Gimme Shelter: Reaching Out to the Homeless
(Inside: How to help the homeless and under-housed.)
“Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head.” Matthew 8:20
Jesus knew what it was like to have no place to lay his head. In this verse, he was trying to give people an idea what they would be choosing if they followed him. He had given up his home, his shelter, his security to bring the message of good news to the world. Jesus knew what it was to depend on the kindness and generosity of others for his shelter and sustenance. Those who planned to follow him would be doing the same.
But there are millions of people today who either have no home or who don’t have adequate housing – not by choice, but by circumstance and situation. They have no choice but to depend on the kindness and generosity of others for shelter and food.
I know what some of you are going to say…
They’ve chosen their circumstance, they’ve put themselves in this situation, or they don’t want to be helped. When you think ‘homeless’, you think of the mentally ill persons talking to themselves on the corner; you think of the stereotypical panhandler seeking spare change only to buy their next fix or bottle of booze. Yes, there are those folks out there. (And yes, we can help them, too, by the way!) But, I’m going to ask you to set aside your preconceptions of homelessness and look at the homeless, the disenfranchised, and the under-housed with your eyes wide open. You may see some things you didn’t expect.
A Few Statistics that Might Change Your Perspective
The Homeless Locally
- “Homeless families comprise roughly 34% of the total U.S. homeless population. (Green Doors: Homes through Community Partnership)
- “Approximately 1.6 million children will experience homelessness over the course of a year. In any given day, researchers estimate that more than 200,000 children have no place to live.” (Green Doors: Homes through Community Partnership)
- “84% of families experiencing homelessness are headed by single mothers.” (Green Doors: Homes through Community Partnership)
- “According to [an] annual survey by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, major cities across the country report that top causes of homelessness among families were: (1) lack of affordable housing, (2) unemployment, (3) poverty, and (4) low wages, in that order.” (National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty)
- “For women in particular, domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness.” (National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty)
- “Homelessness among women veterans is expected to rise as increasing numbers of women in the military reintegrate into their communities as veterans.” (National Coalition for Homeless Veterans)
- “The most recent  count of people experiencing homelessness, reported by the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD), identified 4,338 women Veterans who were experiencing homelessness…” (VA National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans)
..fPTSD is one of the major contributors to homelessness among women veterans.
photo credit: shutterstock 754746544
A few statistics. Just some of the reasons people end up homeless. There are a million other reasons. Vulnerable people who need a hand. We can be that hand – the hand of Jesus reaching out to them.
The Homeless Globally
- As the world’s population grows, so does the incidence of homelessness and inadequate housing. Homeless World Cup Foundation states that “the last time a global survey was attempted – by the United Nations in 2005 – an estimated 100 million people were homeless worldwide. As many as 1.6 billion people lacked adequate housing.” (Habitat for Humanity, 2015)
- Poverty is a major cause of homelessness and inadequate housing world-wide. Political, social, economic, and cultural factors also contribute to global homelessness. Add to that the people around the world who are driven from their homes by natural disasters: floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, earthquakes.
- Millions of people are displaced from their homes around the world due to war, genocide, and persecution.
The largest group of displaced people (an estimated 40.3 million) is those who are forced from their homes by violence, yet remain within their own country.
The next largest group (at 22.5 million people) is refugees who have fled their country to escape violence or genocide. For instance: 5.5 million people have fled Syria in the last seven years. More than a million have fled South Sudan since 2016.
Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless.
It’s overwhelming. The answers to the issue of homelessness are not simple. Fighting systemic poverty and injustice is daunting. The weight of it all is enough to cause us to do nothing at all because we feel we can’t do enough.
But Jesus calls us to do SOMETHING!Don't let the enormity of the crisis keep you from doing what you CAN do to help the homeless. Click To Tweet
In Matthew 25:40 Jesus told his followers that whatever we do for “one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!”
That’s huge! What we do for others, we are doing for Jesus. Wow!
Jesus goes on to say that when we “refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.” Matthew 25:44-45 Ouch! How often do we turn a blind eye to those in the world who are in need? We’re not only turning our backs on those who need help, we’re turning our backs on Jesus. I know I’ve been guilty.
Women, children, veterans, the unemployed, the underemployed, the disenfranchised, the abused and the persecuted. Vulnerable people. The least of these. Jesus’ brothers and sisters. Your brothers and sisters. My brothers and sisters.
