How to appease the cops in your homeless ministry by Travis Sharpe

cop

 

I have have always appreciated law enforcement. For as long as I can remember, my dad was a deputy sheriff. I grew up in that environment and even dreamed of following in my dads footsteps. But the Lord had other plans for my life, which I am thankful for now.

One thing I learned from my dad is that cops have a tough job. One reason it’s tough is because they typically see the bad side of everyone. They deal with the bad teenagers. They get called to homes where they see the ugly side of family life. The list goes on and on for them.

And it is no different when it comes to the homeless. When a homeless person causes trouble, the cops are called. When someone gets scared by a homeless person, the cops are called. When a shelter has to remove a person for breaking the rules, the cops are called.

Because they continually see the negative side, it’s very easy for them to lose any compassion for the homeless that they once had. Much of the time, your average cop has little or no patience for the homeless….or those of us who minister to them. To be sure, there are some in law enforcement who still do their best to help, they have compassion even though they see the dark side everyday. I know many of them.

If you work in homeless ministry very long, you will run into the cops. Sometimes you will need them! They have came to my rescue more than one time when I was backed into a corner and I was very thankful for the assistance!

You will encounter the police a lot, especially if you minister in homeless camps, under the bridges, in abandoned homes and other places like that. Many times we have to trespass just to get to where the homeless live. Sooner or later you will get caught by the cops!

Have you ever thought about what you would say if you were approached by a police officer when you were in the middle of homeless ministry?

I didn’t think so. So let me let you in on a secret here. Most cops don’t want you in the homeless camps and other places messing with the homeless. In fact, they might even see your charity as part of the problem. (Sometimes they might be right about that too.) If you tell the average cop that you are taking food, clothes and blankets to the homeless, they might be unfriendly to you.

Why, you ask? because they are the ones who are called when it’s time to evict them for whatever reason. They see all the piles of trash. They see the bad part. They see you as someone who help to pile the trash up.

What do I say when approached by a police officer? Simple. I tell him or her that I am ministering to the homeless and that my primary objective is to help them get off the streets and into a shelter or home. I let them know that I am trying to convince people to leave the camps and get somewhere safe and stable.

By giving that answer, I usually get the full support of the police officer. Why? Because now he sees me as part of the solution and not part of the problem. He knows that I am not there to simply help people pile up stuff in the woods and create a bigger mess for him down the road.

It has been my experience that this type of response will gain you a friend, a needed friend.

So have you ever been questioned by a cop when you were out trying to help someone? Tell me your experience in the comment section below.

 

Difference between a homeless person and a hobo

Today, while traveling home from MD, we ran across a van load of strange looking folks at a gas station in VA. This group of guys and gals, were dressed in raggedy clothes, had shabby hair and they all had back packs.

hobos

As you can tell from the picture,  their clothes probably hadn’t been washed for days. I know you are probably thinking that I don’t look much better, but hey, you don’ wear a suit and tie on a 13 hour road trip so cut me some slack!

Even the three dogs had a special look about them. One had a bandanna.  When I saw this crew, I immediately knew a little about them.

I knew that they were modern day hobos.

I knew that if they had never actually rode on trains, they definitely dreamed of it!

I knew that they were living their own version of “freedom”.

I also knew that even though they appear to be “homeless”, they are worlds apart from other types of homeless people.

Let me explain. There are three basic types of homelessness.

Chronic homelessness– This is defined as long term or repeated homelessness. People who are chronically homeless are usually older, unemployed people who use homeless shelters as more of a permanent housing  instead of an emergency shelter. They often have mental illnesses and substance abuse issues.

Transitional homelessness– This is the largest group of homeless people. they, for many reasons, find themselves experiencing homelessness, but generally overcome their hardships. They are down for a time but do not intend to make it a way of life. Many times you could not pick these people out of a crowd. They look “normal”.

Episodic homelessness– This describes the people who shuffle in and out of homelessness. They are usually young, carefree, unemployed and they do a lot of traveling.

It’s hard to put people in a box, for sure. But if I had to, I would put this group that I met today into the last group, the episodically homeless.

You may be wondering why I am explaining all of this? Why do I sit around and categorize these poor folks?

The answer is simple. It is very important to know and understand the dynamics behind the scenes when you are ministering to someone.

These were fun people I met today. They received me well and even allowed me to take pictures. I had a blast cutting up with them all. The problem is that in order to finance this wild and crazy lifestyle of theirs, they will often hold cardboard signs at intersections and ask for a handout.

Look closer at the picture. What do you see? Do you see depressed, unhappy, poor people? No. Me either. What I see is young people who I believe are misguided. They are having fun, at least they think they are. Life is an adventure to them.

So what’s the problem? The problem is that they are muddying up the waters of compassion. They are presenting themselves to be “in need” when they truthfully are having the time of their life. And this makes it hard for the man or woman who is living on the streets, truly homeless and in need.

These young folks definitely need Jesus just like we all do. But they don’t need us to put them in a hotel room and feel sorry for them. They have chosen this life. They even brought their dogs!

I’m not saying we shouldn’t minister to them. What I am saying is that to view them with pity because of their circumstances is dead wrong.

The mentally ill woman who can’t think right needs our pity.

The veteran who battles PTSD and all kinds of demons, needs our pity.

The elderly man who has no family left and he has lost all due to illness and poverty needs our pity.

The single mom who recently lost her apartment and now sleeps in her car with her little girl needs our pity.

This crew here, they need a swift kick in the……. well, we won’t go there.

To be fair, I had fun with them today, they were fun to be around. But being fun doesn’t make you a productive member of society who impacts the world and helps the truly vulnerable. In this case, it makes it hard for the average person to understand why you are “in need”.

What do you think? Have you ever met someone like this and wondered about the story behind the story? Do you agree with my assessment?  Share in the comment section below.

Thanks-Travis