‘I hate the homeless’…Really???

i hate the homeless

by Kenneth

~A few evenings ago I was sitting at coffee and a totally drunk homeless man stumbled into the café…walking up to table after table he begged for money. Normally, the cafés in my neighborhood don’t tolerate panhandling inside the establishment but the café was packed and the employees didn’t notice.

Watching the homeless man interact with the various patrons at the café was tough for me. Yes he wreaked of alcohol and I could smell it from across the room; but the despised scowls which sat on the faces of nearly every man and woman he walked up to… was disheartening. Normally, when the homeless sit on the sidewalk asking for money the average person is able to walk by and completely ignore them…..but when the homeless person walks up to your table in a café; you can’t pretend that he’s not standing there looking at you face-to-face……

After he left the café I overheard a couple of the patrons talking about him, “God, I really hate the homeless around here, they are so annoying” said a middle aged man to his friends. And if I’m going to be honest; the looks on the faces of the rest of the people in the café conveyed the same attitude.

Besides the fact that I worked with the homeless at the county jail and at the rehab clinic last year…..I have been having coffee with the homeless every morning for the past five years. One of the coffee houses I frequent early in the morning lets the homeless come in and sit as long as they buy a cup of coffee.

At 5 AM an assortment of homeless people come in and sit by the fireplace to drink their coffee. Some of them have spent the night sleeping in shelters, some of them have been sleeping on the streets, some of them get a small pittance from the government and pool their money together to rent hotel rooms a couple nights out of each week.

By 6:30 AM the homeless slowly begin leaving the café, this is the time of the morning when the morning rush of suburbanites flood into the place with their Gucci suits, Prada shoes, and designer labels……although I should be careful what I say since I’m wearing a Calvin Klein jacket as I type this.

Oddly enough this article isn’t about changing the world or ‘how to help the homeless’…..its about the strange disconnect that exists in Western Culture.

Growing up in an Evangelical Christian environment I rarely interacted with the homeless at church. Truth be told, I can’t recall any church related functions in which I hung out with anyone that didn’t fit our Conservative Evangelical Christian mold; homeless people, homosexuals, the extremely poor, fill-in-the-blank……Church life for me as a child had more to do with the ‘quality of worship service’, ‘hearing a good sermon’, or ‘attending bible studies and gender related fellowship groups’…….and for the precious few times that my church community did something for the homeless; it was more like an event as opposed to a lifestyle.

The reason I find my Christian background strange is because the hero of my faith, the man whom it is all about; spent every waking moment of his life hanging out in the ghettos.

—) Jesus went to parties where people got wasted…and I mean wasted

—) Aside from a couple exceptions, Jesus chose disciples among a culture of people who were poor and despised by the suburbanites of his day

—) Jesus hung out with really sick people that none of the healthy would come close too

—) Jesus talked with women privately (which was a major taboo in his culture) who were equivalent to modern day hookers and the openly sexually licentious

Its a bizarre disconnect that I grew up experiencing….every week on Sunday morning I would listen to sermons about this dude that lived a tremendously amazing sacrificial life…..and then we would go back home to our suburban lifestyle that was entirely removed from the type of people Jesus was intimate with……..And then for the really strange disconnect; Jesus was homeless.

Of course, its not merely Evangelical Christians who live with this strange disconnect in relation to the poor and lowly…….people of all sorts of life in Western Culture go about their day-to-day life entirely oblivious to what life is really like…on the other side of town.

When I was younger I was taught to focus on rules; I spent much of my life thinking about what I wasn’t supposed to do……and then one day I started to spend less time thinking about the rules of my faith and more time thinking about my obligation to humanity.

Instead of spending every waking moment of my life thinking about whether or not I agree or disagree with someone’s lifestyle, sexual orientation, drinking habits, drug habits, religious beliefs or fill-in-the-blank……I simply started asking myself; “How can I love and serve my fellow humans“.

And so I started having coffee with the homeless, and with Muslims, and with Atheists, and with every other person who never walked through the doors of the conservative Christian churches I grew up in……and instead of arguing endlessly over doctrines and theologies….we talk about life; We cry together, we call each other, and we live life together.

