Takin it to the Streets (Homeless Ministry) Pensacola Florida

I want to do a special post and talk about “Takin It To The Streets” which is a ministry of Ensley First Baptist Church.  

“Takin It To The Streets” is an outreach program sponsored by Ensley First Baptist Church in Pensacola Florida. Jeff Henry is the pastor of Ensley First Baptist as well as a personal friend of mine.  When my family began working with the homeless in Pensacola virtually every person that we met would tell us, “You need to meet Pastor Jeff”.  I would hear that over and over again.  I finally met Jeff while we were doing a service at the Waterfront Mission and we have been friends ever since. Jeff, his family, and volunteers from Ensley First Baptist work hard to serve the needs of the less fortunate in Pensacola.

nothing lost ensley first baptist“Takin It To The Streets” is a non-profit ministry of Ensley First Baptist that reaches out to the homeless, the very poor and the down and out in our area.   They don’t just invite the homeless to come to church, they actually go out and pick them up from all over the city.  They provide hair cuts, showers, clothing, a hot meal, tarps, bug spray, a church service and best of all, transportation to and from the location.

Ensley First Baptist is raising money to build a shower facility for the homeless. This facility will include separate showers for women and men as well as a washer and dryer for their clothes and a clothing closet.  The church will open the showers during the week and also on Sunday afternoon.  Church vans are used to transport people who need showers and other services to and from the church facility.  They are trying to raise $15,000 to accomplish this goal. 

How People in Escambia and Santa Rosa County Become Homeless

This is a difficult subject to write about because I don’t want to stereotype a group of people nor do I want to oversimplify an issue.  The causes of homelessness are complicated to say the least.  When you look at someone who is homeless and living on the street keep in mind that you are looking at the end result of a long list of events that have led up to what you see. In other words, you see the cover of the book but it is what is inside the book that you really need to see.

To start with the basic cause of homelessness is lack of income to support a home or apartment.  This is simple.  The harder question is why is a persons income too low to afford basic shelter. Sometimes the reason is the loss of a job.  In a bad economy this happens quite often.  Sometimes it is a mental breakdown or a handicap.  Abuse, natural disasters and sickness also displace people from their homes.  If these things are a persons only problem then they will normally only be homeless for a short time.  Lets call this short term homelessness. 

How about long term homelessness?  What causes people to be on the streets for months or years?  I wish this was not true but in many cases the reason is “addiction”.  Addiction destroys everything it touches and is in my experience the number one cause of long term homelessness.

To be addicted simply means that you can’t stop doing something.  Some addictions are worse than others and some people can function with an addiction while others are consumed by it.  Suffice it to say that when you add a substance abuse problem to other issues, the result often lands you on the street.  Once you are there, an addiction will do everything it can do keep you there. 

Here is the problem.  It is easy to turn your back on a person because they are an addict.  It seems like the obvious solution to their problem is to simply stop drinking or stop taking drugs.  I will tell you a secret.  That is exactly what most addicts want to do.  They just do not know how.  People with addiction problems need a friend and they need help.  Most need to be in a program to get clean and get their life back on track.  I have found that many people have given up trying to get better and have resigned themselves to a life of misery.  I believe that God is able to give a hopeless person hope and is able to do the seemingly impossible.  But he wants and needs you and I to reach out on his behalf to the hurting of this world.  If we don’t then who will.


Pensacola & Escambia County Street Survival Guide 2012 Edition

This is the latest Street Survival Guide put out by the Escarosa Coalition on the Homeless.  It has a wealth of information and resources for the homeless in Pensacola, Escambia and Santa Rosa County as well as anyone else in need in our area.

Escarosa Homeless Street Survival Guide 2013

If you have any updates there is a number in the guide that you can call.


Helping Homeless Families with Children in Pensacola Florida

As you get involved with people in need you will from time to time come across families with children that are either homeless or close to being on the street.  There is generally plenty of help available for families with children.  The key is to connect these families to sources of help as soon as possible.  The streets of Pensacola are no place for children.

