help the homeless with kids

Helping the homeless when you have kids in the backseat is actually very easy, but I think it requires some forethought. It’s so important for our children to watch us model compassion to people on the streets, and after writing last week’s post I finally decided to sit down and share more about my thoughts on this topic.

Whenever I talk to other women about our role in helping people on the streets, I find most people have a desire to help but don’t know how to safely do so. Many people choose to not engage with people on the streets and instead give donations of money or food to their church and/or a local homeless shelter. I think this is a great plan for many families. Our churches and shelters are often better equipped than we are to deal with people who have mental illnesses, and sometimes they can find ways to end the cycle of homelessness by giving people job training, stable housing and education while they get back on their feet.

While I am in no way opposed to giving money directly to organizations, I’m also an advocate for finding ways to love and encourage the people God puts in our path on a (sometimes) daily basis. Before I share my thoughts, I first want to say that I’m not an expert in how to care for people on the streets. I’m not a social worker and I haven’t been on staff at a homeless shelter—but—I care deeply about who the bible refers to as the least of these. And after many, many years of ignoring people on freeway corners (and not feeling good about my response) I decided to put thought and research into how I wanted to react differently. Here’s what I do now:

1. I always smile and make eye contact with every person asking for money. Asking for money is humbling, and I’d imagine that most drivers offer scowls or averted eyes. It is not my job to judge people who ask for money, nor do I assume they’re lazy. It’s my job to show them Jesus, who has full power to change their lives. Since I often have less than a minute to show them Jesus, a smile is my first and best bet to safely say, “You are precious and loved.” 

2. If it’s daylight and there are plenty of people/cars around, I will roll down my window and give them a paper bag we’ve prepared ahead of time with a bottle of water, granola bar, pack of gum and fruit. There a many inexpensive items you can put in these “sunshine bags” and I’ve included more ideas and a tutorial here. (This is such a fun project to do with your kids!) I love handing out a pre-made bag because it helps our children be intentionally involved in a hands-on manner. Additionally, if you don’t like giving money to strangers because you fear they may use the money in a harmful way, these bags are a very tangible way to help without offering cash.

3. Each time we see a person holding a sign, I use it as an opportunity to tell my children about the gospel. Anna is old enough that she’s noticing the homeless, and she’s asking questions. Sometimes I wait for her to ask, and sometimes I just start talking. It’s a little different each time, but I try to quickly cover the basics in a way she can understand:

“That person is asking us to help him. He probably doesn’t have a job and he may not have a home like we do. He might even be really hungry. We don’t know why he’s asking for help but in the bible Jesus shows us to love people in need. We can do this by praying, and maybe should we also give him one of the bags we made together?”

Over time, I expect this conversation to evolve. I expect my kids will ask more questions and I also plan to have more conversations about when it’s safe to roll down your window, and when it’s not. But for now, we keep it very simple and then we pray for the person we encountered.

4. I try to pay special attention to women on the streets, and I try to allow the Holy Spirit to have a part in how I respond. I’ve had several incidents over the last three years where I felt women were being trafficked. Two of these incidents took place when my children were not with me but the third time, last year, I was at a park with a group of moms and our kids when a teenage girl asked if she could borrow my cell phone. After talking with her for a long time I became suspicious of her circumstances. I ended up bringing her to my house, making her lunch, allowing her to shower, and calling a trafficking center who came and picked her up. I only did this because I felt God leading me to do so, because she was a woman (and young! and very vulnerable!) and because I had a friend who could come home with us for extra safety measures.

The example I’m sharing is rare, and I’m not suggesting it is the norm for our family or should become the norm for yours. But with human trafficking on the rise in many American cities, I’m choosing to tell this story because I think sometimes God asks us to do uncomfortable things like invite a stranger into your home. (And I want to make sure to say, do not confuse uncomfortable with unsafe.)  I’d encourage you, if God is tugging on your heart about a certain area such as trafficking, then read about the topic, learn how to identify people being trafficked, and who you can call when you think it’s happening. This is the number for the National Human Trafficking Hotline: 1 (888) 373-7888. Additionally, because of the incidents I’ve witnessed, and how unprepared I felt in the moment, I began carrying a list of all local shelters and nonprofits. A few times I’ve been able to ask women if they have shelter for that night, and if they don’t, I was at least able to give them a phone number or address they could try. (Sadly, they often don’t want to use these resources.) As I’m writing this, I’m realizing I need to create a list for my current city!

