“Anything Helps, God Bless:” Insights on the Hurt of the Homeless

by Olivia Joy

I am going to preface this whole post by stating that my intention is surely not to throw down the guilt and make everyone on planet Earth feel as though they are selfish or wrong; my reason for writing this takes roots in my years of battling with the “proper” or “just” reaction to walking or driving down the streets, seeing people who are struggling, which of course, means many different things, but I promise it is not just “some dude with a sign begging for money on the street corner.” There’s more to their story, there’s more to all of our stories.

When I was growing up, I would see a homeless person on the street and immediately look away, and I mean quickly, thinking they wouldn’t notice. I like to call this a nice attempt at avoiding the boarding of the guilt train. It’d go a little something like this, (this is my attempt to articulate my mental process that would begin each time I’d see a homeless person) : Oh, there they are. *Walks to the opposing side of the sidewalk as if they are going to rip my very shoes off of my feet* Of course, I’d try to read their sign or get a better look at their “situation” as though they are some ET-like creature. Then, they’d probably notice that I was walking at the pace of a slug and try to make eye contact with me, and of course I’d look away instantly, and continue walking in a peppy strut down the street. Then my mind starts trailing off about how incredibly sad it is that they are sitting there in the dirt, and I’d probably think of the worst possible scenario about what events preceded their journey on the streets of the city. Then I’d probably go eat a nice lunch or something and would completely forget about what I had seen, because ignorance is bliss, right?

Now, after you just read that you’re probably thinking all sorts of thoughts to the effect of “wow, that’s really shallow” or “how ignorant of her, I can’t believe people actually think that.” But truth be told, I’ll make the hasty assumption that 90% of us do some sort of variation of this very scenario that I just walked you through, and if you’re of that 10%, thank you. We need more people like you.

So, I’ve recently come across some thoughts in my brain that have prompted me to rethink this habitual response to seeing people who are struggling on the street. Brace yourselves, because these are scattered and have seemingly no “flow,” they’re just thoughts, that’s all.

I was leaving Fred Meyer in Kent, Washington, where I saw a woman on the sidewalk with a sign, asking people for support of her and her children whom she was raising independently. Initially, this was my thought, and yes, it sounds incredibly rude, “I bet she doesn’t even have children.” Then, I caught myself: So, who on God’s green earth am I to make an out of line judgment about a stranger whom I wasn’t even willing to ask her to share her story? What gives me the right to even mutter those thoughts? Absolutely nothing. So here I am, driving along with money in my purse, right? And I’m presented with a couple of options: One, I keep driving, thinking “oh, if she really needs the money, she’ll stay out there long enough for other people to give it to her” or Two, I stop, hand her some money or bring her food, or maybe even have a quick lunch with her and maybe, just maybe, let her know that she is valuable and she is worthy. And for what? That may put me out, thirty seconds, maybe thirty minutes tops, and oh, God forbid, ten dollars that would probably otherwise fall into an abyss, where I would buy something completely unfulfilling.

Here’s how I look at it: yeah, she maybe would spend that money on alcohol or drugs or whatever have you, but when it comes down to it, as a human being, I like to look at my purpose as being one to go to ends to serve others and meet their needs. If I were to let the measly time or money go, I’m doing my part. I’m meeting her needs and anything beyond that is out of my control. As someone who loves Jesus and hopes to spend my life reflecting the love that Jesus has inflicted on me, on others, it should really be instinct to give. Deuteronomy 15:10 reads: “You shall surely give him, and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him: because that for this thing the LORD your God shall bless you in all your works, and in all that you put your hand to.” Our concern shall not rest in the ideology that we must dictate this stranger’s needs because we all think we know better than they do. It doesn’t work like that.

So then, it comes back to the heart behind giving. Do we give because we think we want to help them? Do we give because we feel as though it’s our duty? Do we give to feel better about ourselves? Or is it in some sick way, an opportunity for us to find pleasure in someone else being reliant on us? Maybe, just maybe, what it is, is just that we realize that someone is in a less than ideal state of living, and we feel so inclined to share love by giving. Giving in any capacity. If it’s about “good karma” and self satisfaction, maybe a change of heart is in order, because if I remember correctly, it’s about them, not us.

THEM. not us.

I guess this whole post has allowed me to process this topic even more thoroughly. Believe me, it’s tough to process, and I hope what it prompts you to do is simply think about your heart for people on the street. I want to do people right when I give, don’t get me wrong, but in the end, we’ve all got a story and no matter what the outcome of your gift is, you’ve taken a step to love someone better and that’s really really neat. People need more love. And when I say that, what I mean is that people need to be shown action that is motivated by a heart of love.