(Guest post by Jenna of Beyond The Bridge, PDX)
I live in Portland, Oregon. The highest homeless population in the U.S. I volunteer with a group of awesome people on mission to serve this community, but I have a secret to tell: I don’t give money to our guests. (That is what we call the homeless we serve)
Personally, I struggle with the belief that, “the homeless are just going to use that money for drugs and alcohol” and I don’t want to be an enabler of those activities. I know, J$ gives money, but I wanted to show a different perspective and opportunity. (Editor’s note: It’s true, I always keep a few dollars on hand, and in my car, so I have some to give out anytime I’m asked. It’s part of my “always say yes” goal because otherwise I pretty much suck at giving back. Though I’m liking #4 below!).
While I don’t give money, I do give:
I usually have an apple, granola bar or my wallet on me when I’m walking around town. When I come across with someone with a sign, I try and strike up a conversation, offer what is in my bag, or offer to buy a meal. This gives me time to learn more about them, their name, and story and offer some suggestions on where they can get more resources. I remind them that Night Strike (where I serve) and tell them I hope to see them there. (Total cost: $5 max.)
#2. Bus Tickets
Travel can be tricky, when you don’t have ID or cash. Getting to a friend’s to sleep or a doctor’s appointment can be a challenge. I offer to buy tickets right then and there if they seriously need the ticket, they’ll take me up on the offer. If they just want the cash, kindly decline and move on. You offered a solution and that is all you need to do. (Total cost: $5 for a day pass here in Portland.)
#3. Blessing Bags (Also, called hygiene bags)
These are bags with travel size bar of soap, shampoo, conditioner, lotion, toothbrush, toothpaste, comb and razor. These blessing bags are a great source of materials to help a homeless person feel dignified. I liken it to the first shower after a week of camping. It just feels SO GOOD to clean up. (Total cost: $3 to create with hotel supplies (free) and toothbrushes and toothpastes in a Ziploc bag.)
#4. Eye Contact and Conversation
This is the most important thing of all. Coming from a place of being completely ignored, for a day or week or longer, just showing the simple act of respect and acknowledgement can change someone’s day. Even when I’m in a rush, I make a point to stop, acknowledge the fact that I see someone, really see him or her, and give them a full response. “Sorry, I don’t have any cash on me.” Or “I don’t have any cash on me, but I do that an apple, would you like it?” (Total cost: free.)
I don’t give money directly to the homeless, but I do give money to the homeless community. I donate 10% of my salary to Bridgetown Inc, the charity that runs Night Strike, but I’m going above and beyond that and am currently fundraising $27,000 for my 27th birthday to build a mobile medical clinic that would provide additional services to the homeless community here in Portland.
J$ asked this question once on his blog, “Could you be homeless for the day?” How would you want to be treated? Do you think you would even be acknowledged? I would like to challenge you today: To step outside your comfort zone and into someone else’s life.
- The next time someone asks for money, stop and have a conversation with them, offer another solution rather than money.
- Serve the homeless community in your neighborhood (or some other group that normally makes you uncomfortable.)
- Donate to help build a mobile medical clinic in Portland, Oregon.
Jenna used to be the Community Manager at personal finance site, Adaptu, and is now an Account Executive at a local PR firm. But don’t worry, she’s still brewing beer and keeping on top of her personal finances. When she’s not working or brewing, she’s volunteering with a non-profit that works with the homeless community in Portland and blogs all about it at BeyondtheBridgePDX.org.
[Photo by The Nick Page]