I’m not trying to change people anymore……I’m simply trying to love them. Is that really so crazy?

Time for another cup of coffee……


Categories: Religion

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93 replies

  1. Another clear-eyed, beautifully written post, Kenneth. And to answer your question at the end: No. It’s the opposite of crazy.

  2. I think it better to leave it to the people who they want to be. Homeless or with more homes! Apart from that, I would say that the homeless are far more than their counterparts who has way too much going on and all the do is to think and make it constantly better. Whereas the “simple people” regard everything as life. Why shouldn’t we consider ill on the way our fellow beings act! It’s their way of life and who knows it may be right as well.

  3. I can remember when I was small going to bed at night on cold wet stormy nights. My mum would tuck me in and always comment “imagine the poor and homeless outside tonight”. It is there where our social conscience begins at the feet of our parents. We are all so smug. “It could never happen to us” attitude. Good thought provoking post.

  4. damn. yes. disconnect. you’ve named the earth’s woe. the antidote? connect.

    well done.

  5. I’ve volunteered in a homeless shelter for nearly a decade. I could tell you all sorts of misconceptions about the homeless, and how I came to realize they are not so different than most of us, but the thing that has really driven it home for me is right now my own son is homeless. He’s an addict and I’m letting him experience the consequences of his behaviour, one of which is more allowing him to live in my home and use drugs. The “us” and “them” attitude about homeless people had always bothered me, but now I see it is a total fallacy. I stopped volunteering at the shelter, the possibly of seeing my son there was too much for me. I volunteer with kids and horses now

    • Glasshill,

      dude, my heart really goes out to you and your son. When I worked at the rehab clinic last year, a large percentage of my clients were homeless people that had alcohol and drug addictions…..while so often it seemed as if I couldn’t see any hope for the people in their situations; i nonetheless saw a lot of success stories and cling to hope for your son.

    • I cling to that as well. thank you.

    • I am a success story of a tough love parent. My greatest fear was that she would never hit bottom and want to change. Though it took way longer than I could ever personally imagine…she finally did. Now six years clean, a truly wonderful single mother, working on her BA in college (she was a 7th grade drop out). It is my greatest wish that your son also finds the courage to choose life. Sending you a big hug and thoughts about happier days in the future.

  6. *not allowing (damn autocorrect)

  7. I do not understand why they would hate these people. Some sure got there due to being dumb and use drugs,but still no reason to hate. I know homeless who chose that course. so that they were able to pay of debt as soon as possible with the money they got. And some are unlucky to end up on the streets.
    But they are happy if they can get a measly 4 dollars a day for that cup of coffee and a grub.
    They are the most thankful people out there. Now we can learn from that with our cable and LCD tv and still wanting more.
    Love the coffee we share with people who truly appreciate it 🙂

  8. Love unto all!! What a touching post. Thanks for posting.

  9. Kenneth,
    “Isn’t that how life is, beneath all our faults, weaknesses,
    fill-in-the-blank we still have the potential to create beauty.”
    Each life is sacred. What those people looking down on
    that drunk don’t realize is that he was put in their lives to make
    them more loving people. They missed their chance to create
    beauty. I see it everyday. Ellen

  10. Thank you! A meaningful way for me to enjoy my first cup of coffee of the morning. “Attitude of gratitude” is something my pastor hubby says all the time. Today is the first day of my volunteering for a local thrift store that reaches out to so many. Usually my job is wife and mother, but I’m moving outside of my comfort zone and taking my first step . . . my heart wants to help–don’t know where I will be lead by him, but I’m ready. This post was absolutely spot on, and excellent. Thank you for having the heart to write it. Blessings.

  11. Just imagine my horror when this guy brings to homeless guys into my Church and they were sitting at a table a la butt crack there for all to see…

  12. This is quite an amazing essay … I love it. Like others, my mind returned to my childhood and my Episcopal School where our lunch prayer every day informed my imagination: “Give us grateful hearts, our Father, for all thy mercies; and make us ever mindful of the needs of others.” As an adult gay man in an often discomfiting world I would do well to remember that prayer. Thanks for prompting me!

