SUMMARY: You’ve probably heard the adage “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.”
Food pantries and clothing closets offer a quick fix and a simple, temporary solution to some of the problems homeless people face. However, the problem of homelessness is usually deeper than a meal or a change of clothes. What if your church could empower homeless people to regain a sense of identity, purpose and worth?
Below are five ideas to get your church thinking about a holistic ministry approach with the homeless.
1. Provide a place of grace. Shelters are available in the evenings, but clients must leave early in the morning. In many states, police can arrest homeless people for loitering in parks or around buildings. Where are the homeless supposed to go during the day? Set up a room where people can gather for a couple of hours each day. Have a phone available for local calls. Gather volunteers to serve as hosts and friends to visitors. They might also assist in connecting people with agencies and medical care.
2. Encourage good hygiene. Solicit donations of sample-size toiletry items and make hygiene kits. Inside a zip-close bag, place a washcloth, a comb, deodorant, a bar of soap, shampoo, a toothbrush and toothpaste. Some churches may offer shower facilities as well as restrooms. Set specific days and times in which the bags and the facilities are available.
3. Develop a job-training program. Persons released from an inpatient 12-step program or from prison often lack the skills or developed work ethic to be employable. Seek ways in which your church could employ someone while teaching them a marketable skill or trade. Job possibilities might include custodial work, grounds keeping, vehicle maintenance, painting or working in the church kitchen.
4. Offer a place for learning. Some homeless people still have a steady stream of income but no money-management skills. Offer one-on-one money-management and banking classes. Establish a place where people can receive help with job applications and learn interviewing skills. Consider cooperating with an alcohol- and/or drug-rehabilitation center to sponsor people who wish to receive treatment but cannot afford it. Teach people to read and write.
5. Develop a GAP (Getting At the Problem) ministry. Get to the problem that is the source of the other problems. Maybe people cannot work because they don’t have childcare. Provide childcare for the family. Is transportation an obstacle? Work with your local bus company to purchase low-cost bus tickets for people to get back and forth from work. People may be intermittently homeless because they don’t know how to manage their money. Be the teacher who helps someone learn budgeting and priority spending. People who struggle with mental illness may need someone to help contact physicians, schedule appointments and get the medication they need. How can your church fill in the GAP?
What else can your church do? Look around, listen carefully and talk to those who are homeless. See where the needs of the community and the gifts of your church intersect!