We are called to do what we can to help – not just once or twice a year so we can check it off our list of “service projects” that good Christians do. We are called to help as a way of life. Are we up to the challenge?
What We Can Do
In the face of such staggering and overwhelming statistics, what can we do – in our corner of the world, and across the globe – to alleviate homelessness? The good news is, we CAN do SOMETHING!
The following is a list of some of things that we can do. It’s not by any means an exhaustive list, but it’s a start. You may already know of some other things you can do. I’d love it if you would share other resources in the comments.
How can I help homeless people in my area?
- Create Homeless Kits
You can create kits in plastic bags and keep them in your car to hand out to people you encounter. I just hand them out the window. Each bag can contain personal hygiene items like toothbrushes or wet wipes. You can include small food items like granola bars or fast food certificates. You can also include helpful items like new socks and toilet paper. I also include information about the nearest shelters to point them to more long term help.
For more ideas, including kit ideas, check out this video: 5 Ways to help the Homeless.
- Support Local Homeless Shelters
Give money. Give food and supplies. Hold a drive to collect supplies for your local shelter. Volunteer. For additional ways you can support your local homeless shelters, check out 10 Ways You Can Help Fight Homelessness.
- Know where your local homeless shelters are so you can direct people to the help they need. The Homeless Shelter Directory can help you find shelters all over the U.S.
- Read and Learn
There’s a wealth of material out there to teach us about homelessness and how to help both in print and on the internet. Do your own search, or check out some of my finds here:
Free ebook from Union Gospel Mission -comprehensive guide to helping the homeless: https://info.uniongospelmission.org/help-the-homeless-with-ugm
How can I help people who are under-housed or transitioning out of homelessness?
- Habitat for Humanity
“We build strength, stability and self-reliance through shelter.”
Habitat for Humanity is a national and international organization that mobilizes volunteer labor to build homes for people who lack adequate housing or are transitioning out of homelessness.
You can “help build houses and hope” by supporting Habitat for Humanity, or by volunteering to work on an actual home build. You don’t even have to have any special skills. They will find something for you to do. I’ve worked on an all women build (all the women volunteers were women and we built the entire house) and I don’t have any training or advanced skills.
I got to meet the family who would be moving into the house I helped build. They were an extended family of recent immigrants who were living in a small apartment – nine of them in a two bedroom apartment. They were a hard-working family who needed more adequate, affordable housing. I sat with the father as he introduced me to his children and told me one by one how well they were doing in school. They were so grateful and they beamed with pride at the prospect of their new home. What a wonderful opportunity for them. What a privilege it was for me to be a part of their joy.
“We furnish homes with hope.”
Bridging is a local (Minnesota) organization that collects and distributes furniture, kitchen wares, and other household goods necessary to set up a home. You can help by donating quality used goods, holding drives to collect goods, or giving money.
If you’re not in the Minneapolis area, you can search online for organizations like this in your area – or you can start one of your own!
How can I help refugees or new immigrants?
“The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” Leviticus 19:34
- Arrive Ministries
Arrive Ministries is an outreach of Transform Minnesota which unites evangelicals to aid refugees and new immigrants to Minnesota. This ministry is also an affiliate office of World Relief, partnering with their worldwide community development efforts as we provide top-notch resettlement services and compassionate care for displaced refugees, immigrants and asylees who now call Minnesota home.
- Minnesota Council of Churches – Refugee Services
Minnesota Council of Churches – Refugee Services is a local organization that helps people who have fled countries of conflict resettle in Minnesota. There are opportunities for individuals or church groups to get involved. You can also donate items new families will need, or you can give to the cause.
How can I help refugees outside the U.S.?
- Sponsor a Child
You can sponsor a refugee child through organizations like Save the Children.
- Give to reputable international organization like these that provide relief for refugees.
World Relief empowers the local church to help the most vulnerable around the world.
World Vision is a Christian humanitarian organization helping children, families, and their.communities overcome poverty and injustice.
How You Can Help Refugees Around the World (New York Times, Feb. 2017) is a great article from the New York Times that lists ways you can give or help refugees around the world.
“I was a stranger and you invited me in…”
Let’s be a people who invites strangers in; a people who makes helping the homeless a way of life; a people who loves with the hands and feet of Jesus.
Check out our whole series, “Being the Hands & Feet of Jesus.”
Let’s be doers of the word and not just hearers only (James 1:22)!
Download a list of resources to make an impact on those in need:
Yes, I want HOPE in my inbox and a list of resources to help!