Friday, December 7, 2012

Interactions with the Homeless

I was going to write last week about a picture posted on New York Police Department's Facebook page of a NYPD officer giving boots to a homeless man.   The picture, taken in November by a tourist, shows Officer Lawrence Diprimo giving the pair of boots that he had bought for him after observing that we was walking barefoot on a very cold night.   I was a picture that reminded me part of the the Good Samaritan story and part of the story of Jesus washing the apostles feet.

The story really touched me because I work in a part of town that has a large homeless population and so I have had over the last eight years that I've been assigned here a lot of interaction with homeless people.  I've given it a lot of thought over the last week and I don't think I would have done what PO DiPrimo did.  To be totally honest with you---I don't think I would have.

This is something that has always bothered me in that I don't think that I see homeless people the way that Jesus would be happy with.  I don't think that I would have been moved to such compassion to go buy a pair of boots for the man.  The scariest Bible verse to me is when Jesus said, "whatever you do to the least of these, you do unto me" because I'm afraid that I don't have enough compassion or empathy for the homeless people that I do come into contact with.

I think one of the reasons is because of the types of interactions that I have.  The normal interactions I have with the homeless are where they are their own worst enemies.  Ambulance calls where someone is falling down drunk is prevalent, followed by car breaks, assaults to simply waking them up and moving them because they are sleeping someplace they are not welcome.  Often times, the reason they aren't welcome is because of incidents of leaving trash, defecating or thefts.  

So it's difficult to have too much compassion for people when the interactions you have are negative.  I will always treat them with respect like I treat everyone with respect.  But it's difficult for me to have empathy for men standing on the stoplight with cardboard signs asking for money when I assume that they are going to use the money for drugs.  

I wish I saw Jesus in the homeless because I fully realize that many of the homeless are there due to mental illness or drug addictions.  But it's difficult when you know that many of the homeless are there because they choose to be.  It's difficult when you know there are resources for them to get off the street that they do not use.  It is their lifestyle. 

This is a difficult subject to write about because I know what Christ is telling me.  I know that I should love as He loves.  But there are life experiences holding me back.  A self protection that prevents me from seeing all of the homeless as innocent victims.  I suppose I could work on this by volunteering to help the homeless--and I have enjoyed helping with St. James Place.  It's a difficult balance---loving without being too naive.  How do you completely love while not completely trusting?  What are your thoughts?


  1. I believe there is a difference between loving them compassionately and seeing them through eyes of truth. Even Jesus would ask people, do you want to be healed before He would heal them. I struggle with the same things for the same reasons you do. Where I live there is a large homeless population, because it is an accepted way of life in Portland and many people give them handouts. I choose to leave it up to the Spirit, if He moves me to compassion for someone then it is my job to act on, regardless the consequences. If He doesn't then I should not guilt myself.

  2. I do what I think will benefit the most - for example, I never give money, but if I have food in the car, I will give that. I think this example of the police man giving this guy boots is a perfect example. Sure, he could sell the boots, but more than likely, he will wear them and that to me is justice, not charity, what we are truly called to.

  3. I read later that the man put the sneakers away and never wore them, because of the risk of theft or harm that would come to him if they were visible. sad.

  4. Well said in both comments! God loves everyone and with arms open wants everyone to find salvation and comfort in Him. I find it's best for me to remember that every other human being is a real brother and sister, descended from Adam and Eve, whether lost or saved, and my heart longs to love them all unconditionally, and do what I can to act compassionately toward them. Sometimes a brother or sister can test that patient love, lol, but I try always to pray that God will bless them richly, whether it be softening their hearts so that they will welcome the message of the gospel, or growing stronger in the faith if already in communion with God.

  5. If you cannot give without suspicion and contempt then maybe you need to do some soul searching. Do you feel you are better than others...perhaps you are not not "Better" but simply "blessed" (There but for fortune...). Thank your God that YOU are not the homeless, not mentally ill, not the drug addicted, not the sick, not the poor and hungry..."ask not" as JFK said...and see what you can do to make life better for those less fortunate. Might be Jesus you give 20 bucks and a cupa coffee too. I had a cop in California save my life once by paying for two nights in a nice hotel and a meal at a coffee shop for me and my two young children...We were leaving a bad situation and the womens shelters were all full. It was out of his pocket. He said pay it to some one else when you can...that was 35 years ago. I never forgot his kindness...and I have helped many others.

  6. I think that a lot of people struggle as you mention. When you see someone out there begging and they seem mentally sound, and they are physically able to work etc it often times makes you feel less compassionate because you want to see them get up and give some effort just like we do when we get up and go to work, or pay our bills every month etc. Its not always something we enjoy but we do it and you see them standing there begging and taking what seems like an easy way out.

    I think though for me the thing I try to remember is that there is almost always some reason behind why someone is out there on the street. Very rarely is it just because they don't want to work etc. They always have a story and there is something in their life that is holding them back.

    I don't always feel obligated to stop for every person but when I do feel that tug I try and follow it as often as I can and hope that my compassion will move them to do something better for themselves, that maybe through my act the Holy Spirit uses that as an "in" to move this person to something greater.

    I will say as another person said I rarely if ever give anyone straight cash. Most of the homeless people I see are by the local WalMart where to major roads meet. There is a McDonald s nearby so often times I run and grab them a meal or something and bring it back. They haven't complained yet and I guess if they did I wouldn't care because I at least tried the rest is up to them.