Families become homeless for the same reason individuals do.  Their income simply falls below a certain level, they are evicted from their place of residence, and they have nowhere to go.  A loss of job is generally the reason for their income issue.  If this is the only problem then a new job and a little help will generally get them back on their feet.  In situations where addiction or abuse is involved, a different approach would have to be taken.  Remember, your job is to connect them with someone who can help.  The main goal is to get the kids to a safe place, preferably with their parents.  You are most likely not going to be equipped to solve their problems but there are people and organizations that are.

A great place to go for basic assistance is Ensley First Baptist Church at 50 Johnson Avenue.  They sponsor the Nothing Lost Outreach which reaches out to the homeless.  They provide food, showers, haircuts and the gospel to the down and out.   They don’t just talk about doing something, they do it.  If you talk with homeless people around the Davis Highway and Old Palafox area you will find that Ensley First Baptist and Pastor Jeff have a very good reputation.  They can also use donations to continue the great work that they are doing.  Their website is www.nothinglostoutreach.com.  

The state of Florida also has an assistance program for families with children.  The website address is www.myflorida.com/accessflorida . This program provides food, medical assistance and cash to families in need.  The goal of the program is to keep families together.  The physical address is 33 Brent Lane, Suite 103.

Homelessness, Alcohol, Drugs and Addiction

Quite possibly the most secure prison in the world is the prison of addiction.  It is easy to get into but very difficult to escape from.  You can check out anytime you want, but sometimes it feels like you can never leave.  If you have never had any issues with addiction, then consider yourself lucky.

The damage addiction does to a person’s life depends on what it is they are addicted to and how much they are able to keep it under control.  Addiction to alcohol and drugs is in my opinion the most devastating of dependencies.  It destroys not only the person but also everyone connected to that person.  This includes children, wives, parents, brothers, sisters, and the list goes on.  Once all of these relationships are destroyed, a person often finds themselves on the street.  The sad thing is that addiction can lead to homelessness and homelessness can lead to addiction.  Either way, once addiction has you it does not want to let go.

Drinking and being an alcoholic are two different things.  One can lead to the other but not in every case.  I say this because it is easy to stereotype everyone with a beer in their hand and say that they are alcoholics.  A homeless person with a beer in their hand may or may not be an alcoholic.  A homeless person that is always falling down drunk most likely is.  An alcoholic cannot stop drinking.  If they do their blood alcohol level drops and they experience withdrawals which leads them to their next drink.  Alcohol also changes who a person is while they are under its influence.  A friend of mine told me that calling it spirits is accurate because evil spirits have free access to a person while they are intoxicated.  I do not know if that is true but it does make sense.  It has been my experience that if a homeless person has an addiction problem it normally involves alcohol.

Addiction to drugs is similar to an addiction to alcohol.  Your life expectancy is generally much shorter with a drug addiction.  Heroin, crack cocaine and crystal meth users seldom last two decades.  Once a person becomes addicted to drugs they will most likely be dead in 15 to 20 years.  Drug addiction is also different in that drugs have to be purchased illegally from not so nice people.  The checkout lady at Wal-Mart and a drug dealer are two different types of people.  Drug addictions are also more expensive.  They also lead to a person doing desperate things to get drugs.  Drug addicts can be dangerous to themselves and others for various reasons.   Be careful how and when you interact with an addict.  Everything you say and do should point them to a program and to Christ for help.

Drug addicts and alcoholics both need to be in a rehabilitation program that can help them get off drugs and alcohol and stay off.  This involves a change in the way the person thinks.  A Christ centered program is going to be the most effective one in my opinion.  The Water Front Mission has an excellent program that has a good success rate.  Your job is to get a person to see that they need help.  Sharing the gospel with them and encouraging them is the best way to do this.



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.

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.