Making an assessment part 3, by Travis Sharpe

This is our third blog in the series on making an assessment. Today I am going to discuss a little of the nuts and bolts of making an assessment.

The whole idea in making an assessment is to gather facts, background and context. If we really want to help someone then we need to understand some things about them. We need to make an effort to know them. Your assessment will be the starting point.

Here are some questions to ask and some things to look for.

1. How long has the person been homeless? This is an important thing to know because it can reveal many other things. For example, if someone has been homeless for 20 years, they probably have a lot more street smarts than someone who has been homeless for two weeks. If they have been homeless for that long then that is a good indicator that there are some major underlying issues in their life.

It could be a mental illness. It could be a handicap. It could be an addiction. These are things that need to be known as you set out to help someone.

If you discover that the person you are trying to help has only been homeless for a very short time period, that could indicate that with just a little help, they could be back on their feet real soon.

2. Where do they normally spend the night? This is important as well because it can say a lot about a persons ability to function around others. If they live under a bridge by themselves, that could be an indication that they don’t function well or interact well with others.

If they live in a homeless camp with all their friends, that could indicate that they function well but are trapped in a cycle of bad relationships. Or they could be banding together and digging their heels into that lifestyle because they believe they will never be any different.

3. How many jobs have they had in the last couple years? Believe it or not, many homeless people work hard every day. I know men who have worked and had decent jobs but couldn’t seem to get ahead in life.

But if a person has had a dozen jobs in the last year or two, something’s wrong. That is a classic sign of addiction. Many people are hard workers but their addiction rules their lives and drives them from difficulty to difficultly.

4. Where are they going?  Homeless people are always going somewhere! Many are transient moving from town to town. Many will ask you for gas money or for a bus ticket. Always investigate this. Ask where they are going and why they want to go there.

Most people I meet who are homeless are where they are because they came there on a promise of some sort that didn’t pan out. Now they are stuck with nothing. I personally don’t want to shuttle people from city to city unless that move has real potential to change their life. Most moves are not good ones. Before I buy a bus ticket for someone I will always verify the story on the other end first.

5. What are they doing? If they want money from you, are they doing anything themselves? Giving money to someone who spends all their time asking for money is simply not good. Do they have a plan to overcome their homelessness? I like to invest in people who are trying.

I help people who are not doing much to help themselves too, but that help looks a little different.

6. What is their mental state? Obviously, someone with a mental illness will have many more challenges that someone in the same shape without the illness. It is very important to understand these illnesses and the implications surrounding them.

Expecting someone who suffers from schizophrenia to be able to function and perform just like everyone else is simply absurd. Their mental state will have a lot to do with how you decide to move forward with them.

Sometimes God calls us to care for and fight for people. Sometimes we need to hold people accountable and if they won’t work they shouldn’t eat. But if we don’t take the time to understand what’s happening with someone we will not know how to proceed.

There are many more questions to ask during your assessment than these six. But this is a great start. Remember we are not judging people to be worthy of our time or love. They ARE worthy already. We are simply attempting to be better ministers and good stewards.