Have you ever considered how to show hospitality to the homeless? You should for at least two important reasons: they have a need, and you have an obligation to teach your children compassion by modeling it.
Those of us who live in urban areas see homeless people regularly. They panhandle at intersections and off-ramps. They sleep in the parks we exercise in. And they sit along the sidewalks of our streets.
Now before you dart into a mental bunker built of fearful rationalizations, know that the options for extending hospitable kindness to the homeless aren’t limited to either bringing them into your home (classical hospitality) or doing nothing at all. Here are three manageable and meaningful ways you can show hospitality to the homeless with friendliness and generosity.
Provide A Blessing Bag
For $15, I assembled items from a dollar store (and a few freebies from home) useful to anyone living on the street. These items include:
- Toothbrush & paste (A kit may contain a cover for the toothbrush head to keep it clean.)
- Dental floss (I “regift” the samples I get from the dentist.)
- Chapstick (Especially appreciated in Winter months.)
- Folding brush w/ mirror (Combs do not go through hair that may have mats.)
- Travel pack of antibacterial wet wipes
- Bandages with antibacterial ointment
- Acetaminophen (40 caplets)
- Maxi Pads (Because there are homeless women!)
- Hand towel (Good size for washing or drying in public restroom.)
- Hand/Body soap
- Hotel shampoo & conditioner (From personal stash. Never leave these behind!)
- Small laundry soap (Ability to wash out socks & underwear instead of throwing away.)
- Tissue pack
- Peanut butter crackers
- Tuna salad & crackers
- Bottled water (I like Dasani bottles for durability and refillability.)
- Nylon drawstring bag to put it all in (Can be used like a backpack. Bigger and lasts longer than a Ziplock.)
You can keep a blessing bag in your car to give to someone you think could use it. I read an account online of a man who was temporarily homeless between jobs. He received a blessing bag (actually, a nice backpack) and said it was exactly the boost he needed to keep from going “to a very dark place” emotionally.
And when you give a blessing bag, prepare to feel blessed yourself.
Provide Gift Cards
Maybe assembling and carrying around a blessing bag is a bit much to add to your current responsibilities. But you could give a $5 gift card.
Be smart. Don’t whip out your wallet on the street. If you visit an area frequented by the homeless and you want to give a card to someone, keep it in an outside pocket so you don’t have to rummage for it.
Also, make sure it’s for a place convenient for the recipient like a downtown fast food restaurant or dollar store.
One thing you’ll notice is that these cards don’t have a monetary amount on them. Write it on the front with a black Sharpie so the recipient knows how much they have and won’t be embarrassed at the checkout.
Provide Good News
Maybe you want to show hospitality to the homeless, but your budget is super tight. You can give them something ultimately better than temporary provision.
Some homeless advocates insist hospitality to the homeless not be accompanied with “any religious strings attached”. That’s nonsense. You wouldn’t thank a neighbor who brought a loaf of warm bread to your front door and neglected to mention the back of your house was on fire.
Actually, giving you that information (“strings”?) moves the bread lower on your list of immediate needs. And because no one is guaranteed tomorrow, eternal salvation IS an immediate need for the homeless – even if other Christians erroneously claim we need to “earn the right” to share the gospel.Many homeless have bigger problems than being homeless. They’re hopeless. Click To TweetMany homeless have bigger problems than being homeless. They’re hopeless. (Come to think of it, so are some folks living in 25-room mansions.) Their future looks as bleak as their present. So why wouldn’t you share the good news of the gospel – which gives the hope of eternal salvation and present peace with God? It’s food for their souls.
If you can’t stop at an intersection to talk, carry gospel tracts that give a simple explanation of their need and God’s provision. And put a tract in your blessing bag and with the gift card. They’re not much larger than a gift card, typically about 3.5” X 5.5”. I recommend Quest For Joy by John Piper. You can read the text and order it here. For just $3 plus shipping, you get 25 of them.
Don’t divorce your compassion for the homeless from the expression of God’s love for them. They cannot live by bread alone.