Homeless During the Holidays

When you extend a helping hand, you risk getting your fingers burned

By Mark King

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Another man came asking for money for a down payment on a new apartment. He said could make the monthly rent, but needed the down payment. I told him to give me the name of the landlord and I would talk to him and see what I could do. At first, he said he didn't want to do that because he didn't want the landlord to know he was short of money. Then the story changed. He said he was actually moving in with a friend who wanted the money to help pay his rent. Finally, I told him to come back that night with the straight story and some phone numbers so we could find out what we could do to help him. We were having a church supper and the deacons would be there to meet with him and approve the funds. He asked, "are you telling me that if my story doesn't check out, you won't help me?" I agreed that he had the idea. He never showed up that night.

One man said he used to attend the church regularly and the former pastor would loan him money when he needed it. He said he would always pay it back a little bit at a time. He said, "I am sure he would remember me." I called the former pastor and asked him about this. He responded "I don't remember that name. I loaned money to a lot of people over the years and if any of them had ever paid me back anything, I am SURE I would have remembered it."

The line between genuine need and the scam is often blurred. Many folks on the street are homeless and hungry because they have mental health issues or substance abuse problems. They need food and shelter, but they also want to feed their addictions. Some would prefer their freedom on the street to a program that would require accountability. Some really need the money, but they try to get it the wrong way. Helping these folks is a very complicated process, but we need to do what we can.

I have always thought of myself as both streetwise and compassionate. I am willing to help, but I make sure I don't give out money that could be used for other purposes. However, on a couple of occasions, I have gotten completely fooled.

I was in my study one day when a man came to the door. He said he had just bought a new house on the block and while he was moving in, he locked himself out. His keys and wallet were inside the house. He needed to borrow a phone and phonebook to call a locksmith. He made the call and I heard him give the address and explain the whole situation. When he got off the phone, he said "the locksmith wants $70 to come out and get me into the house. If I could just borrow $30, I could get a cab to where my girlfriend works in the suburbs. She has keys and then I get into the house, I'll bring you the money right back."

I thought that since he was new to the neighborhood this would be a good way to extend a helping hand. I gave him the money and he thanked me and walked out. He was gone for about 30 seconds when my brain kicked into gear. I ran and looked out the door of the church both directions, but he was gone. You see, the houses on the same block as the church were in the $1,000,000 price range. Nobody who just bought one of those houses is going to quibble over $70 for a locksmith, nor are they going to spend all that time to take a cab to the suburbs and get a key.

I went over to the house that he had just "bought" and it was vacant, still for sale. There was one other thing too. He was dressed pretty normally — golf shirt and jeans, tennis shoes — not real nice but could pass for someone in the neighborhood who was in the act of moving. But I remembered his hands. When a person lives on the street, their hands begin to look a certain way. They get cracked and the dirt gets ground in. Although the rest of him didn't match, his hands had the look. He got me hook, line and sinker. He had the routine down and it disarmed me because he didn't start out asking for money and he let me see the whole scenario unfold.

The problem of poverty — of hungry and homeless people is complicated. Simply meeting the immediate needs of people who find themselves in desperate situations will not solve their problems. However, it will solve their immediate need for food and companionship. It would be easy to get cynical. But if Christians are told to give our enemies food and drink if they need it (Proverbs 25:21, Romans 12:20) how much more someone who is not our enemy — even if their condition is the result of their own choices (which it may or may not actually be!).

There are times that I have given money when I should not have. I am sure there are many other times that I have not helped as much as I should have or could have. I encourage you this Thanksgiving and Christmas (and all year long) to be generous in the name of Jesus. Look for ways you can help individuals and/or organizations that have the infrastructure to provide long-term physical and spiritual help. And always remember, if it were not for the grace of God, you could be the one in dire circumstances. And you could be the one that God uses to bring a needy person into his fold.

Image Credit: Public Domain Pictures; untitled; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Truth  | Christian-Life  | Controversial-Issues  | Current-Issues  | Hardships

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Published on 11-14-16