ENCOUNTERS WITH THE HOMELESS
I've had 4 encounters with homeless people in the last 2 weeks. Two of those encounters happened in my front yard. Four interactions is more than I have had in an entire year in the past. Let me breakdown the 4 times:
1) I already posted about this encounter on my Facebook page. I brought my son home from therapy to find a homeless couple and their belongings on my front lawn. I argued with the homeless women about her smoking in my front yard and asked the couple to depart.
2 ) A homeless and intoxicated man approached me at a public park. I had gone there mid afternoon to read my Bible and do my devotions in the shade trees. He was very polite. I declined to give him money but he stayed and talked with me for 30 minutes. We talked about God and our wives and going through pain. He seemed like a decent enough man. But he obviously had an alcohol problem. We probably would have talked longer but I had to leave to pick my son up from therapy.
3 ) After church today another homeless couple approached me in my driveway. The woman, who acknowledged her missing teeth when she asked me for money, wanted me to pay her husband or boyfriend to mow the lawn. I had mowed the lawn that morning before church. I politely excused myself from her request and took my son inside the house.
4) About 15 minutes after encounter number 3 my son and I left for lunch at McDonald's. While leaving the McDonald's parking lot we were approached by a homeless woman. She was hot and sunburned and carrying a lot of belongings. She asked for a ride. I told her that since she was a stranger and I had my 6 year old son with me I did not feel safe giving her a ride. She said she understood and then asked me for money. I told her that I would not give her money.
For a long time my wife and I have had a policy of not giving money to homeless individuals. When you do you just have no control over how or what they will spend it on. The length of the encounter is usually so short that you have no sense of the character or integrity of the person asking or begging. I used to carry extra food in my car so that when I got approached by homeless people in downtown Sacramento I could decline their request for money but offer them food instead. Only one time did the person take the food (a granola bar) I offered.
As the economy continues to collapse these interactions with homelessness are only going to increase. Heck, I am currently unemployed. There's no guarantee me and my family won't be joining their ranks in the near future. Stranger things have happened. In the meantime I have to be prepared for these more frequent and more aggressive and more invasive (2 in my driveway!) encounters. I don't know what the safe and gracious thing to do is. But I do know that God is giving me many opportunities to work on crafting a compassionate response.