In moving to a house that was inundated with homeless individuals where panhandling was almost an hourly occurrence in my life, I was quickly confronted with the need to discern some 'best practices.'
I will be the first to confess that I don't have it all figured out, but that time in my life helped me to figure a few things out. Its worth noting, that these are my rules, no one has to follow them but me:
- Don't do things because it makes me feel better. Do things that I think might genuinely help the human being stating in front of me asking for help.
- Don't ignore those feelings inside myself. Don't just walk by and ignore the situation. Don't ignore people.
- Engage. Make eye contact. Get their name, and use it.
- Find the real problem, and offer to help. Is it a ride? A meal? A job? Usually the situation is bigger than my ability to solve it. But usually there is something I can do to be a friend and encourage them to begin to solve it. The trick is, I usually have to dig a little to get to the real problem.
- Meet needs out of my own personal resources, never (or rarely) give money. Let someone borrow my phone. Give someone a ride in my car. Sit down and have lunch ...together. Introduce them to someone I know who might be able to help more.
- Offer to pray. Ask God to bless them. Listen to what God might have to say about this encounter.
- Where appropriate, and they seem open, invite them to church. Encourage them that God cares, and they are welcome in His house.