Before I wrap this post up, I just want to say (again!) that I’m still learning how to help people I come across while I’m running errands or playing at the park. This is a complicated topic with many different opinions so I hope if you remember one thing, it’s this: we don’t have to be experts on the homeless or human trafficking to be used by God to love His people. Sometimes, it’s actually a lot more simple than we think!

I’d love to hear from you. Any ideas you’d like to add to my list?

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Stuff to love in May 2015

by Lesley on June 5, 2015 · 1 comment

in stuff to know about

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Books: I finished What Alice Forgot in April (loved it!) and read Glitter & Glue in May, which was a tad slow in the beginning but I love the author and some of her observations on mom/daughter relationships. For an encouraging, quick book you should try My Practices of Mothering by Sarah Bessey.

Food: I have 13 Pinterest boards dedicated to food, and yet, I didn’t really try any new recipes this month. I’ve been all about simplicity and can’t really tell you what we’ve eaten. Tell me a recipe I need to make in June.

Podcast: You must listen to This American Life’s Birds & Bees episode which covers talking to kids and teens about sex, racism and death. I gotta say, this one left me with a lot to think about.

TV/Movies: I gave up on Scandal this month because it got too dramatic and far fetched for my taste. (That’s weird…a drama becoming too dramatic…) Also, my mom and I took Anna to the movies for the first time to see Cinderella, which was really cute. I definitely liked it more than Anna did.

Wearing: My “new” polka dot romper and blazer, both of which I “won” at the MOPS clothing swap.

A few of my favorite purchases in May: 

Things I loved in May:

  • I finally followed this tutorial and made engineering prints for our living room. So easy! So cheap! So cute!
  • Celebrating my mom’s graduation from her Master’s program with a big surprise party
  • Traveling (SOLO!) to Sacramento for two nights. I stayed with Tammy and was able to see a few friends. Also, Bacon + Butter.

What I love on the web:

If you need a good cry, read this post about friendship and cancer. But really, I warned you.

If you’re a mom juggling too many things, read this post by my friend Anna. It’s one of the best motherhood essays I’ve read in a long time.

My feelings about the word BRAVE are very complicated, and this essay sums them up.

The doll I really want to buy Anna.

A post about teaching our kids to say what they mean, especially when it comes to their bodies.

A beautiful essay on faith.

And finally, this essay by two sisters about their opposite views on gay marriage. So good.

Anticipating:

  • My grandpa’s 90th birthday party on Catalina Island
  • My dad’s 60th birthday party the following weekend
  • No school! No plans! Beach days! Culdesac happy hours! Summer!
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homeless man

Many years ago during my first job out of college, I became friends with a middle aged homeless man. His name was David, and he greeted me each day at the post office as I mailed packages for work.

David held a sign that asked for a smile or money, and I always gave the first and sometimes also the latter. For many months we exchanged greetings, sometimes talking in greater length depending on how busy I was. David was a little odd, but certainly kind, and while I didn’t understand why he was on the streets I did my best to show him compassion and love. For Thanksgiving I packed him up a bag of food, and occasionally I brought him dinner leftovers or a cookie.

I can’t remember what happened exactly, but after knowing David for a year he started making me feel uncomfortable. As a woman, I’ve learned to pay attention when the hairs stand up on my arms or my heart flutters faster than normal. While David didn’t seem dangerous, he was also a man on the streets and I was a young woman. When I started seeing him at the grocery store where I shopped, which was only a few blocks from our apartment, I knew my friendliness needed to be scaled back. I began looking for other places to take the mail, or going earlier in the day when I knew David wouldn’t be there. It was a slow break-up of sorts, sad and awkward but also necessary.

A few weeks ago, I took the kids to the post office by our house—the same one I frequented almost 10 years ago. Imagine my surprise when I noticed David sitting in the same spot next to the mailbox. His hair was still a bleached blond from the sun—or was it gray?—and his face was still tan but it wore more wrinkles than before. I hesitated before getting out of the car. Should I go inside? Would he remember me? Should I say hello?

As much as my I wanted him to know I remembered, my maternal instincts said otherwise. While it’d be extremely unlikely for him to hurt us, I needed to play things safe. Plus, he wouldn’t remember me, right? He very likely had some type of mental illness and probably watched hundreds of people go in and out of this post office for over a decade. I’ve aged. I have children. I’m just another face in the crowd.

When I reach the post office doors, I see him running over to me. My hands are full with children and he opens the door for me. We make eye contact for the first time and I thank him and continue inside. When I return outside and begin walking to the car, I thank him again. A few seconds pass and he yells, “I remember you, you know!”