  13. When I lived in San Francisco, I played music on the street with a now rather well known “busker”. The homeless were everywhere and I saw them as people. I would say hello and they would in return. If I couldn’t, or didn’t want to, give them any money – I would simply say I couldn’t, or shake my head, but I WOULD DO IT RESPECTFULLY!!! They never gave me a hassle or annoyed me. We understood each other, and I value that time and lesson I learned.

    Thank you, Kenneth, for another toughtful article.

    And, buy the way…. is Justice really your last name? Fitting.


  14. “41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

    44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

    45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’”

    Keep on loving them, Kenneth. Who cares what anyone else thinks..

  15. The frustrating part, to me, is that many homeless people don’t choose that kind of lifestyle. I’ve read countless stories of people who were once executives, business-owners, and the like, losing everything due to unfortunate events / circumstances and ended up living under a bush.

    As far as drug and alcohol addicts, many of them were also once-successful people who were trying to escape some kind of misery in their lives only to end up homeless on the street, being scoffed at by society, and feeling more hopeless by the minute. I’m not sure that “tough love” is the answer because we can’t throw people on the streets like animals because they don’t fit our norms and mores. Yet, I can see how one can’t let someone like that live with them if they’ve stolen from them or put them in danger.

    It’s just an all-around sad situation. As far as the scoffers and heartless patrons with the sneers…Karma is only a b***h if you are.

  16. There is that line from Ephesians, the one about “wives, submit to your husbands” that drives me nuts and always makes me think that early Christians were a bunch of misogynists. Then I heard a sermon once about how that passage is really the foundation of a good marriage, NOT because wives were submitting to their husband and following their lead, but because the backbone of a good marriage was each spouse submitting to the other. If each party puts the needs and desires of the other first and works to support those, then the marriage–and therefore its participants–come out ahead. That made sense to me and actually got my hackles down.

    If we submit and then move to serve, I think we all win.

    One of the things that makes me happiest life is that I have such an oddball lot. One my best friends lives in Australia. I trade Christmas gifts with a former coworker’s wife in Pakistan (and they’re Muslim). One weekend in December, I have three different sets of friends visiting–and some are from Colombia and might even help me to make homemade arepa! I live an urban life but still employ small-town mentalities. If I did everything only with people that were just like me, it wouldn’t be living at all.

    I think you’re living what is called “lifestyle evangelism,” and frankly, I wish more would, regardless of their faith. If we all lived what we believed, we would have a more open, more giving society, one that was really a community write large.

    So good on you. Love one another, and then a few more.

  17. I grew up in a bubble that taught ideals, manners, hard work and honesty. I lived a good a righteous life and stayed away from all the evils of the world…or so I thought. I had the opportunity to live in a homeless shelter for about six months. I call it an opportunity because it allowed me to start shifting my viewpoint which had previously been fixed.

    In the beginning, I marveled at the idea that I was intermixed with the dregs of life…the degraded ones. I kept thinking if my friends could see me now…I could hardly believe it myself. I was living with shell shocked veterans, drug addicts and alcoholics (only the kind who could maintain a social veneer of being normal) and criminals who had been released on parole who had no permanent address.

    I personally do not appreciate the drunks who panhandle, just my opinion. But the shocker that I discovered during my first month homeless was that these were all beautiful loving people who for one reason or another found themselves struggling in life. I was shocked that there was more genuine love and caring for the well being of another from these troubled individuals than I had ever experienced with my very good, righteous hardworking friends. There was no “better than us” attitude. We were all equals…in the shelter. Some of us contributed more than others but we all followed the same rules, slept under the same roof and got our meals from the same local church.

    In most cases I would have a greater amount of respect for a homeless person than any gangsta wanna be drug dealer who is riding in his style in blacked out Caddie or Benz. One is actively destroying life for his own benefit, the other is just trying to make it through another day.

