Serving the Homeless In Philadelphia

        Thank you for agreeing to give some of your time and effort to
serve the homeless in Philadelphia.  Homelessness is a nationwide problem
of unprecedented proportions, and thus we cannot hope to solve the problem
in a weekend.  Our purpose is merely to make life a little more bearable
for those men and women who live on the streets, with no families, friends,
food or shelter.  Remember in just a few hours, we will be returning to the
quiet and security of campus, where we will assume our daily routine.  The
people we see in the meantime, however, are engaged in their daily
routines, and we are in their homes.  By the time we return to campus, they
will probably be wondering how long they will have to wait for the next
meal.  Effective ministry to the homeless requires a delicate balance of
caution and sensitivity, which should be manifested both in the logistics
of your actions and in the attitudes behind them.
While we have never had any problems in the ten years of this program, it is crucial that you try to be "street smart." Keep your head up, always know what's going on around you, and NEVER lose sight of your partner. You must be alert when you are in the car and be sure to watch the signs carefully. Following these simple guidelines is guaranteed to make your experience more rewarding.
The logistics of ministering to the homeless are fairly simple. Just remember: caution and sensitivity. When you spot a street person, the driver will pull the car over, and stay there as long as you are with the person. When s/he pulls the car over, you and your partner will walk over to the persons you've found and try to establish contact with them. Be sure to approach slowly and cautiously, remembering that you may be disturbing their sleep. Taking the coffee thermos along makes for an easy pick-up line: "Good morning. Would you care for some coffee?" Don't worry if some people are rude to you. Some of them just don't want to deal with people, so don't take it personally. Just move on to the next person. If the person is receptive, mention that we also have some food, and one of you can return to the car for food while the other stays to chat. Often a little conversation is exactly what these people want, so feel free to just sit down and talk with them, remembering two things: (1) Don't worry about what to say; they will usually tell you what they want to. So just try to relax and get to know them a little bit. (2) Be cautious, but don't worry. You will usually get a strong initial feeling from each person as to whether s/he is interested in talking to you. You don't have to get any closer than you feel comfortable; street people demand their space and you should too. Also, your partner and the driver will both have an eye on you, so don't feel that you're on your own. When you're partner returns with the food, you can both sit and talk with the person for a few minutes. Try to express an interest in the person, but remember that you have to keep moving.
The toughest part of this experience is finding the right balance: it is very important to give each homeless person as much individual attention as possible, because positive attention is often what they lack the most; but it is equally important to give this sense of individual worth to as many of the people as possible. It is not easy to achieve this balance, but it is your challenge to give it your best shot. If you can do this within the balance of caution and sensitivity, this will be an experience you will remember for some time to come. Good luck!

Some Suggestion for dealing with the Homeless

    What are we doing out on the street?:
  1. Getting acquainted, building trust.
  2. Keeping them socially in touch, with an attempt to diminish isolation and give some dignity.
  3. Provide short-term aid: food, clothing, blankets.

    The Neighborhood:
  1. Know your neighborhood.
  2. Know who shares the street with you. Most of the street people are not violent but some may be. Trust your judgments and/or instincts about your own safety in any situation.

    Approach or Not:
  1. Approach person directly from the front, and slowly. You may frighten a person by moving too quickly.
  2. Don't touch person to awaken-you may startle him/her into an adverse reaction.
  3. If the person is lying on the pavement, crouch down to talk. Standing over a person may be intimidating.
  4. Beware of person's space, this may be his/her home. Respect his "territory." Don't move into his space unless he seems to want you to.
  5. Don't engage someone who is angry or violently acting out in any way or someone obviously drunk.

    What do you say?:
  1. First, identify yourself using first name only.
  2. Since you are invading this person's space do a lot of permission-asking: "Hello, are you hungry? Would you like a sandwich? May I talk with you?"
  3. If appropriate, give city agency information (like shelter adult services, etc.). Make directions as clear as possible and write it out on a separate sheet of paper. Don't assume that they can read. If it seems needed, help keep the person oriented-year, date, time of day.

    Other tips:
  1. Be sensitive to the homeless person-He owns nothing. All he has is his dignity. When you get ready to leave, thank him for his time and the conversation.
  2. There will be some who want only to be left alone-Respect it.
  3. DO NOT give out any money.

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Page by Carl Heiberg '96.