Tents and Tarps Ministry

Homeless people sleep either on the street or in camps.  Most have a little camp set up in the woods.  A tent and a tarp are priceless to a person that needs a dry place to sleep. Since most tents tend to leak a little, a tarp is normally placed over the tent to keep it dry during heavy rains.  A tarp can also be used to keep other supplies and gear dry.  Providing some string or cord is also very helpful.

You would want to purchase small tents.  A two man dome tent is perfect.  I have found them at Walmart for $15 – $20.  When they are on sale just buy all you can.  Tarps run about $5 each.  If you are on a tight budget then just provide tarps and string (cord).

Giving them out is simple.  You simply ask a person or group if they need anything.  If they need a tent they will tell you. You can also ask if they have a dry place to sleep.  If they already have a place or if they are traveling through town they will often decline your offer.  Also, you would want to remove the scan tags so that the tent cannot be returned. 


Bus Pass Ministry

Bus passes can be purchased from the Escambia County Transit Authority or ECAT.  The website is goecat.com .  Each pass runs $1.75 and provides a one way trip to anywhere the bus system goes.  Transfers between buses is free. (ask the driver)  I keep a stack in my car.  If a man or woman needs to get to a shelter then one pass will do the job. If a person needs to go to the social security office to apply for benefits or to pick up a check then they would need two.  If a person is handicapped and they need assistance to get to where they are going then you would need 4 passes for a round trip.  Other than you going broke, there is virtually no way to go wrong with this ministry.  Especially if you give them out only to people that you know personally. 

I would recommend that you purchase as many as you can each week and as you talk to people determine whether a pass will help them.  Try to give them only to people who have a specific place they need to go.  Places like shelters, government assistance offices, jobs or home to family are good places to send people. 

Lastly, if the person you give the pass to needs to know where the nearest bus stop is, they can call 850-595-3228 which is the ecat main number.



Types of Homeless People and Their Individual Needs.

As you meet and get to know the people that you see wandering the streets of Pensacola you will quickly come to understand that there are several types of homeless people, each with a different reason for living on the street and each with a different set of issues and goals.

Imagine a ship that has struck an iceberg and is quickly sinking.  The sea is full of struggling people and you are in a life boat trying to save as many as you can.  You have some people that swim to the side of your boat and reach up to you.  They are easy to save.  You simply pull them to safety.  Others swim with confidence towards a landfall that is much too far to ever reach.  Still others quit trying and resign themselves to an icy grave.  The point is that all people are different.

With that being said I want to break down the different people that you see on the street into some logical groups.  I also want to address what should and should not be done for each group.  Being kind to them is a universal rule regardless of their condition, however, the ultimate goals are for them to have a relationship with God and to begin living a productive, happy life.

Group 1 – Out of work or working only part time with no place to stay and no other substantial problems. Wants to work. These individuals are very easy to help.  They simply need a job.  You can do almost anything that you want for this person without it backfiring on you.  You will often find it difficult to get people in this group to take any help.  People in this position are normally only homeless for a short period of time. If they have family in another city but have no way to get home then a bus ticket would also solve much of their problem.

Group 2 – Out of work with no place to stay and a controlled drinking problem. Wants to work. Let’s face it.  Lots of people drink and are perfectly functional.  When you take away a job from this person they often drink more to fight the depression or to help them sleep at night which in turn makes their problem worse.  These people can still be helped in most of the basic ways, however, keep in mind that until they eliminate their drinking problem they will never be fully functional.  People in this group will spend some of their money on alcohol.  For this reason you may want to avoid giving them cash.  Stick with things that they can use to survive.  Also, as you get to know them you may want to recommend that they get into a program like AA.  People in this group and group 1 normally stick together and remain separate from other homeless people. As with group 1 there is quite a bit of hope for these individuals to lead a normal life.

Group 3 – Out of work with no place to stay and no substantial problems. Does NOT want to work.  Believe it or not there are people like this living on the streets.  They prefer homelessness over the stress of work and responsibility. I can understand how they feel sometimes, however, life just does not work that way.  They can be helped in basic ways but what they really need is to suffer a little more.  If living on the streets was fun everyone would want to do it.  The truth is that it is miserable.  Time will provide the motivation they need.  A little kindness from you will certainly help.  Just be careful about making life too comfortable for them.

Group 4 – Out of work with no place to stay and a serious drinking problem. People in this group are not functional in society and stay intoxicated almost all the time.  You need to be careful what you provide for this group.  They need to be in a rehabilitation program like the Waterfront Mission.  It is fine to give them things like bus passes, food, clothing, survival guides, personal hygiene kits, and other items like this.  Avoid giving them things that will enable them to continue a destructive lifestyle.

Group 5 – Out of work with no place to stay and a serious drug addiction. Some also drink and some do not.  If they do not drink then it may be difficult to tell they have an addiction problem since they will appear fairly normal when not under the influence.  People in this group are difficult to help because their every waking thought revolves around obtaining drugs to feed their addiction.  They often do not reside in the same camps that the other groups stay in.  It is more expensive for them to live since they need both food and drugs.  Therefore they are more desperate to obtain money.  If you give them a bike it will be gone in a day or two.  If you give them anything they can sell they will.  Drug addicts tend to attract drug dealers.  Be careful around this type of person.

