I’ve been called about 5 times about a woman with a small child sleeping in the car. She’s mostly been at the QT on Kisker and the Walgreens on Caulks Hill. Her story is the same. Her water has been turned off. She’s not sure what to do. She’s called all the agencies. There is a 2 week wait for help. “Can you spare a few bucks?”
I’m not sure what her story is but she hasn’t called me and as far as I can determine she hasn’t called any of the churches or other agencies. I can’t determine what’s really going on but she needs something. Even if her motivation is questionable something is not working for this woman.
In St. Charles County we have what’s known as the “Hidden Homeless.” As one of the wealthiest counties in the state of Missouri, it’s hard to imagine we have at least 2 dozen tent encampments in our area. Our homeless issue is not based on substance abuse or mental illness. For the most part it’s based on underemployment and unemployment. I’m starting to get a lot calls from friends and family about what to do. I love their hearts. They are absolutely breaking for these people. They want to help. They’re just not sure what to do. They don’t want to get suckered.
I’m not an expert. But these are the top 4 things I’ve learned over the years.
1. Whatever you do , don’t ever forget that these people are people.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’[a] 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31
We are at time where we don’t want our circumstances or our past to define who we are. Take that compassion and empathy and use them as a lens when you see these people in need. Keep your heart soft and your mind discerning when you are approached. As much as possible respect the humanity of those less fortunate than you are. In this day and age, we’re all a lot closer to the reality of financial ruin, foreclosure, substance abuse, and mental strain than we care to admit. That person could be you.
2. Use your judgement but don’t judge.
Of course there are unsavory types who just want to take your money because they don’t want to work, they just want to get high, and they want to laugh at taking advantage of your generosity. Are they any less broken than the people who are straight up with you? Obviously, they need more help than anyone because they are fooling themselves more than anyone else. So don’t harden your hearts to them. Go in with eyes wide open. Be safe. Don’t give out personal information. Give with discernment. If they want cash for food, give them the food. If they want cash for gas, give them a gallon of gas. If they want their water bill paid, call the water company and pay the bill. Guard yourself but don’t shut down. In the 5-7 minutes you have to interact with them you won’t get their life history. Trust God to use you in this situation. God will take your act of kindness and use it to all sorts of good.
3. Be prepared.
Our community is rapidly changing. We have a lot of hurting people needing all kinds of resources. We don’t have as much to offer as the city and we don’t have a single point of entry into the system so we can’t keep track of who’s received what help where. But there are a lot of small groups of people trying to do big things. If you’ve been approached one time in the past month, count on that happening a lot more in the next 18-24 months. Our community is struggling. Do your homework. Carry information in your car from your benovelence committee at your church. Have a few numbers like St. Joachim and Ann Care center, the Community Council, Oasis Food Pantry, NECAC, Bridgeway Behavioral Health, Salvation Army and others. Carry a bag with a gas card, pre-paid phone card, gloves, hats, socks, canned food and water, toiletries, can openers, etc so you can help right on the spot. This issue is only going to get worse before it can get better. We need to be ready.
4. Act outside of the moment
Helping hurting people at a moment’s notice is an honorable act. But I feel those moments are going to compound in our area. We need some major services. Take time to educate yourself about the homeless issue in St. Charles County. Attend Community Council meetings or the Community Council Summit on October 18th at Harvester Christian. Contact your state representative. Employ the homeless. Volunteer in shelters. Create lists of needed items and recruit local businesses to help. Publish shelter information in your church bulletin, your subdivision newsletter, or through social media. Push for State Homelessness Prevention programs.
It may sound cliche, but I know if we work together and don’t wait for this to slam down on our community we can stop generational poverty in it’s tracks.