  18. To hate them is horrible. But how to help? If you are sitting in a coffee shop and a drunk person comes up to ask for money you will not be helping by giving money, will you? I struggle with how to really help on an individual basis. There is one man in my town who walks the roads with many, many plastic bags around him. I have stopped to talk to him. I have learned his name: Jeff. I have given him food. I pray for him. He is lucid some days, able to respond well, and other days there is no one home behind the eyes. He is afraid of winter each year and he asks me for a ticket to Arizona. I am really tempted to get him to Arizona except he would suffer in the heat there in summer and he doesn’t know anyone or anything in Arizona. I know he has family here somewhere who maybe check on him. I asked him if he wanted to come to my church where he could get food from the food pantry. He told me thanks, many people from my church have stopped to talk to him and offer him help. Not all church- goers are heartless and self-absorbed as you experienced. It is just hard to know how to actually help.

  19. That’s a fabulous philosophy (if you call it that) – simply try to love them. The rest is just details. 🙂

  20. This is a topic I often ponder myself, I have been wondering if there is more I could be doing to help the huge amount of homeless people that appear on every street corner for miles around. I have never felt that giving them money ultimately helps them out and so have made a personal rule that I will not give money to the homeless. What I do do however is volunteer at food banks and volunteer making the daily lunches at the local homeless shelter. It is a struggle to know what to do when face to face with someone begging you for money, especially if they smell like alcohol or look like they are a regular drug user. I won’t feel guilty because I have no interest in helping someone fuel their addictions but I won’t hate them for existing inside my world either. I think a lot of people just don’t know how to deal with the homeless, they are an in your face reminder of what could happen to them if their life took an unfortunate turn of events. Especially in today’s questionable economy, people don’t like to think about how close they could be to sleeping on a bench and begging for spare change. When many people say “I hate the homeless” what they mean is “I hate the reality that inequality is very real, life isn’t fair and I have no way to ensure this could never happen to me.”

  21. Besides the fact I learned some new words from your post (bum, cling, grub, panhandling…) I’m gonna add something shameful about my culture, as we have mainly children who are the beggars for their parents. Few of them do that for food but the majority for alchohol. And I’m sure if that kid returns HOME without money, he/she will be punished, not to say, beaten. This is possible because our organs for child protection are too weak or are dealing with too many cases which means they need a lot of room and money to take care of those kids in special centres. So it’s like a tacit “agreement” between beggars – government – and perhaps society.

  22. Homeless is ‘it could soon be us’ these days and the sheep dips who hate them are probably scared their next. . . . when a guy, no matter the reason, hits bottom it’s ok in my book to give him a few bucks and a word of kindness. If he’s just conning me to get a micky .. . . so what?

  23. Very touching. If we all were to be more like Jesus, what a wonderful world this would be.

  24. Beautiful post, such a great message. Well done!

  25. “Jesus was homeless”…. wow, what a revelation!

  26. Just a quick note, though I posted earlier, I too struggled with “judging” whether another was worthy of getting something from me. But my gut told me this was my own excuse–Jesus is the only one who can judge a heart. Our job is to serve those in need. What they do with what we give is not what’s important–what we give, we give out of love for our Savior–no strings attached.
    I was missionary’s daughter in Malawi, Africa for 6 years–I saw more poverty there than I have anywhere else in my life. In fact, the majority of those Malawians were poorer than most of our homeless in the States–no beds, no chairs, 1 set of clothes, mostly tattered, no money to put into offering or 1/2 a penny, no shoes, basically 1 to 2 different options for food, no shots to prevent disease, no aspirin to take or quinine for malaria, they didn’t even have toothbrushes and only a few teeth (yes, almost all of them). Yet they smiled and waved, all the time! I seriously try to quell my sinful thoughts, because I recognize them for what they are: sin. Only with God’s help and his grace do I receive anything worth receiving–and that is a life that I now use to serve out of my thankfulness–no strings attached.

  27. Monk, It is not crazy to love. It is crazy not to. Christ’s message gets tangled sometimes and we forget the first commandment: Love God, and the second: Love your neighbor as you love yourself. It appears you have learned to do this and we are all better off because of it.

  28. Such a true post. Being in the big city for a while, I’ve had my own conversations with the homeless and just recently have begun seeing things from the same eyes that you have. Thanks for the words.

  29. I have experienced the same thing. It’s so sad, because it clouds peoples idea of what Jesus really is about when they experience people representing Christianity in that manner. Another OUTSTANDING article!

