My Homeless Beach Weekend

Taking twelve homeless men to a beach house on the Texas coast? What could possibly go wrong?

Nothing. Actually.

A lifelong friend helps run a Houston Homeless Chess Club Ministry and back in March asked if I would go along with them on a retreat to the Texas coast. I didn’t quite know what to expect, who does when it comes to the homeless. But those guys were so welcoming and hospitable. I learned from them what it looks like to be accepting of a stranger and about gratitude. Gratitude for the simplest of things.

“I couldn’t tell you the last time I slept in a bed,” said one man as he thought about the bed that was all his for two nights. This same man also told us that a full night’s sleep was a luxury because the Houston police will come around at 4:30 a.m. and kick him out of his sleeping spot.

As we set up and tried to account for things at the beach house, I couldn’t help running many of the accommodations and particulars through my middle class, spoiled mindset just to quickly be reminded that these are homeless people who have very little and even smaller expectations. Over and over they would tell my friend and I thank you for the food, thank you for the trip, thank you for coming, thank you for taking the time to be with them.

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Additionally, I learned the lesson of just making myself available without turning a charitable thing into a project.

Being present with people, making them feel valued, listening to them, serving them, getting to know them is a worthy effort that is not lessened because you lack a set of steps to take to get them out of their trouble.

I have worked with the homeless before and I am not trying to sugar coat their plight or look past the realities that have caused them to be homeless but what these guys have, that I often lack, is perspective.

When I gave a short devotional for them on Sunday morning and we talked about understanding the fullness of who God is, they went on an on about all that they had to thank God for. Yes, even in their homelessness, gratitude and thankfulness towards a loving heavenly Father was on the tip of their tongues. I don’t have that kind of thankfulness and lack that kind of divine perspective. These homeless guys taught me that I can look towards God with eyes that don’t constantly have to be filtered by my circumstances, good or bad.

As we were about to leave, one guy said, “You coming from Dallas to be with us, that is epic, man.” No, Eugene. Being reminded of what matters most and the true value of loving, accepting community, that is “epic.”

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Guide To Giving To the Homeless

What do you do when a homeless person asks you for money? Is there a more vexing question for people? So many spend way too

Homeless person, with shopping cart

Image via Wikipedia

much time thinking and stressing over these encounters. For some people, the entire weight of human existence and all that is right in the world is hanging on the proper response to these situations.

I say just relax, get off your high horse, and consider a few things that might help you handle these situations with a clearer mind.

  • First, 85% of the time, when you give a panhandler money they intend to use it for less than noble pursuits. This is no great revelation so what good is it going to do to crank up the judgement level. Sure, it is advisable to not give panhandlers money but no matter what you do, do it with a spirit of love and kindness and not contempt and self-righteousness.
  • Second, if you decide to give a panhandler money and they choose to use it for booze or drugs then that is between them and God. It is out of your hands and you don’t have to feel guilty as long as you were faithful to what you felt the Holy Spirit was guiding you to do. Many people fear being taken advantage of but is that really the end of the world? Maybe we need to learn to be more generous and God has placed this person in our path to see if we are willing to be gracious and compassionate. Sometimes the encounter with the homeless person may be more about you than it is about the homeless person.
  • Third, start to save up the coupons you see for food. We all have free drink coupons or 99-cent hamburger coupons lying around that we mostly ignore. Why don’t you get some of your really good ones, stick them in a sandwich bag, and put it in your glove box. When you see a homeless person, you can pass it along to them. Or you could buy a gift card to McDonald’s and place $5-$10 on it and hand it to the next homeless person you see. Better yet, put together a sack with snack items that can handle a few days in your car and make that your handout. You could write a note on the outside or place a scripture verse inside the bag.
  • Fourth, talk to homeless people. If you have lived in fear of homeless people, maybe it is time to move past your fears. Like we have said before, the panhandlers are going to be the more aggressive, possibly addicted, street people. They might not be open to much conversation. But if you move past this version of the homeless and encounter folks at shelters or homeless ministries, you will find very fine people who are very interesting to talk to and are very thankful to have your attention. Some of the kindness, most genuine people I have known have been homeless people.

For four years, my wife and I worked closely with the homeless and poor. These observations come from our experiences during this time.