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.