  30. When I was in the Army our unit went to Honduras for a humanitarian mission – repairing roads, building bridges and so forth. The country is one of the poorest and also one of the most violent nations in Central America.

    We worked out of town with beachhead for our boats and when we were off duty we were free to roam around town as long as we did not get into trouble. One day four or five of us were getting ice cream to try and cool down a little. While we were waiting three kids, all of them younger than 13, came up and starting playing a song using buckets, sticks that were banged together, and a tin can as instruments. My boss and I each gave them money – four five dollars from each of us to each kid. Small change for us, but a lot of money for them. The other guys in the unit declined to give them anything, and when we asked them why they said they didn’t think the song was worth anything.

    Hatred of the poor, as you put it, is a very ugly thing. Thank you for the read.

  31. I, along with my wife and my daughter, who was just an infant at the time, were technically homeless for about a year or so.

    I had failed student teaching and the university slowly pushed me out the door. Never mind that there was MUCH strife in the music department (one of my areas of study) and Curriculum & Supervision had bungled my requests for disability accomodations. I had problems of my own, but… so much evil, so much misery. I won’t forget the woman in the music department who had just been freshly hired to replace the fellow professor-wife of the professor that was forced out. She had tears in her eyes; she didn’t know how to help me.

    We had gone to live in my wife’s hometown but neither of us could keep a steady job, much less anything that paid all our bills. A friend of mine took us in when we were bankrupt and had nowhere to go. It wasn’t an easy year– his marriage at the time was failing. We were grateful, honest, but it was a little while until we felt comfortable talking to him again, when he remarried and things seemed more stable.

    We wouldn’t repeat that experience if we had to, but I think it did make us more appreciative of how things got much better since then. I’ve read that a lot of homeless folks can be “invisible” because of arrangements with other family, and friends– well, I suppose that would include me.

  32. We have to draw our our souls to the poor and homeless as Christians and if we do God will bless us…

    Isa 58:10 And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday:
    Isa 58:11 And the LORD shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.
    Isa 58:12 And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in.

    Lord Help Me be like that!

    • Monk, Mother Teresa, who knew a lot about homeless people and knew a lot of homeless people said, “we find Jesus in the distressing disguise of the poor”. That is why she always said “smile at the poor”. I have learned to always try to establish eye contact with the person, greet them with the word, peace, (not ever how you doin’). Tell them that you are unable to help. Mother Teresa also knew the difference between a person in real need and a hustle. If the panhandler gets abrasive ignore him and move on.

    • If you see a homeless person in your town regularly say Hi and ask them their names. The next time you see them call them by name. You will get smiles! Don’t be afraid to invite them to Church. I invited a homeless man to church and he showed up, in his dirty clothes and abrasive speech, but the church people were friendly to him 7 years later he is still going to church faithfully. Isn’t that what LOVE is about! Mother Teresa was spot on!

  33. So touching and insightful. Thank you for writing this. I will be sharing this with my Alli.

  34. Living by your principles instead of just talking the talk – more of that would go a long way in this world. I try not to forget that many of the homeless addicts and alcoholics are really suffering mental or physical issues they can’t get help for, and are self-medicating with their drug of choice. How much more difficult their lives are than mine! All the comments regarding respect are spot on. Thank you for another thought provoking post!

  35. Reblogged this on Christianity Simplified and commented:
    Here’s a great simplification example!

  36. Wow Kenneth that was really lovely!

  37. being poor is not an ethical dilemma. being homeless is not about morality. it’s about money, the haves and the havenots.

  38. What a heart-stirring post! It needed to be said and I am moved by it. Thanks!

  39. When I was very young, in teens actually, I was walking along a street looking for a cab and saw this huge homeless guy who looked like a black Rambo, he had chains tied in xx across his naked chest. He wanted cash for food. I pushed my hands in my bag and all I had was quarters, so I took some and gave them to him…He took the coins, looked at me, then the coins and made a disgusted look with his face and walked off. I was stunned for a moment; then I got mad, ran after him and demanded my money back. I was young at the time and thought he ought to be more appreciative. I had given him my all, but it wasn’t enough for him.

