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5 Reasons You Shouldn't Ignore The Homeless by Travis Sharpe

What is your first thought when you see a homeless person on the street? Do you wonder what their story is? Do you ask yourself how you might be able to help? Sadly, all too many people have negative thoughts that go something like this: they are bums who should “get a job.” "If they really wanted to work, they would go to job interviews.” Or better yet, “I have to work for a living, I sure ain’t giving them nothing."

The truth is, everyone has probably thought along those lines at one time or another. Should people work? Absolutely. Should we be lazy and take the easy way out by simply begging for money? Absolutely not. If those two things are true, why isn’t it a good practice to just ignore people who are are homeless? Why not just drive on by?

I want to give you five things to consider the next time you drive past someone and grumble under your breath about how lazy they are.

They could be on the verge

Last week, while in a local restaurant, I met a homeless man named Robbie. Robbie has been around our area for a while and I have helped him out before. As we chatted in the restaurant, he told me about meeting Karla, a lady who attends our church. He told me that Karla had “saved his life” a few weeks earlier.

I was curious about that so I asked him to explain. She had noticed him sitting on the sidewalk by a convenient store and, perceiving that he was homeless, stopped to talk with him. Karla spent about an hour talking, encouraging, crying and praying with him. She had no idea that Robbie had been sitting there contemplating walking out into traffic to take his own life. He was severely depressed and Karla’s visit made the difference for this man who was on the verge of committing suicide.

She gave him hope for tomorrow, a reason to keep trying. Now, we are working on getting him into permanent, supportive housing.

They could have a crippling disability

It’s strange how that when we have a physical problem it’s real, but when someone else has one, they need to suck it up and go to work. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, more than 40% of homeless people are disabled. Couple these disabilities with other factors such as low education, mental illness, and so on, and you have some people who cannot make it on their own, no matter how hard they work.

I know plenty of people who are homeless and disabled who are decent people. Some of them are doing anything they can (including working) to make ends meet. Imagine starting from the bottom, alone, with a physical disability. You may be a strong, able-bodied person today, but please remember that could change at any moment.

They could be severely mentally ill

At any given point in time, about 45% of homeless people report having mental health issues. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, about 25% report a serious mental illness. Among the chronic homeless population, (those who have been homeless for more than a year or experience repeated homelessness), the rates are much higher.

Because of a very broken mental health system, and the effects of severe illness such as schizophrenia, clinical depression and bi-polar disorder, many people we see on the streets are silently suffering. They are victims of diseases that they cannot cure and that they cannot understand. They bounce from job to job, from place to place and from opportunity to opportunity. Things go well for a while but their sickness always catches up to them and causes difficulties beyond their capacity to control. They suffer as they fight an enemy much stronger than themselves.

Many panhandlers and other “visible” homeless people are merely existing on the fringes of our society. They are some of the most vulnerable among us and to ignore them would be to turn our backs on people who are genuinely in trouble whether they realize it or not.

We have a Biblical command

Several passages in the Bible command us to not ignore the poor among us. Passages such as Proverbs 28:27 which says “He that giveth unto the poor shall not lack: but he that hideth his eyes shall have many a curse.” There are also numerous New Testament passages such as James 2:15-16, Luke 10:25-37, and Luke 16:19-31.

Other verses, such as Proverbs 14:20-21, 19:4, and James 2:2 tell us that most people despise the poor around them. It is an unfortunate human characteristic to not appreciate someone who cannot help you, and evidently, God has a real issue when we act that out by ignoring the homeless.

I could go on and on with Bible verses that speak of helping the poor. The Bible is loaded with them. There is little doubt that the homeless population qualifies as the “poor among us” in most cases. Many people argue that they are poor by choice, and, although that is certainly be true in some cases, it isn’t true of the group as a whole because of underlying factors (see #2 and #3.)

You really don’t know them

People will always abuse things. Like the way you take home supplies from your job to use for personal stuff or like the way you didn’t tell the whole truth on your taxes last year. There will always be an element in any society who abuses systems and generosity. These abuses (that become public) make for great ammunition in the guns of people who despise the poor. It’s their golden pass to simply ignore the homeless, the panhandlers and the others around them who may have a need.

But the fact is, we don’t really know who that person standing on the street corner is. We are not friends with them and we don’t know their story, much less their challenges in life. They could be suffering from a severe back injury like a bulging or herniated disc. They might have cancer or they could be so mentally ill that they can’t function well enough to hold down employment.

Until we know someone, and have a good reason not to be compassionate toward them, we should display a humble and compassionate attitude toward them. Who knows, they could be an angel in disguise.

Question: What is your first response when you see someone who is homeless?

In the photo: Missionary Denny Mitchell stopped to talk with a gentleman who was holding a sign in TN.

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