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?:
- Getting acquainted, building trust.
- Keeping them socially in touch, with an attempt to diminish isolation
and give some dignity.
- Provide short-term aid: food, clothing, blankets.
- Know your neighborhood.
- 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:
- Approach person directly from the front, and slowly. You may frighten
a person by moving too quickly.
- Don't touch person to awaken-you may startle him/her into an adverse
- If the person is lying on the pavement, crouch down to talk. Standing
over a person may be intimidating.
- 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.
- Don't engage someone who is angry or violently acting out in any way
or someone obviously drunk.
What do you say?:
- First, identify yourself using first name only.
- 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?"
- 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.
- 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
- There will be some who want only to be left alone-Respect it.
- DO NOT give out any money.
Page by Carl Heiberg