Eight Ways to Really Help the Homeless This Christmas

What do you do when you see someone holding up a sign, “Will Work for Food”? Do you roll down your window and give them money? Do you pretend you didn’t see them?

Nobody likes to be confronted by the homeless – their needs often seem too overwhelming – but we all want to treat them fairly and justly. Here are some simple guidelines to equip you to truly help the homeless people you meet:

1. Never give cash to a homeless person
Too often, well intended gifts are converted to drugs or alcohol – even when the “hard luck” stories they tell are true. If the person is hungry, buy them a sandwich and a beverage or give them a restaurant gift certificate.

2. Talk to the person with respect
Taking time to talk to a homeless person in a friendly, respectful manner can give them a wonderful sense of civility and dignity. And besides being just neighborly, it gives the person a weapon to fight the isolation, depression and paranoia that many homeless people face.

3. Recognize that homeless people (and their problems) are not all the same
The homeless are as diverse as the colors of a rainbow. The person you meet may be a battered women, an addicted veteran, someone who is lacking job skills…the list goes on.

4. Share God’s love whenever you can
If Jesus were walking the earth today, He would certainly spend time with the homeless. He would speak with them, heal them, and help them. Today, Jesus chooses to work through those who believe and follow Him.

5. Pray for the homeless
Exposure to the elements, dirt, occasional violence, and lack of purpose all drain years from a person’s life. God can use your prayers and the brutality and the futility of life of the street to bring many of the broken to Himself.

6. Take precautions for your own safety
Some living on the streets are criminals and fugitives running from the law. Always be prudent while talking with street people. Stay in areas where other people can see you. Don’t take unnecessary chances.

7. Encourage the homeless to get help at an AGRM-affiliated Rescue Mission
Every day across North America, missions that are affiliated with the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions strive to demonstrate Christ’s love and compassion by offering essential physical, emotional, and spiritual services to people in need. They provide a variety of services that include: shelter for for men, women and children, food, clothing and household goods distribution and other community services. Additionally, many offer help in specialized programs for abused women, homeless people who struggle with mental illness, recent immigrants, at-risk youth and those who are working to overcome addictions and other life-controlling issues.

8. Support Your Local Rescue Mission
Most rescue missions do not receive government money or large grants to maintain their services.   If you are looking for a place to volunteer where you can really make a difference, your local rescue mission is such a place.   For their on-going expenses, rescue missions depend on financial support from caring individuals, churches, businesses, and civic groups who see the value of sharing their resources with the less fortunate.   If you are looking to make a wise investment for your year end giving, you can make a donation with confidence to one of the AGRM-affiliated missions.

  Find Your Local AGRM Mission

Index to Posts on Emotions in Recovery

One of the surest signs that addicts are moving toward recovery is the return of their emotions. Once active use stops, their feelings are allowed to rise to the surface, often for the first time in many, many years. This period can be one of the most exciting — and one of the most dangerous — of early recovery. Without proper support, it is easy to fall back on their drug of choice to bring things ‘back under control.” Additionally, even if they don’t go back to intoxicants, there is also a concern that they might engage in other compulsive activities in order to circumvent the difficult process of returning to emotional health.

With this in mind, I decided to post a series of articles that I originally wrote for  Rescue magazine, published by the  Association of Gospel Rescue Missions, which appeared in the September 2000, November 2000, January 2001, and March 2001 issues.

  • Self Awareness– In this first installment, the importance of emotional self-awareness is explored, along with a discussion of the affect of growing up in dysfunctional families on emotional health.
  • Early Recovery– This second installment looks at the early days of recovery from addiction and the emotions addicts experience. The main focus is helping addicts to avoid relapse by constructively dealing with these feelings.
  • Grief  — The third installment, entitled “The Role of Grief,” focuses on this particularly difficult emotion and how to help newly recovering addicts to deal with in a constructive manner.
  • Anger  — The fourth installment focuses on another difficult emotion, anger, and provides some tips to help newly recovering addicts to successfully handle it.
  • Hope  – The residential recovery program’s first goal is to create hope in our clients.   Here are some ways we can accomplish this.
  • Depression  — Depressive disorders, which are more subtle, can be overlooked as factors that prevent program participants from moving forward in recovery.