I stop in my tracks, a kid in each hand. I’m not sure what to say, and I fumble in my words. Now is the moment when I can use his name—“David! Wow! Hello and good to see you again”—but I do not.

Instead I make an awkward comment asking if he’s been here a long time, and his eyes look crestfallen for a moment when he realizes I don’t remember or won’t remember.

“Yeah, it’s been awhile,” he says.

I smile and say it’s good to see him and then I head for the car. I am about ready to close my door when he yells, “I never forget a face like yours!” I back out and give a quick wave before driving away.

The whole interaction leaves me with so many questions. I question my judgment all those years ago, and then I question the walls I’ve since put up. I question if he’s really someone to fear, or just another lonely soul. I question if he remembers my kindness and compassion, or if he remembers my body and face. I’m a woman, after all, and things get a lot more complicated when a woman wants to care for someone living on the streets.

I think too many people fear or judge the homeless and don’t treat them as humans, but it’s also more complicated as a woman, and especially so when children are involved. There are real risks. How can we show love and kindness to those on the streets, even as women, even with our children nearby?

I’ve love to hear your thoughts and I plan to share more of mine next week.

Related post: The last day I walked away

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neighborsfence

Good day, friends! I welcomed this morning with blurry eyes, as I’ve done every morning for the last week. The kids have croup, and pink eye, and an ear infection, and what seems like twenty other ailments impairing their sleep (and mine.) With Jonathan gone on a cancer survivor’s surf trip for a week, I decided to flee to my parents’ house for the Memorial Day weekend. Owen has been so sick (like, coughing so hard he barfed all over me), that I decided to stay an extra night. We’ve done puzzles and played Candy Land and watched a lot of television. Have I mentioned my parents are really great?

We also received some inconvenient news this month: we have to move. (Hold me.) Our landlord is selling our current house which means we’ve been hunting for a new rental in a town where vacancies rates are less than 1% and rent prices have shot up 12% since last year. Discouraging? YES. Absolutely yes. I’ll admit, my attitude has been somewhat of a moving target. Oh, and did I mention some of my current work load at Kidaround is shifting too? Le sigh.

Our move, and my working situation, will be great changes for our family in the long term. I believe this. I know this. But in the midst of change, I’m tired and a little weary.

In between obsessively checking Craig’s List and working on a new website, I finally finished an essay I’ve been trying to write for years. It’s about gay marriage but it’s not really about gay marriage. This is a story about friendship, and I hope it leaves you encouraged and hopeful. I’m grateful to my friend Bronwyn for encouraging me to finish this piece and publishing it on her site. Please hop over there today and let me know what you think!

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The hard part about weekend travel is that it usually puts a lot of pressure on the other weekends we’re home. So much to do, friends to catch up with, and little people who demand a lot of attention. We just had one of those epic weekends where Jonathan and I both had individual time with friends, I was able to write, and we caught up on a few much needed chores around the house.

I spent a few hours back at the Santa Barbara Public Market on Saturday working on my May Coffee+Crumbs post, and I also go to see Jenny and Lisa who were both here separately for other reasons. When you live in a beach town, especially the beach town where you went to college, people visit all.the.time. It’s pretty awesome.

Next week my C+C post will go up, but today there is a huge giveaway for an organic Ergo carrier, a Halo bassinet, and 4moms rockaRoo. I will just say, as an accidental baby wearing mama, I am especially lusting after that Ergo!

Here are a few other great finds from around the web:

First, for the twenty something crowd (or parents with a twenty something in your life), I highly, highly recommend my friend Paul’s new book All Groan Up: Searching for Self, Faith and a Freaking Job. I loved reading Paul’s memoir, partially because I was trying to figure out all the girls he refers to throughout who I likely know, but also because I needed a book like this in my 20s. This book has been a dream of Paul’s for almost 10 years, and it’s so fun to watch the way his path to publishing happened. The book is well written, funny and also very practical. Congrats, Paul!

Robin is kicking off her Pilates Summer Series again. Are you going to participate? Her beachy videos are so great, and I’m trying to do one or two each day but it doesn’t always happen. Her updated series kicks off soon!

Loved my friend Bronwyn’s real story about a miracle that took place in her life a few months ago. Bronwyn is the real deal- a great friend, mom, and writer. Highly recommend this read.

Making time for kids? Study says quality trumps quantity. “The study found one key instance when parent time can be particularly harmful to children. That’s when parents, mothers in particular, are stressed, sleep-deprived, guilty and anxious.” What do you think?

7 best podcasts to try (This American Life has been a long favorite, but I still miss Serial.)

Hope your week is off to a great start!

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