Helping the Homeless

This working policy has been used by one church to respond to requests for assistance. It will probably not meet your needs without some alterations. Feel free to make it fit your setting.

Problem: Working to meet the needs of transients evokes a multitude of feelings such as inadequacy, sympathy, uncertainty, guilt, suspicion, frustration, anger, fear and pain. To relegate this to the pastor, typically after the close of a Sabbath worship service, is putting a strain on his/her effectiveness to rightly represent the willingness of the church to assist. An effective ministry on behalf of transients cannot be developed on the basis of emotions and instinct. Rather, defined guidelines and policies to respond to requests for help must be developed. The following is such an attempt.

Solution: Adapt the following suggestions to meet your local setting.

1. Select at least one deacon and/or deaconess who will be available to interview each request for help. Encourage them to be warm and friendly.

2. Train all volunteers in methods and procedures for working with transients.

3. Never give cash.

4. As far as possible, provide food assistance to all who request it based upon a reasonable frequency (You’ll have to consider your resources and demand).

5. Ask for identification (driver’s license, etc.) and references. Don’t hesitate to make some phone calls if more information is needed.

6. Verify the need. Ask questions. If the person is evasive, take note of it and raise your level of caution.

7. Inquire about the person’s religious background. Do they have a minister you can contact? Why did they come to your church? Have they been helped by other churches?

8. Be aware if the person attempts to use guilt to manipulate you ("If you were really a Christian . . . "). Don’t be manipulated by guilt; it’s often a tactic of an con-artist.

9. The con-artist often stresses the urgency of the need and presents it in a life and death context.

10. Unless discussed with the pastoral staff, do not hire transients for any reason.

11. Error on the side of mercy.

12. Always offer to pray with and for the individual(s).

Other Possibilities:

1. Make a list of all available community resources.

2. This could be a possible ministry your church performs to your community. Your church could become the central processing center for area churches interested in offering a coordinated ministry to transients.

3. For a meal, give inquirers a signed church calling card to receive a meal at a local restaurant. You can make arrangements with the restaurant ahead of time for payment.

Rich DuBose is Director of Church Support Services for the Pacific Union Conference and a producer of Christian web content.

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