by Victoria Coyne and Tim Hogan
“Whatever you did for the least of my brothers, you did for me.”
We are all aware of the increase in the number of people standing on corners in our community looking for a handout. While a new ordinance was just passed against panhandling, it’s not likely to decrease the activity on our local corners. And so we are still left needing to answer the question “what would Jesus do?” What is the best way to respond to these individuals who, like us, bear the image of God?
We at the Counseling Center have been wrestling with this question for the past year. We have engaged several of the men who beg on our property, providing some food and water, but even more intentionally we have worked to understand their story. How did they get here? It has been our experience that most of these men and women are in the bondage of addiction, and their primary purpose for begging is to get money to fuel their compulsion. Many passers-by, aware of this reality, generously offer food instead of cash. Unfortunately, most of this food often ends up stuffed behind our flower bed, in the corners of our parking lot and strewn on the lawn.
So, what are we to do? We would like to offer four recommendations:
- Pray for each person you see, and ask God to show you if and how you might be called to demonstrate the love of Christ to them. How wonderful would it be if these individuals experienced authentic, concerned love coming from our Jesus-following community?
- If you sense God’s nudging, then engage them and encourage them to
take one small step towards health. If you have the opportunity (as we do), take the time to engage and listen to their story. We have found that these individuals are often open to discussing their deeper struggles. Many have long-term problems that do not have easy or quick fixes. Let them know that we, as a community, want to love them. We have more than money or food to offer; we offer a connection with Jesus through his family. Connect them with the Grace Counseling Center. If they are truly motivated to change, then we can work with them regardless of their ability to pay. If they are not motivated to change, tell them we look forward to helping them get on their feet, once they are ready. Until then, let’s not enable their addiction.
- Be smart. Don’t assume that the individual is actually homeless. Take precautions for your own safety. Think carefully before giving cash. (Food vouchers are better than cash, even though food vouchers can easily be traded for drugs). Don’t give food or money just to feel better. Sometimes we unintentionally end up enabling people’s addictions rather than helping them.
- Support organizations that serve the poor and homeless. In addition to the Grace Counseling Center, there are several community organizations that do an excellent job helping those who are poor, homeless and/or addicted:
- Resources for Homelessness: The Salvation Army offers emergency and transitional housing for men and women and can be reached at (313)822-2800. The Detroit Rescue Mission also offers emergency and transitional housing for men and can be reached at (313) 993-6703, as well as for women and can be reached at (313) 331-8990.
- Resources for Substance Abuse Treatment: All residents of the
city of Detroit should contact (313) 876-4000 at Herman Kiefer Hospital. This office will get the person to the right treatment facility. There are also wonderful, Christ-centered residential substance abuse programs around the country. Contact us for more information.