• Jesus Loves the Homeless

Imagine your morning starting like this: a siren wakes you up as a police car passes about ten feet from the asphalt that has been imprinted upon your cheek. You don't need the Internet to tell you that it's coldest just before dawn. The sharp poke in your gut reminds you that your last decent meal was days ago. You keep your head down—less attention means less trouble; besides, people don't like to make eye contact. Worst of all is the terrible, lonely aimlessness—you have nowhere to go, nothing to do, and hope is a splinter that you don't dare remove because it's all that's keeping you going.

As I listened to the homeless relate their prayers, I was struck by the prayers' down-to-earth quality—indeed, their resemblance to the Lord's Prayer."

- Philip Yancey -

This nightmarish scenario was reality for over 600,000 homeless people in the United States in 2013.1 For some, it's made even worse by a drug addiction or mental illness. Homelessness is a reality for about 100 million people around the world, according to a United Nations estimate.2

According to data compiled by The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development:

  • In January 2013, 610,042 people were homeless on any given night. Sixty-five percent of them were living in shelters.
  • Twenty-three percent of the homeless were children.

Breaking down those statistics, the National Coalition on the Homeless reports, "On an average night in the 23 cities surveyed, 94 percent of people living on the streets were single adults, 4 percent were part of families and 2 percent were unaccompanied minors. Seventy percent of those in emergency shelters were single adults, 29 percent were part of families and 1 percent were unaccompanied minors. Of those in transitional housing, 43 percent were single adults, 56 percent were part of families, and 1 percent were unaccompanied minors. Those who occupied permanent supportive housing were 60 percent single adults, 39.5 percent were part of families, and .5 percent were unaccompanied minors."3

Putting these statistics into a local perspective, homeless advocate and Joy Junction founder Dr. Jeremy Reynalds of Albuquerque, New Mexico, writes, "Our faith-based church ministry serves as many as 300 individuals a night, including as many as 60 to 80 children every day. Each year we are able to serve more than 200,000 meals."4

Let's be honest: these statistics are disheartening. They lead to a series of questions, ones that we as Christians should be asking: What can we do to help those who are homeless? What is a godly and proactive response to the problem of homelessness?

In the midst of such sad news, there is glad news: Jesus loves the homeless. As one who experienced the pitfall of homelessness, Jesus is intimately acquainted with the conditions and life-altering nature of being without an earthly home.5

Define

The simple definition of homeless is the condition of living without a home. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines home as a "permanent place of residence."

Some advocates define it more specifically. According to Stewart B. McKinney, a person is considered homeless who "lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate night-time residence…. The term 'homeless individual' does not include any individual imprisoned or otherwise detained pursuant to an Act of Congress or a state law."6

Discover

As mentioned above, Jesus was familiar with homelessness. But beyond the physical nature of not having a home, the Bible has much to say about the poor, downtrodden, and helpless. Here is a small sampling:

  • "If one of your brethren becomes poor, and falls into poverty among you, then you shall help him, like a stranger or a sojourner, that he may live with you. Take no usury or interest from him; but fear your God, that your brother may live with you" (Leviticus 25:35-36).
  • "He who has pity on the poor lends to the Lord, and He will pay back what he has given" (Proverbs 19:17).
  • "So the people asked him, saying, 'What shall we do then?' He answered and said to them, 'He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise'" (Luke 3:10-11).
  • "Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be filled" (Luke 6:20-21).
  • "But whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth" (1 John 3:17-18).

 Develop

When developing a plan to assist the homeless, Mary Fairchild writes that Christians should volunteer, respect, give, and pray.7 JustGive.org suggests thirty-five ways in which someone can help the homeless, including understand who the homeless are, educate yourself about homelessness, respect the person as an individual, and respond with kindness.8

As a basic principle, we as Christians should take action as we PRAY for homeless people:

P—Practical help. Volunteer at a shelter or support a homeless family; give food, money, and time.

R—Respond to the need with solutions. Drive the person to a doctor. Give coats, meals, or phone numbers to shelters or temporary residences.

A—Always present the gospel. Remind the person that God loves them and has a plan for their life.

Y—You. Remind yourself that a homeless person can teach you about Christian virtues: dependence, perseverance, love, hope, and prayer. In his article "The Word on the Street: What the Homeless Taught Me About Prayer" Philip Yancey wrote, "As I listened to the homeless relate their prayers, I was struck by the prayers' down-to-earth quality—indeed, their resemblance to the Lord's Prayer. 'Give us this day our daily bread': They all had stories about running out of food, praying, and then finding a burrito or uneaten pizza. 'Deliver us from evil': Living on mean streets, these believers pray that daily. 'Forgive us our trespasses': Deep down in each lay buried secrets of shame and regret. From my time with the homeless, I learned a new meaning to prayer: it can be a safe place to bare secrets."9

Jesus loves the homeless. Will you?

 

 

1 The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, "The 2013 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress," accessed 1/5/15.

2 United Nations, "Demographic Yearbook," 2014, accessed 1/5/15.

3 National Coalition for the Homeless, "Factsheets," accessed 1/5/15.

4 Joy Junction, "Albuquerque Homeless Shelter," accessed 1/5/15.

5 "And Jesus said to him, 'Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head'" (Matthew 8:20)

6 National Coalition for the Homeless, "Factsheets," accessed 12/18/14.

7 Mary Fairchild, "How to Help the Homeless," accessed 1/5/15.

8 JustGive.org, "35 Ways to Help the Homeless," accessed 1/5/15.

9Philip Yancey, "The Word on  the Street: What the Homeless Taught Me about Prayer," January 1, 2006, accessed 1/5/15.