• Columbia Heights Parish
Columbia Heights Parish

Columbia Heights Parish

Address

Columbia Heights Educational Campus
3101 16th St NW

Service Times

10:00am & 11:30am

Kids' City  offered only at 10am service.

 

 

Pastor

Aaron Graham

Contact


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Contact Us

  • Phone: (202) 558-9745
  • Email: 
  • Mailing Address: 1616 7th St, NW, Washington DC, 20001 

 

Blog

Loving our Homeless Neighbors Generously

Posted by Shiri Yadlin on

As someone working in housing and homeless services I’m frequently asked, “What do I do when someone on the street asks me for money?” I’ll be first to admit that I too get flustered when I am approached by a person panhandling, and I don’t have an easy or simple answer to this question. I’m not sure an easy or simple one exists. So while I’m not actually going to tell you what to do in this situation, I do want to offer some reflections that could be helpful as you consider how you want to respond.
 

The most important thing to remember when engaging with someone panhandling is to not ignore them. People who are experiencing homelessness and/or asking for help on the street are used to being overlooked, at best, and harassed, at worst. Daily they are belittled and dehumanized, made to feel invisible, or even criminalized. So you can make an important difference if you look them in the eye, give them a nod or a smile, or engage them in conversation. Recognizing and affirming the image of God within them is the most important response you can make. 

 

Beyond that, there are a lot of appropriate ways to engage. I invite you to ask the Holy Spirit to guide you, so you can be sure you’re responding from a place of spiritual love rather than fleshly instinct. And if you feel led or compelled to give something, give. If you don’t have anything to give or choose not to, clear eye contact, a smile, and an acknowledgement such as “I’m sorry, I’m not able to give anything today” is okay too. Just don’t lie to them.

  
Now let me address a common follow up question: “When I give cash, doesn’t that simply enable poor behavior, or cultivate dependence on handouts?” Maybe! No one wants their generosity to be taken advantage of. But let’s remember that we don’t know the stories or motivations behind any individual’s actions (though we may make assumptions and mistake them for reality). These assumptions cannot dictate how we relate to another person.
  
 
In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the Samaritan doesn’t know how or why the man ended up bloody on the side of the road. He could have been a terrible person who got beaten up because he committed horrible crimes. But the Samaritan doesn’t stop to ask. He just sees a person in need and helps him. And Jesus told this story to demonstrate what it is to love your neighbor. So I would encourage you to think less about how the person got there or how they will spend any money you give, and instead do your best to display the love and compassion your faith calls you to. 
 
 
Think about how you’re feeling on a day where everything seems to be going wrong. What do you most want at the end of the day? A cookie? Fast food? A drink? What brings you momentary comfort in a difficult time? You can imagine it’s only natural for someone in extreme poverty to use what little they do have to purchase things that they think will make them happy or bring them temporary relief. This is not to say any of us are obligated to fuel habits or lifestyles we feel are destructive, but I hope these ideas can inject a little empathy into how someone may be feeling when they approach you. And please know that the simple act of approaching a stranger to ask for help is a scary, humbling action. 

 

That said, if you don’t feel comfortable giving money, that’s okay. The moment we give someone money, we are relinquishing control over how they spend it. And many people are not comfortable with that. Instead, you can begin a practice of carrying small gift cards or granola bars around with you to hand out. Or maybe a SmarTrip card with some credit on it to get to a shelter or food distribution site. In extreme weather, you can offer a blanket or a water bottle. I often ask if I can buy something for people in a nearby store. There are plenty of ways to tangibly help without giving cash.

 

And especially if you start to see the same people repeatedly, I encourage you to introduce yourself, ask their name, and get to know them. Take some time to build a relationship. Imagine what you could learn from one another! Make sure you’re in a safe situation and set appropriate boundaries, of course, but cultivating relationships is rarely the wrong decision. And, through relationship you can connect them with resources that can provide long-term support.

 
It is easy to justify any decision we make when faced with these kinds of situations, but ultimately we are called, as followers of Jesus, to love generously and honor our brothers and sisters as fellow image-bearers of God.
If you have questions or want to discuss this topic further, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me.

 

Resources:

  1. This is a piece written by a formerly homeless individual that really helped me in understanding some of the emotions and experiences people are going through when asking strangers for help.

  2. Last year, Pope Francis gave an interview that has helped shape some of my view of a Christ-like response to people asking for money.

  3. Here is Pastor John Piper's response to a question about how to engage with people who are panhandling. He encourages compassion, generosity, and relationship.

  4. Information from DC government about shelter locations and a phone number to call to request shelter information (and transportation, during extreme weather)