Group 6 – Disabled.  Unable to work. Addiction to alcohol or drugs.  This is actually very common.  Certain situations in life can cause depression.  Being unable to care for yourself or your family because of a disability is one of these situations.  To cope, some people medicate themselves which makes the problem worse and lands them on the street.  The downward spiral seems to never end.  This is truly a sad situation.  Here is what makes it worse.  A disabled person attracts a lot of sympathy and will get more help than other homeless people.  The homeless people around this person often benefit from this person’s ability to get help.  Therefore no one ever tries to get the individual help through readily available government and state programs.  The best way to help a person with a disability is to get them to the social security office and get them disability payments.  Then get them in touch with other state and federal programs.  Once they have all the assistance that is available to them they at least have a choice between living on the streets or getting a place to live.

  Group 7 – Mentally handicapped.  People in this group are in almost the exact situation that the previous group is in.  The only difference is that a mentally disabled person may be more difficult to work with especially if they have been drinking.  They need to get some government assistance.  That is what it is there for.

Group 8 – Abused Women.  This is another sad situation.  We are all familiar with the scenario so I will just say that you need to help this person get into a women’s shelter or into a program.  Women do not need to be on the streets.  On the positive side, women get much more assistance than men.  Finding help for a woman is as simple as a few phone calls provided they are willing.

Group 9 – Families with Children.  There are more programs for people in this situation than there are for all the other groups combined.  State and Federal agencies take families very serious and go out of their way to help them.  The Escarosa Survival Guide has a wealth of information that can help.  Also, the United Way can point them in the right direction.  Churches are normally generous to families as well.   A family with under age children need never be on the street unless there are extenuating circumstances.

I would encourage you to get to know people and determine what their situation is.  Then begin helping them accordingly.

Why Do You Need to Make a Personal Contact?

If you read the gospels you will notice that Jesus always made personal contact with people. He talked with them and genuinely cared. We are to do the same thing.

To try and help someone without first taking the time to get to know them is like a hospital treating a patient without knowing what their problem is. If you do not take the time to talk with a person there is no way that you can know their situation.  All you can do is assume which is what everyone else does. By talking with a person you are letting them know that you actually care and that you actually value them as a person.  I asked a friend of mine who lived on the streets of Mobile for a few years what encouraged him the most when he was in that situation.  He said that when a person treated him like a human being that gave him hope.  He later accepted Christ as his Savior, got into a program, and is now an electrician.  He also writes and performs Christian inspirational music.

By talking with people you will get a much better idea of what their particular situation is.  You will better understand why they are living on the street and also what their goals are.  You will be able to quickly determine whether their problems are simply economic or whether they have an addiction problem as well.  Knowing these things will really help you to help them.   What you do for one person may help them immensely.  The same thing done for someone else may harm them.  You want to enable people do better.  You do not want to enable them to continue a destructive lifestyle.

You are going to find that many homeless people are Christians.  They are generally very friendly and appreciate any help that people will give them.  What they appreciate the most is someone that will take the time to listen to their story and talk to them.  Most want to work, but some do not.  Some have mental health issues and some do not.  Some of the women come from abusive situations and some do not.  Some have addiction issues but some do not.  Don’t let addiction issues scare you off.  The more hopeless a situation may seem to you the closer that person often is to salvation.  The point is to not stereotype any group of people. 

There is one stereotype you can make regarding homelessness that is true in almost all cases.  That is that there is some problem.  People with no problems are very seldom homeless.  The American economic system normally catches them at some level. However, people with problems often fall all the way to the bottom of the system and land on the street.  I say this so that you will understand that when you see a person living on the street you can be fairly confident that they need a friend.

Click here for our article on what different types of homeless individuals need.

Bicycles, Baskets and Locks Ministry

This is one of the most effective ways to help a homeless person or anyone without transportation.  A bike can get a person to a job, the store, a clinic, the VA, church, and on and on.  Most of the bikes we give are used for going to a job.  A bike literally triples the number of job opportunities by expanding persons travel area.  Also, as a person is more mobile they tend to be more optimistic about life.  I have had great success with this type of assistance.

How do you select people to give bikes to?  Here is what I do.  If a person has a job or gets various odd jobs and does not appear to be a drug addict or an alcoholic then they would be a good prospect.  If a person is obviously an addict then they would not be a good prospect.  For people with addiction issues you would want to stick with bus passes and street survival guides. We have separate articles that cover these ministries.

Bikes are normally fairly easy to acquire.  Adult bikes that are either 24″ or 26″ are best.  A small adult can use a 24″ and a larger adult would need a 26″.  A mountain bike or beach cruiser are the most versatile.  It is a good idea to also give the person a lock.  A bike without a lock is at risk of theft.  Also, a small flashlight for the front and reflective tape (red) for the rear will keep the bike legal at night.  A basket of some sort provides a way to transport groceries and supplies.

