How to help the homeless with kids in the backseat

by Lesley on June 9, 2015 · 9 comments

in make-you-think

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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9 comments
andrea_themeinmotherhood
andrea_themeinmotherhood

Lesley, I read this when I was away from my computer and have been meaning to comment!  I've been feeling that tension, too.  On one hand, I want to protect my kids and myself and figure I can just give money to charity and call it good, but on the other hand, that just doesn't feel right anymore.  I love your suggestions for how to engage, even if that is just treating someone with dignity by making eye contact.  I need to make some of those bags!

marisaloper
marisaloper

we've done "sunshine bags" at Christmas and included 1-2 pairs of socks, subway or mcdonalds gift cards ($5), granola bars, and sometimes a crocheted/knit hat or homemade cookies. we gave one out to a homeless man in downtown seattle and the guy came over and kissed the window of our car - I had lip prints for weeks! that was kind of hilarious, but usually people are really thankful for those things. in high school we handed out socks and stuff to the homeless in downtown l.a., but we were in a large group of people. it was SUPER interesting to engage the people who were willing to share how/why they were on the streets. definitely a great opportunity to teach our kids about how to love the least of these...although living in upper class suburbia means our encounters of homeless are limited to freeway off-ramps and downtown excursions than an every day occurrence.

Grandude
Grandude

Very insightful post, Lesley, and great comments from your friends.  Being a Grandude I have a few years of experience on you regarding this subject.  I have to say, I have been "burned" a number of times by homeless/con artists that have taken advantage of my kindness.  Because of that, it saddens me to say that I have at times become callous of the plight of some of my fellow man.  Your insight and suggestions of how to deal with different situations of homeless people has reminded me of this question, "What is worse, to be burned by a con artist, or to let an opportunity of kindness to someone in true need slip away?"  You are right, be careful, but be kind.

breanneminefee
breanneminefee

I'm glad you're posting about this.  It's been an interesting journey with the homeless for our family and my gals Bible study here in SLO.  I feel like God is redeeming some of the brokenness and answering some of the questions right now with a friendship I've started with Lisa who lives on our street.  It's been awesome to get to know her and so amazing to watch Holland respond to her - she LOVES her and gets excited to see her.  Lisa even bought Holland a book at Goodwill for her birthday :)  


One of the things I've learned is no two stories are the same so we can't force them into a category.  Another thing I'm continuing to learn is that the majority of homeless people just want what we do - friends, people who love them and probably the best gift you can give them is your time.  That's her very favorite thing - to sing songs with Holland and just talk to me about life.  But our past experiences haven't been quite the same.  I just try to pray for direction with each person God puts in our path and I (like you) am constantly trying to discern what role God would have me play in the lives of young mothers.  Of course our street is on the same street as the shelter ;)  

LesleyM
LesleyM moderator

@breanneminefee So sorry for my very delayed response. Just wanted to say, love hearing from you Bree! Your advice, that no two stories are the same, is really good. Praying for Lisa and your relationship and believing God is using you for good in her life. 

shaympaulson
shaympaulson

Thanks for continuing this conversation from last week, Lesley.  You've given me much to think about, and I appreciate you giving concrete examples on how to respond!  


We are working with a woman who walked in to our church last fall, and she has been abused her entire life, and has no family willing to help (but they are in the area).  We've been advised to be careful with how much information we know about her finances and whatnot, as it could come back to bite us, but when no one else is helping, and we are on waiting lists to get a case manager, disability and medicaid for her, I feel like it's an act of obedience to help the least of these.  I really resonate with your "case by case" basis.  Thanks again for sharing.

LesleyM
LesleyM moderator

@shaympaulson It was so good to read your comment, and I apologize for taking so long in responding. I think it's important to listen to warnings from others, and setting appropriate boundaries, while also finding ways to help. It's not always possible, but I love hearing of churches and people who are doing so! 

san_in_ca
san_in_ca

As you might remember from your Sactown years, we have a lot of homeless people (especially in downtown/midtown). I encounter them in our back alley on a daily basis. 
It's definitely a case-by-case judgment call, but I have on multiple occasion run upstairs to get someone water, a couple of bucks, given someone ( a woman) a ride, and engaged in friendly, but short conversation.

I feel these people deserve to be treated with kindness.


Those "sunshine bags" for in the car are a great idea! Something I definitely would like to prepare for future encounters at intersections!

LesleyM
LesleyM moderator

@san_in_ca I love your phrase, "case-by-case judgement call." I think that alone is great advice...to remember we should always keep our guards up, while not shutting everyone out because of a bad incident or story we've heard. Fun to hear from you!