WZZM recently shared an article concerning a newly-formed group in the Grand Rapids area: the West Michigan Hardly Homeless Panhandlers. The article opens with a brief introduction and this quote:
“I don’t want my kids walking down the street with them on the corners. I don’t want people giving their money to panhandlers so they can buy drugs and alcohol.”
You can read the full article here.
How should we react to this news? To this group? As a homeless shelter? As Christians? As men and women seeking to offer food and shelter without exception to the worthy and the unworthy?
Here are a few thoughts from our CEO and Executive Director, Dennis Van Kampen:
First, I am not endorsing panhandling.
See this post.
But I am still bothered by the sentiment of this group.
I recently spoke to a church group with nearly 200 members. I asked – by a show of hands – how many of them had ever served a homeless person in a food line? Or had brought a homeless person a cup of coffee? Or a sandwich? Almost every hand went up. Then I asked – by a show of hands – how many had ever engaged a homeless person in conversation? Beyond a simple greeting? Only five hands went up.
It’s very easy for us to describe homeless men and women as “the other” or “the outsider.”
But here’s what I’ve learned in my 4+ years serving the homeless in greater Grand Rapids: the homeless are not much different than you and me.
We are all dependent on the mercy of God and the kindness of one another.
What happens when we see everyone – including the homeless – in that light?
I was told – growing up – that everyone could and should pull themselves up by their bootstraps. But what if you don’t have boots? Or your bootstraps are broken?
Most homeless families in Grand Rapids had nice homes and good jobs five or so years ago. But then the economy tanked. Or they lost their job. Their spouse was diagnosed with a significant illness. Medical bills piled up. Bankruptcy. Foreclosure. Death. Mental illness. Divorce.
The factors are endless.
But we cannot sweep these issues – and these people – away by saying, “We don’t want them here.”
There are a handful of great organizations working to end homelessness in Grand Rapids. Mel Trotter Ministries is one of them. These organizations exist to serve a vulnerable population and to walk beside them as their lives are made new in Jesus Christ.
God’s heart for the poor is clear.
The question then is this: does our heart match His?