Dear Friends in Christ,
The campus of St. Mary’s Church sits on a path between the Greenville Rescue Mission and the Salvation Army, and for this reason, we often have the very poor and homeless on our door step. The vast majority of these persons are men, and they are usually on foot and traveling alone. They stop many of you in the parking lot or on the sidewalk to ask for assistance, and in turn, many of you have asked me for advice on the best way to respond when you are approached for help. So, here are my suggestions:
+ Do not ever give money directly to anyone for any reason. When the moment comes that we are faced with someone in obvious distress who is asking for our help, our understandable instinct is to help with pocket change or a few dollars. But please understand that while such a reaction may ease our minds, it is truly never in the best interest of the one who is asking for help. This is not only my advice; it is the same counsel offered by those who work with the homeless and poor every day, including the directors of our local United Ministries, Catholic Charities, and the Salvation Army. No matter what story we are told by the one asking for help, we should always assume that the money will be put to harmful and self-destructive purposes. In short, money does not help.
+ Do stop and speak to the person who has asked for help. Ask his name and look him in the eye. If you can, listen to him for a few moments and make it clear that you are present to him as a human person, rather than fleeing from him as a simple nuisance. The folk who live on the street are often frightful to look at, but almost never do they constitute a threat to anyone. A kind word and a direct look in the eye can be a great gift to someone who lives utterly alone. And do not hesitate to speak of the Lord Jesus and His love for us all.
+ Do suggest that the one who asks you for help speak to one of the parish clergy or staff. St. Mary’s contributes to the care of the poor and homeless in many concrete ways through various local agencies and programs, and we are always available to direct the needy to the places where they can truly be assisted. Your contributions to the offertory and the poor boxes are already providing the assistance which is available to those in genuine need.