6 experts weigh in on how we should approach serving our brothers and sisters in need
Yesterday, Aleteia ran the first of two articles about helping homeless people we encounter on the street. We asked ministry leaders who work with the needy every day two questions, and the first was: Should we give money directly to the homeless on the street — why or why not?
The second question we posed is a little broader: What is the best way to help the homeless?Here’s what those who work hands-on with the homeless told us:
This is a tough question, because homeless people are not defined by their homelessness; they are people and as such their needs are unique. So the best way to help them is to respect them, get to know them, and then help that person in the way that person needs. … Sometimes its food, sometimes it’s a smile, often times its a hug, or clothing, or a sleeping bag, or money, or a listening ear. In my strong opinion the best way way for you may be to pray for them, while for me it’s to feed or chat with them — both/all are needed! So, do what God put you here to be able to do, but do it for the actual person.
—Steve Sarnecki, a founder of SALT, a parish-based ministry which helps the hungry, homeless, lost and lonely of Baltimore City through hands-on outreach to people on the streets.
Give to an organization that helps the homeless. Before you do, check them out and make sure they’re legit. And don’t be shy about asking exactly what services they provide.
I also suggest that anyone hoping to help the homeless be willing to give personal time and be committed to building a relationship, if possible. It’s invaluable to a homeless person to be treated as an equal human being. Spend time, give advice, and just be a friend. Always ask yourself is what you do for them enabling or empowering.
—Cortez McDaniel, director of Men’s Programs and Services at The Father McKenna Center, a nonprofit social service agency in the Jesuit tradition serving the poor and homeless of Washington, DC
I am convinced that the best way to help the homeless is to offer them our friendship. Many places offer numerous resources for the homeless to find food, shelter, clothes, and paths to getting off the streets. What the homeless don’t often receive is the recognition and love that is just as essential as food and water. When you notice that people avoid looking at you, talking to you, or standing near you, there’s no way this doesn’t impact a person. If you choose to give money, don’t do it without looking them in the eyes, smiling, asking for their name and maybe even talking with them for a little bit.
—Phil Couture, director of Formation and street ministry director with Christ in the City, a nonprofit that forms people to know, love and serve the poor in Denver, CO.
Give to organizations that don’t receive government funding and to organizations that you feel good about and have thoroughly checked out that the majority of donations go to programs, not administration and fundraising.
—Mary Jo Copeland, founder and director of Sharing and Caring Hands ministry, which daily serves the needs of the poor in Minneapolis, MN
The best way to help the homeless is to give to those charitable organizations that provide long-term case management services in addition to emergency housing and food. Most people experience homelessness as a result of mental illness, trauma (often family or job-related), and addiction. These underlying causes need to be dealt with for people to regain their footing and turn their lives around. Look for homeless shelters or ministries that provide mental health evaluations, addiction services, job training, family counseling, and other services. The other best way to help the homeless is to advocate for public policies that promote affordable housing and services for the homeless. Homelessness isn’t just a question of charity. It’s a question of justice as well.
—Mark Gordon, president of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul for the Diocese of Providence, RI
—Bill and Molly McGovern, leaders of Friendship Room in Steubenville, Ohio, which began in 2014 to serve and perform the daily corporal works of mercy
[Editor’s Note: Take the Daily Poll — How Do You Help the Homeless?]
Zoe Romanowsky is lifestyle editor and video content producer for Aleteia