This is part 2 of a series discussing our ideas, stereotypes, and approaches to the homeless.
“That bum will just use any money he gets to buy alcohol or drugs.”
This is one the most often cited reasons for not giving a homeless person money. And the fact of the matter is, it’s a reasonable response. The overwhelming majority of the men and women we meet on the streets of downtown Birmingham struggle with addictions to alcohol and/or drugs. In a survey of 196 men and women on the streets, 61.2% admitted to us that they use alcohol on a regular basis and 28.6% admitted to regular drug use. After two years of spending time with the homeless of Birmingham, we believe that in reality these numbers are significantly higher.
For most of them drugs and alcohol abuse is something that has been modeled for them since childhood. It was in their house, their school, and their neighborhoods. It was a part of the culture they grew up in. Therefore, it’s something they have carried with them from an early age and has impacted their education, relationships, and jobs. It has destroyed marriages, relationships with their children, and opportunities for their future. It has lead them to burn virtually every bridge in their life.
So, we may be right when we say, “He’s just going to buy drugs or beer if I give him a couple of bucks.” That isn’t really the issue. The issue is our hearts. Is that response just a convenient excuse to avoid the person? You see, if we make that statement with a turned up nose and just move on with our day, all we’re doing is ignoring someone in desperate need of investment, relationships, and most importantly, Jesus. We’re essentially saying that inaction is the proper response.
However, if we make that statement, but then make a conscious decision to invest in that man or woman’s life, we’re taking steps to love, build up, encourage, and ultimately point him or her to Christ. The issue is so much deeper than their drug or alcohol addiction. We’re talking about people that in large part have never had anything else modeled for them. Drug and alcohol abuse and dysfunction in relationships has been the norm for most of their lives. At their core, their most desperate need is for someone to model Jesus to them on a consistent basis.
So, what are your thoughts on the issue? What’s your normal response when a homeless man or woman asks you for money? What’s the motivation for your response?
If you are looking for a framework for how to invest in the homeless here in Birmingham, we invite you to join us on Sunday afternoons to go downtown and serve a meal. It’s a great opportunity for both young and old to get their hands dirty and follow Christ’s command to care for the poor and needy around us. It’s a place where those that have much and those that have little are on an even playing field and true relationships can be formed. As relationships are built and the good news of Christ is shared, we’re then able to look for opportunities to go deeper and begin the process of helping people get back on their feet. We would love for you to join us to go downtown this week. We meet every Sunday at the Shades Mtn. Baptist Student Building at 2:30pm and are back by 4:30pm.