One thing I’ve noticed since moving to St. Louis is that there is a large homeless population here. In the January 2010 census, there were 1,305 counted homeless persons in the St. Louis area. Almost every day on my way to school I pass at least one homeless man holding a cardboard sign. My heart goes out to them, especially right now during the cold winter months. I’ve always been told, as I’m sure many of you have, not to give money to homeless people. The question is, what can we do to help them? Well, a quick Google search will lead you to a number of organizations in St. Louis such as the St. Patrick Center, St. Vincent de Paul, or the Bridge, as well as countless other places that provide services to the homeless population. These are great places to donate money, clothing, and food, or to volunteer.
However, it is still difficult when we pass homeless people on the street. If you don’t feel comfortable giving them cash, or if you just don’t carry cash, then you might find yourself awkwardly avoiding eye contact as they walk by your window. Otherwise, you may give them a friendly smile as if to say, “I would help you if only I knew how.” I decided last year to do something more about it.
I was reading through the Bible in a year, and verses kept jumping out at me: Isaiah 58:7– “Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them…” Proverbs 21:13– “Those who shut their ears to the poor will be ignored in their own time of need.” These are only two of many similar verses. I made a resolution that I would not pass by a homeless person without giving them something.
On a regular basis, I set aside cash that I carry in my pocket solely for the purpose of giving to homeless people. I’ve found that it is much easier to be generous when I keep it separated from my own money. Like tithe, I never consider it mine to begin with. When it got cold, I started keeping a bag of wool socks in my car. You could also keep peanut butter crackers, snack packs, or other small non-perishable items in your glove box for these occasions.
This winter I made care packages that contained a pair of wool socks (Cabela’s: $3.33), a pair of gloves (Home Depot: $1.00), hand warmers (Home Depot: $0.80), and a Bible (Lifeway Christian Store: $1.99). I took them downtown and gave them out on Christmas Eve. It really surprised me how excited someone in need can get over a warm pair of socks and a Bible. One older gentleman started to cry and hugged me. To us, it’s just a few dollars, but to them it means everything.
Since I started doing this, I have found that when I see a homeless person, they are now an opportunity to be a blessing to someone in need.