beat up umbrella, and stood with the sign at a busy intersection.

    He made enough that one week to equal (a yearly salary of over) $30,000!! Which is a lot more than many hardworking people make. It was very interesting.

    • Dear imhopinion,

      What you just said was the reason for my second comment on this blog. There ARE a lot of “con artists” out there, as well as a lot of genuinely needy people. To give is a strong Biblical command – it doesn’t just come from feeling sorry or feeling prompted. And if we don’t do it, we risk God’s very strong judgment – which the Old Testament says God sent on Sodom, Jerusalem, and Samaria because they didn’t help their poor. Do we want that? I don’t.

      Yes, we do have to learn to filter the genuinely needy from all those highly visible “con artists,” as I mentioned above. While we lived in southern California, one of the papers there did a test reminiscent of the one your San Antonio news station did, though a bit different. They offered jobs to ten people whose signs said they wanted work. Only two (maybe just one) accepted. For those people, the Biblical rule is the one you quoted – If you don’t work, you don’t eat. Yet health, age, government budget cuts, and other events overwhelm many of us, and the Bible says then we ARE to help.

      I learned both by experience and by personally doing a thorough Bible study (over 3,500 Bible verses; see; I think it may interest you). Especially read the second chapter and the last two; maybe also the two on “loving the poor” and “loving immigrants, orphans and widows.” But please note that we only plan for that study to be on the Internet temporarily, so I’d suggest that you download a copy for yourself (that’s fine with us), or print one out.

      Two other quick comments:
      (1) some translations strongly suggest that the 60-year cutoff point for widows only applies to widows who were entrolled as “special church workers,” not to all widows. (Were those the earliest nuns? Don’t know.) And that seems to fit a whole lot better with Acts 4:32-35 and Acts 6:1-6, where there don’t appear to be any restrictions at all on the age of the widows.

      (2) How can we do it? Many years ago I took classes at an Air Force base to help me understand the highly technical space program I worked on. On the tests, our instructors always reminded us that if any answer had a choice like “all of the above” or “none of the above,” that WAS the answer. And my response to how to solve this problem is “This is like an Air Force test; the answer is “all of the above.” I believe that if we want to obey God and help all those he wants us to help, we sometimes need to help individually (time or money); sometimes through our church or groups of churches; also through local government; non-profit organizations; and the federal government. There are just too many people in need, in too many ways and places, for us to succeed any other way. And God does firmly expect us to get the job done. And done to his satisfaction.

  8. “To give is a strong Biblical command – it doesn’t just come from feeling sorry or feeling prompted.” DO you mean to give thorught tithes and offerings at your local body of believers?

    • Hi Jessica,

      Partly. Our family now gives in a variety of ways, according to circumstances and according to how God leads us.

      Giving to the local church is one of the most basic, most important – IF the church supports that and uses it. One church we gave regularly to in that way never spent a cent of it – just left it all sitting in the bank. Up till then, we’d always given only that way. After that we were more flexible and did more praying about how we’d give.

      And of course it’s not just money. A week or so ago we had a long power outage, with the temperature near zero. My two kids went over and brought two neighbors back here with them – one elderly, one handicapped, neither with any heat or candles for light. We had lots of candles for light, and our gas kitchen stove for at least some heat. “Loving our neighbors” means watching for opportunities like that. And there are lots of them; that’s just one example.

      Best wishes, Pete

  9. I feel like you have to be led by the Lord. I lived in Miami and bought a couple of homeless people a lunch from Wendy’s or Popeye’s chicken. It blessed me to be able to do that. Of course one ran away while i went to get the Wendy’s but I did my part. You can’t minister to each of them so just listen carefully to the Lord and do what you are able.

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