Encountering the Homeless

A Question

What do you do when you see someone holding up a sign that says “WILL WORK FOR FOOD?”

Do you roll down the window and give them money? Do you pretend you didn’t see them? Nobody likes to be confronted by the homeless — their needs often seem overwhelming — but we all want to treat them fairly and justly.



Here are some simple guidelines to equip you to truly help the homeless people you meet:

  • Never give cash. Too often, well-intended gifts are converted to drugs or alcohol — even when the “hard luck” stories they tell are true. If the person is hungry, refer them to a local meal program.
  • Talk to the person with respect. Taking time to talk to a homeless person in a friendly, respectful manner can give them a wonderful sense of civility and dignity. And besides being just neighborly, it gives the person a weapon to fight the isolation, depression and paranoia that many homeless people face.
  • Recognize that homeless people (and their problems) are not all the same. The homeless are as diverse as the colors of a rainbow. The person you meet may be a battered woman, an addicted veteran, someone who is lacking job skills … the list goes on.
  • Share God’s love whenever you can. If Jesus were walking the earth today, He would certainly spend time with the homeless. He would speak with them, heal them and help them. Today, Jesus chooses to work through those who believe and follow Him.
  • Pray for the homeless. Exposure to the elements, dirt, occasional violence and lack of purpose all drain years from a person’s life. God can use your prayers so that the brutality and futility of life on the street may bring many of the broken to Himself.
  • Take precautions for your own safety. Some living on the streets are criminals and fugitives running from the law. Always be prudent while talking with street people. Stay in areas where other people can see you. Don’t take unnecessary chances.
  • Encourage the homeless to get help at your local mission. Cookeville Rescue Mission offers immediate food and shelter to the homeless through our emergency shelters. We offer long-term rehabilitation programs that deal with the root causes of homelessness. Cards that list our services provided, where we are located, and meal times are available to hand out to any homeless or hungry people you may wish to reach out to.
  • Support your local mission. Cookeville Rescue Mission receives no government funding. We are supported by caring individuals, churches, businesses and civic groups who see the value of sharing their resources with the less fortunate.
  • Volunteer to help out at your local mission. If you would like to help out Cookeville Rescue Mission by volunteering your time and skills, please call our office at (931) 525-6330.


Thanks to Bay Area Rescue Mission for allowing us to use excerpts from their booklet “How to Truly Help the Homeless."