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Helping the Homeless
Photo: Leroy Skalstad
It was summer of 1998, in San Jose, California, when I entered the luxurious hotel from the parking garage below. Stepping off the elevator I nearly bounced off the plush carpeting. Lightly, running my fingers across the rich textured wall paper, I made my way down the hall past the dimly lit cocktail lounge. The sound of tinkling glasses and tipsy laughter floated toward me. Simultaneously, the succulent aroma of a lavish spread in one of the hotel’s restaurants trailed its way down the corridor where it grabbed my nose and held fast.

Arriving at Room 249, I slid the plastic key card through the door lock; the light flashed green and I entered my room. Or, should I say, my suite. My eyes drank in the elegant surroundings. I mean, it had all the amenities!  But I especially liked the little fridge chock full of goodies.

Gleefully, I threw my suitcase on the bed and made a beeline for the elevators, then on toward the large, gold plated oak doors of the hotel entrance. It took two hands to prod those massive trees open. Stepping onto the sidewalk, the warm California sun blinded me momentarily.

And then I saw them—not more than 50 feet away from my premium hotel, stood a park teeming with homeless people—men and women slumped in various postures of need. Some held lighted cigarettes, others begged for spare change, and some sprawled on benches or on dead grass in various states of consciousness. Many pushed shopping carts stuffed with tattered bed rolls and plastic grocery bags filled with old clothes and other belongings.

During my four-day hotel stay, I couldn’t get the homeless out of my mind. How could such abject poverty, such hopelessness coexist with lavish extravagance? How could there be 50 people huddled together without food on park benches every night, while a few feet away others drank and feasted sumptuously then crawled between crisp clean sheets for an evenings repose?

A recent HUD study found 745,000 homeless in America on a single night in January of 2005.  Twenty-five percent of these were children. And, 24% of those found in shelters were disabled.

Perhaps like me you’ve wondered, what can I do about this? It’s clear from the gospel of Matthew that Jesus expects us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and give drink to the thirsty. But how do we do it in the split second of opportunity that presents itself as we pull along side a homeless person holding a cardboard sign at a busy intersection waiting for our light to turn green?

Plan Ahead

The answer is plan ahead! If you want to help, keep items in your vehicle within reach for just these moments:
  • Gift cards for fast food restaurants stored in your ash tray or console will provide a hot meal.

  • Bottles of cold water kept in a small ice chest may save a life in hot climates.

  • Pairs of new, white men’s tube socks are relatively inexpensive and make a wonderful and much needed gift. 

  • Non perishable food can also be kept in your car but remember, the homeless probably don’t carry can openers and often don’t have teeth.
For long term assistance, consider collecting clothes, shoes and personal care items such as shampoo, soap and toothpaste. Periodically drop these off at a nearby homeless shelter where you may also be able to help provide meals for those on the streets.

Homelessness is a complex social problem with no easy answers. But think about what you want to do and what you can do. And then do something.

“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’ " (Matthew 25:40).

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By Kathy A Lewis. Copyright © 2007 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines. Scripture taken from the NEW LIVING TRANSLATION ©.

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