You can find bikes at garage sales, thrift stores and through Craigslist or the Shopper.  Prices run from $25 – $50 per bike.  You can often get locks for around $12 for a pack of three.  You can also get bikes on clearance at Academy for as low as $63. (sometimes)

This is not a ministry for a person on a budget but it is a very effective one.  Also, don’t be discouraged if you find that a person you provided a bike for has sold it for cash.  This happens now and then.  On the bright side, they often sell it to another homeless person.  Keep in mind that whenever you give someone else you do it with no strings attached.  If they choose to take their only means of transportation and cash it in then that is on them. 

You are going to need a way to transport bikes.  A truck is great but a car with a trailer is also fine.


Homeless Survival Guide Ministry

The Escarosa Coalition on the Homeless (ECOA) puts out a “Street Survival Guide”.  This guide is 32 pages long and contains virtually every agency that can help a homeless person or any other person in need. This publication is worth its weight in gold to a person that has found themselves on the streets of Pensacola with no where to go.

This is a very inexpensive ministry to start.  The guides are 10 cents each and are available at the ECOA which is located in the Brownsville Baptist Church building off of Cervantes.  The contact information is as follows :

Phone: 850.439.3009

Fax: 850.436.4656

Mailing address: P.O. Box 17222 Pensacola, FL 32522

Physical address: 2601 West Strong Street in the Brownsville Baptist Church Building

Email: Info@escarosa.org

If this was all you gave a homeless person then it would be a good start. Many of them already have the guides so don’t be surprised if they don’t need one.  If they are new in town or just recently homeless it is likely that they do not know about the guide.  You can also distribute the guides to Thrift Stores, Churches, Pawn Shops and other places where the homeless would seek help.


Helping the Homeless – Do’s and Don’ts

As with anything, there are certain do’s and don’ts associated with helping the homeless.

DO NOT hand a homeless person or panhandler money out of your car window while you are on a public road.  In Escambia county and many other counties there are laws that prevent people from interrupting traffic while panhandling. If a sheriff sees you give them money you will get that person arrested which is the last thing they want.  A homeless person does not want to spend the night in jail anymore than you do.

DO pull over and talk with them and if you wish to give them money give it to them then.  At this point you should know there name and their basic situation.  When you do give money keep in mind that you are possibly enabling them to purchase things that are not in their best interest.  I normally ask them if they need anything and then go and get it for them.  I prefer that over giving out money but I have done both.

DO NOT stop to help at night.  All the ministries we list on this site are best done in the daytime.  It is safer and you will be more likely to be able to talk with people when they are at their best versus at their worst.  With that being said, if you know a person personally and want to meet them at a fast food restaurant or a store then that is fine.  Use common sense.

DO stop to talk and help people during the day.  Most homeless people are up before you and I are.  Many have jobs to go to and that often involves a long walk or catching an early bus.  Sunday is a great day to stop.  I have found that people that live on the street have a respect for Sunday and many go to church on Sunday.  You are most likely to see the real person on Sunday around mid day.

DO NOT preach to a homeless person or anyone in need.  They have most likely heard the gospel as many times as you have and in many cases they are Christians.  The homeless are used to being made to sit through long sermons or prayers just to get a hot dog or a bowl of soup.  Don’t do this to them.

DO give them a Bible or New Testament.  I am a Gideon and have yet to have any homeless person refuse a New Testament.  On the other hand I have had some rich people spit on me while I was giving out Bibles.  Also, if you want to present the gospel to the homeless you can have a church service on Sunday.  Bring Pizza or Chicken along with some other basics. Sing some songs and read from the Bible.  Since you have helped them and have treated them like people and not animals they will listen to every word you have to say.

DO NOT tell anyone where their camp is. They will often tell you where they stay.  They trust you with this information so do not betray their trust.

DO visit their camp in certain situations if you are in a group and if you have some things to give them and only if you are invited.

DO NOT give a homeless person something that is easily returned for cash.  Dealing with temptation is difficult for all of us.  If you give a person a brand new back pack and give them the receipt, don’t be surprised if they return it for the cash.  Keep in mind that if a person has an addiction problem they will sell anything to satisfy that need.  It is kinder to not give them that opportunity with things that they do not need to be selling.

DO give them essential items or things that will help them out of their situation.  Just take the bar codes off and do not give a receipt with the item. 

DO NOT pass judgment on a person.  Don’t assume that a person is not a christian because they are homeless.  The two things are unrelated. Also, do not assume they are a drug addict or an alcoholic.  Find these things out by getting to know them.  Remember, you would not want someone to assume the worst about you so don’t do it to someone else.

DO understand that there may be issues in the persons life that have led to their current situation.  Do treat them with respect just like you would a brother or sister in Christ.

 DO NOT flaunt your wealth. Do not be a Santa Claus to them.  You want to be more to them than just someone with lots of money. Avoid buying them tons of brand new items when you could have gotten much more for the same money at a thrift store.   Poor people have to make money go a long way so when helping them you should try to do the same.  When you are thrifty it will also lower the chances of people taking advantage of your generosity.

DO provide nice, clean items for them.  The food you bring them should be what you would want to eat.  The clothes you  bring should be clean and in good condition.  The bikes you provide should be functional.