I think everyone I know has been approached by a stranger on the street at some point in their lives – asking for food or money. At the very least, we are aware of people with signs asking for help as we drive by. While there are many people who ask for handouts as a scam, making more in a year than many families, there are also many people who are homeless and could actually use a bit of help.
I admit to most often looking away. Having had bad experiences, I’m leary about anyone approaching me, especially now that I have children. As the feeling of guilt swims over me for not helping someone who may need help, I cast my eyes anywhere but toward the person. Then my guilt compounds. Do they think I am pretending they don’t exist, those people who are genuinely homeless? Homeless is not a noun. They are people who happen to be homeless.
I want to model compassion to my children and to help others when I can, but my children are my first priority. How can I risk their safety to help an unknown person – one who may be potentially dangerous?
A friend mentioned some things that she learned when on a mission trip to an inner city. I’ve been thinking about how our family might be able to incorporate some if these things without putting ourselves at risk.
An inexpensive backpack, such as those $1 drawstring ones, can be filled with needed items. You can safely toss it out a window to a person when driving. Suggested items might include:
- garbage bag
- dry goods to eat (soft items are good, as they probably don’t have access to dental care)
- water bottle
- blanket in Winter
- Winter items – hats, gloves
If there is an police officer near by, you can ask him/her to give the item to the person in need. They may raise an eyebrow, but most will comply. Police officers are in a better position to stay safe than a mother with children.
My desire to help and my desire to keep us safe don’t have to compete – they just need to balance.