As many as 48.8 million people in the United States live in food insecure households.1
Estimates of homelessness range from 650,000 to 1 million individuals on any given night.2
Approximately 22.1 million Americans are held captive by drugs or alcohol.3
Gospel rescue missions are havens of hope for the lost and lonely who call the street home. These organizations offer hot food, clean clothing, temporary shelter, and the possibility of a more abundant life. With a 100-year history of providing lifelines for those drowning in the waves of adversity and the undertow of addiction, they are on the street and in the face of the problem.
Founded in 1913, The Association of Gospel Rescue Missions (AGRM) is a gathering place and a voice for these rescue missions. Some 300 member organizations have discovered the valuable connections and multiple benefits AGRM offers. AGRM is North America’s oldest and largest network of independent crisis shelters and rehabilitation centers, offering radical hospitality in the name of Jesus.
Every year, AGRM members use 300,000 volunteers and 10,000 full-time staff to serve approximately 50 million meals, provide more than 20 million nights of lodging, distribute some 30 million pieces of clothing, graduate upwards of 20,000 people from addiction-recovery programs, and provide many additional valuable services. The ramification of their work positively influences surrounding communities in countless ways.
In 2010, AGRM member organizations offered 16.9 million nights of lodging (an increase of 2.3 percent over 2007), distributed 21.4 million pieces of clothing (up 14.4 percent), and handed out 4.2 million furniture items (an increase of 37.6 percent as compared to 2007) to people in need. AGRM members reported exceeding previous highs in nearly all service categories.
To learn more about AGRM's website and available resources view/download our Website How-To Guide.
You can use our searchable map directory to find a local mission that can assist you.
Consider contacting your local rescue mission and offering to volunteer. AGRM believes each individual can offer true hospitality to those experiencing homelessness in his or her own context.
While established rescue missions are the large service centers where a great number of needy people receive the love and attention they desperately need, you can do the same thing on a smaller scale in your home and your neighborhood. Click here to download a sample excerpt, from the book Invisible Neighbors, on what to do if you encounter a panhandler. To learn more about extending true hospitality to someone experiencing homeless, visit www. invisibleneighbors.com.
How to respond to panhandling.
If you are unsure about what to do when you encounter a homeless person asking for assistance, you’re not alone. Some people give pocket change as a way of “buying themselves out” of an uncomfortable situation. Some give money, hoping the person will do the right thing with the cash. Others shake their heads or mumble a “no,” irritated at feeling accosted.
Many, not knowing what to do, pretend they don’t notice and pick up their pace; or they keep their windows up and increase the volume on their dashboard CD player. None of these are ideal responses.
Sooner or later, you will encounter a homeless person on the sidewalk, or, at an intersection, you will pull up beside someone out of work, holding up a sign. When that happens, here are some things to consider.4
1. Be prepared.
Anticipate the opportunities you will have to engage with another person and be “salt and light.” Develop a game plan. In time, you might find that you are intentionally walking closer to the person on the sidewalk or merging into the left lane, just to ensure you have an encounter.
2. Acknowledge the person.
Simply acknowledging homeless people as human beings and taking the time to talk to them in a friendly, respectful manner can go a long way. Treat them no differently than someone else you casually meet on the street or for a get-together. Linger for a moment and talk. Becoming homeless can be very isolating, discouraging, and embarrassing; remember that we all need the consistent love and encouragement of other human beings to help us make smart choices in our lives.
3. Recognize that homeless people (and their problems) are not all the same.
The person you meet may be a battered woman, an addicted veteran, someone who is lacking job skills, or an individual facing another seemingly insurmountable challenge. Encourage the person to get help through a gospel rescue mission, but remember it’s ultimately his or her decision. Gospel rescue missions offer immediate food and shelter, and many offer job training and long-term rehabilitation programs that deal with the root causes of homelessness.
4. Don’t give money.
For many people, panhandling is their livelihood. And more often than not, they are panhandling for something you don’t really want to support with your money. However, if the Holy Spirit of God makes it clear to you that money is needed in a particular situation, give responsibly.
5. Provide an alternative to money.
If the person is asking for food, instead of giving money, give McDonald’s or Subway coupons. They are generally inexpensive and easy to carry. Better yet, bring carryout from a restaurant and sit or stand with the person and share it. Depending on the person’s expressed needs, you can also offer gloves, socks, tissues, a granola bar, bottled water, and the like. Refer him or her to an agency that can provide food and shelter. Meeting the actual need is always better then giving money.
6. Hand out business cards of people at the local gospel rescue mission.
Go to your gospel rescue mission and find out which caseworkers are happy to have their contact information circulated on the streets. Carry a stack of their cards in your briefcase or handbag. If business cards aren’t available, simply print up slips of paper with the mission’s name and address, and the name of a contact person at the mission. If your church is well versed in helping hungry, homeless, abused, and addicted people, you can provide that information, as well. During daylight hours, you might consider accompanying the person to the mission or your church and personally introduce him or her to the folks.
7. Don’t hesitate to call the police.
It’s not uncommon for homeless people to find comfortable, out-of-the-way locations to congregate—under the end of a bridge, on a grassy flat near the creek bank, by a certain fountain in the park—and then adopt them as their habitat. After passersby get used to seeing them in these locations, they seldom take the time to observe movement. Be on the lookout. When it’s very cold or very hot, a stationary individual might be on the verge of hypothermia or a heat stroke. Don’t ever hesitate to go over and check on a homeless person. When in doubt regarding someone’s condition, call the police. You might just save his or her life.
As you see people in need, ask God to bring them peace and encouragement that day. Ask God to meet their physical and emotional needs, and to satisfy their spiritual hunger. And specifically ask God what He would have you do in each situation.
SOURCES U.S. Department of Agriculture. Coleman-Jensen, A., Nord, M., Andrews, M., & Carlson, S. (2010). Household Food Security in the United States in 2010. Retrieved from: www.ers.usda.gov/Publications/ERR125/err125.pdf