5 tips to help those on the street
From an article by The Bowery Mission, New York
You may have heard of The Bowery Mission in New York. Its roots lie in the American version of the British weekly, Christian Herald newspaper which was established in New York by Joseph Spurgeon, cousin of Charles Spurgeon, in 1878 and published continually until 1992 - some 3300 issues. Christian Herald developed beyond publishing to charitable enterprise meeting the needs of the suffering around the world. As part of this, in 1894, it established a winter Food Fund for the destitute in New York and a summer camp for children of families helped by the fund. It then took over The Bowery Mission, which had been started in 1879 but had run into financial difficulties. Since that time hundreds of thousands of people have been helped by the mission and many converted. Similar missions have been established around the globe.
In January 1994, The Bowery Mission Transitional Center opened its doors with an innovative 77-bed programme, funded by New York's Department of Homeless Services. The program quickly gained a reputation as one of the most effective substance abuse programs in New York City. In May 1995, Christian Herald, having disposed of its publishing interests, became one combined nonprofit corporation, focused on building the city's most effective compassionate care and life transformation organization for people in need. By 2000, Christian Herald's ministries were positioned to be self-supporting, supported by over 40,000 individuals, 200 major donors, 40 foundations, a dozen corporations and two government agencies. It is now one of New York’s most respected and effective charities and, thanks to its generous friends, has grown to over 100 employees, thousands of volunteer hours and $15 million in combined revenue seeing lives changed in New York every week.
In this context, the Mission have published 5 tips for helping those who are experiencing homelessness on the streets. These are:
1. Acknowledge & Engage
Homelessness brings a sense of loneliness that erodes the core of a person’s self-value. When you are homeless, a simple smile and a word of kindness can make a big difference in a day full of hardship.Be sure to acknowledge the homeless you encounter in the street or tube. Say a simple hello. Talk to them and engage in a simple conversation. When you take your time to learn about your homeless neighbour, his or her story and family, you show them that you care. Above all, avoid stereotyping or stigmatizing the homeless. There are many paths that lead to homelessness, and each person has a different story.
2. Be Ready to Help Today
Sometimes, the homeless just need help to get through the day. In general, it is better not to give cash away. So what if you want to help today? You can provide practical and immediate help; carry some granola bars with you - they are easy to keep in your pockets or bag, and provide energy and nutrition, besides food, a small bottle of water helps prevent dehydration, a common health concern for the homeless community.
However, always offer help first, rather than giving someone something they may not actually want or need. Many of those in need will be grateful for your offer of food or water. But you may also encounter someone who is having a really rough time and may be unable to appreciate your help. Please don’t be discouraged. Just smile and keep on your way. You may find someone else to help.
[See also the wordonthestreets blog on carrying a generosity kit.]
3. Help During Any Season
Winter season feels extra-long when you are living on the streets or sleeping on the tube. There is a big risk of hypothermia just from staying outside for such long periods of time. You can provide protection from the cold weather without having to spend any additional money by; checking in your wardrobe for simple winter gear that you are not using anymore (or that you don’t use that often): a pair of winter gloves, a scarf in a colour you don’t like anymore, a knit hat. Instead of keeping these in your wardrobe, carry one at a time and give it away to someone you see living on the streets. And how about those winter boots you haven’t worn in the past 2 years? Dust them off and give them to the homeless person you pass on your commute every morning.
Summer time is no different. A clean t-shirt does a lot for someone's spirits when you are outside in the sweltering heat. Being able to change to clean, fresh clothes helps lighten your day.
If you travel often, next time you stay in a hotel remember to grab the complimentary hand lotion and keep it in your pocket or bag. This lotion can help more than you think. Spending all day in the harsh winter cold can severely damage and dry out your skin.
However, once again, always offer help first, rather than giving someone something they may not actually want or need.
4. Understand & Tell
One of the biggest problems with homelessness is misunderstanding who are the homeless. Stereotypes and stigmatization make it hard for us to help others.
Learn about the different paths that lead to homelessness. Every person living on the streets has his or her own story. If you are able, share what you learn with your friends, family and colleagues. Have a blog? How about writing about what you learned about homelessness this month? If you volunteer and tell others about your experience with enthusiasm, you can help eliminate misconceptions and stereotypes.
5. Invite & Pray
Homelessness is very complex and, many times, generates vicious circles that are hard to break. However, there is hope. Find out where the local shelters/missions are and point them to those resources. What about creating a map card to hand out? What about providing them with a public transport card with 1 ride paid for to help them get there?
Remember, they may not take on your invitation right away, but it is good for them to know they have it available for when they are ready.
Finally, pray for them. You can pray by yourself, or with friends and family. Pray that their physical needs are met. But also pray for their emotional and spiritual needs. Pray that they find the motivation to join a recovery program and seek for the help they need.
Here's a short video about the Bowery Mission and the difference it is making:
Read more about The Bowery Mission here.
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