Encountering Homelessness: Engaging in Mercy

Guest ColumnistCommunity News

by Sarah Douglas

As we live and work in our city, most of us encounter homelessness regularly. Whether we are driving through an intersection, walking into Trader Joe’s or down State Street, we see men, women and children who are struggling and in need.  Whether we’re alone on our way to work, running errands with family members, or out with friends, we are faced with the harsh reality that some among us are struggling to meet basic needs on a daily basis.  I know that I often have many questions about how to respond to the needs that I see before me.  How do I enter in and engage someone I meet respectfully, and without condescension?  How do I respond to requests for help with mercy and also with discernment?  If I’m honest with myself, I can acknowledge the tension between reaching out in mercy and the anxiety caused by engaging a stranger.  Sometimes it doesn’t feel convenient or comfortable to stop and talk with someone I am walking by; I’m in a hurry or am anxious about the unknown.  Sometimes I simply am not sure what to say or how to enter in, or what someone’s response will be.

However, I know what Jesus taught very clearly.  If we reach out to the least among us, we are reaching out to him. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me…(Matthew 25:35). If the person I am walking by on the street is in fact just like Jesus before me, then I know that I need to be willing to enter in with courage, welcoming relationship, even if I don’t know with certainty what the outcome will be.

Engaging with mercy includes acting with discernment. We are called to mercy and sacrifice, and also to be good stewards of the resources we have and the responsibilities we’ve been given.  As a mother of two young boys, I know that the way I engage folks who don’t have homes, impacts my kids.  I want my kids to learn that people who look differently than them are valuable children of God.  I want to teach my kids that Jesus loved those who were not always easy to love, and that we are called to do the same.  And that, in fact, we can learn something about Christ and his love by being in relationship with others whose lives are very different than our own. I also know that it doesn’t always feel this simple. What if someone’s behavior is risky or frightening?  How do I engage with mercy and dignity those who are in evident need around me, while also being intentional in caring for my children as I do this?  As the body of Christ, how do we care with wisdom and compassion for the needs and dignity of those without homes living among us?

If you have asked similar questions, have felt burdened in how to respond to homelessness in our community, or are interested in getting more involved in SBCC’s Alameda Park Ministry, please join us for a time of discussion and training.  Rich Sander, a local leader and advocate in abolishing homelessness, will come to discuss and train us in how to engage folks without homes with dignity and discernment.  Topics will include current statistics about homelessness in our city, effective ways to demonstrate mercy and dignity, safety and boundary-setting, and getting more involved in SBCC’s homeless ministry at Alameda Park.