Tough Love in Addiction Recovery Programs

How do we properly cope with the emotional distress that some staff members experience when called upon to dismiss residents for violating recovery program rules?

A.  The Principle of “Tough Love”  –    One of the keys to overcoming staff difficulties in this area is educating them in the important principles of “tough love.”    While it can be extremely difficult to dismiss certain people from a program, we really are doing what is best for them.   For those in denial about their problems, consequences can be their salvation!   People continue to abuse alcohol and drugs (and persist in dysfunctional behaviors) as long as they feel the benefits outweigh the costs.

Additionally, being dismissed can often serve as an important learning experience.   Such people may return to the program with a much better attitude, having had a chance to get a hard look at the pain and destruction in their old environments.   Someone once said, “It”s hard to go back to digging around in the garbage after you”ve been feasting at the King”s table!”

At times, people may have more problems than a program”s facility and staff are equipped to handle.   Except for this situation, there seems to be only one other reason for dismissing an individual from a program –  resistance!   One manifestation of resistance is a refusal to abide by expectations and rules to which they initially agreed when they first entered your facility or program.   Keeping them around is both bad for them and unfair to those who do have a sincere desire for a new life.

Certainly, troubled people need a lot of love and compassion.   Yet on the other hand, like Jesus, staff members do need, at times, to confront people who are in sin and denial.   Truth is always uncomfortable to the hard-hearted.   People only recover when they learn to take responsibility (with God”s help) for their own actions and lives.   We cannot do this for them!

B.    Protecting the Sincere Client    Another important principle to remember in the application of “tough love” is the need to protect those residents who are sincerely trying to change their lives from those who are not.   Keeping hard-hearted and disruptive people around can be extremely discouraging to those individuals who are working hard at their own recovery.   It can be truly amazing to sense the dramatic change in the atmosphere of a program when one or two disruptive individuals are removed.   Sincere people can be further motivated and reassured if they know that their efforts toward recovery will not be undermined by disruptive, uncommitted, and dishonest people.

C.  Consistent Application of Program Rules and Expectations    It is extremely difficult for a staff member to dismiss a resident for a rules infraction that another resident has gotten away with.   No one wants to play the “bad guy.”   To prevent this situation, whatever rules a staff establishes must be applied equitably to all who stay at the facility.   Furthermore, “bending the rules” leads people to conclude that the ministry”s staff members are not serious about enforcing any of them.   “Playing favorites” by exempting certain individuals from your established rules will certainly lead to resentment toward staff members and their “pets” by other residents in the facility.   It is also especially important that staff members are supported by their superiors who are not constantly over-ruling their disciplinary decisions. If there is a disagreement between staff members about such an issue, it must never be discussed in the presence of a resident.   Forgetting this will certainly undermine the authority of the staff member in the eyes of the residents, rendering him ineffective in disciplinary matters.

The most important element for successful application of program rules and expectations is a formal intake session for every individual before actually moving into the facility.   At this meeting, the rules and expectations that are conditions of staying at the facility must be clearly discussed with prospective residents. The best policy is to require them to sign a formal contract agreeing to abide by your expectations.   This way, with everything explained at the very beginning of their stay, staff members will not be accused of “making up rules along the way.”   It also means that residents cannot say, “I didn”t know about that rule.”

D.  The Principle of Good Stewardship  – Staff members must be assured that, if a program has limited space, they must practice the best possible stewardship of the resources God has entrusted to them.   This involves, at times, a commitment to not allowing their time and resources to be wasted on people who are closed and resistant to what they have to offer.   They must avoid turning away people they can work with because space is being taken up by those who are hardhearted and resistant.   Good stewardship can mean working with a smaller number of sincere people, rather than filling up their facilities with people who use and abuse often limited resources and have no desire to change their lives.

E.  Internal Struggles of Staff Members    When staff members are struggling with their own codependency-related problems, it can be very difficult for them to take disciplinary measures with program participants.   Staff workers must be committed to being part of the solution and not a part of the problem.   Their own unresolved issues will inevitably hinder their ability to minister effectively to others.   It is only proper and fair to those they work with that staff members seek out the right sort of help for themselves.   (The “Wounded Warriors” recorded lecture has more insights on this topic.)


Excerpts from Rescue Magazine, Fall 1993. Journal of the  AGRM.