    Today, I still give my last dollar in my car to the homeless when I am driving, but I won’t run them down if they think it isn’t enough..
    Great post..

  40. “God, I really hate the homeless around here, they are so annoying” ……..G-D forbid the homeless interrupt their routines. Empathy, Sympathy, offering help when possible. I choose now to offer to buy somebody in need a meal, as opposed to offering money.
    Powerful Blog……all of the time!

  41. I’ve been homeless and now at the ripe age of 60 I’m close to it as my heart-beat. The thing is, it is so easy falling off the perch for one reason or another, one minute your riding high, and the next your swimming in shit. And I know there are people as I type that are freezing their butts off or worse. Yet I prefer the homeless to some of my middle class friends. Christ walked and ate and slept with them and yet the world
    strangely ignores their plight. In Australia we have just elected a guy who wanted to be a Catholic priest yet he is as far away from Jesus as Pontius Pilate…….go figure that!

    • I’ve been reading about the election in Australia for the past month and there definitely seems to be some strong opinions about the guy

    • yeah he ain’t my cup of tea I guess we will have to wait and see but excuse the pun he wasn’t called the ‘mad monk’ for nothing. Actually on that subject I was involved with a Benedictine Community as an oblate. I was in America a few years back and stayed at their monastery on Big Sur, bloody beautiful…..cheers

  42. Awesome article! I just wanted to add that a portion of the homeless are mentally ill and it is very difficult to know how to help. They may come across as drug addicts when they are not. Others have co-occuring disorders, both a mental illness and a substance abuse problem.

    Charities can only go so far in helping these people. Fortunately where I live there is a homeless assistance program through Mental Health America. They help the mentally ill to get off the streets, get them proper psychiatric care and disability if needed. They also work with other agencies who can help them to go to back to work if they are able to do so.

    I know of a success story from a friend of mine who has schizophrenia and was homeless. Someone referred him to the program and he went, even though he did not think he was mentally ill. They got him into a board and care facility and since he thought that they required him to take meds as a condition of staying there he took them. After a few months he became lucid again.

    He is now a productive citizen and works for the same organization that saved him.

    I would encourage people to see if they can find similar programs in their area. If you are in doubt as to whether that person is mentally ill I would just go ahead and hand out a flyer or business card anyway.It can’t hurt!

  43. This excellent – true and sad as it may be it has effected countless people in harmful ways.

    There have been too many churches like this. It’s what happened when church became a building instead of one Body.

    I do hate labels though… So I’d not agree those churches were and are “conservative”. That term can mean something good as well. I’d just simply state they were and are “churches/people gone wrong”. As you said in your FAQs, “an imperfect one”.

    Here’s to praying and hoping that all who Follow Christ would love, and live to love. One Another.

    • heather,

      “That term can mean something good as well. I’d just simply state they were and are “churches/people gone wrong”.

      I totally agree 🙂

    • Hey I just thought… I wrote an Open Letter to Christians over a year ago about how we treat each other … From the looks of your blog topics, I’d guess you might like it. We’ve started a movement on FB (under the same title) to try to get the “love” part right. Wow I’ve seen some horrible comments on the web from one Believer to another. Now don’t get me wrong … I’v messed up like this big time – that’s why God brought me to the place of even writing the letter – and I’m no perfect Nellie now. But I try hard to even control my negative thoughts. You know if The Church would quit worrying about the details of sin we might just have an easier time getting rid of sin.

      Here it is of you want to check out the movement. A movement to love one another instead tear each other down.


      PS – I’d call myself “conservative” (labeling ourselves is not fab but just Okay 😉 ) but more so I’d rather strive to be “on God’s side of a topic” instead of on another. That’s that main prob I think – Christians don’t read the Bible before making decision and picking sides. They just hear someone else opine about it. I say: Hearing is great…. Just please check it with the Word! That’s what my whole blog centers around. “Find out what HE says!”

  44. Wow! And double wow! Just loving people instead of trying to change them. Words we all need to live by. Thanks for your great blog 🙂

  45. I found this blog entry because I was searching for an answer to my own struggle. I have been volunteering at a homeless shelter for three years now, but I dread–absolutely dread–my hours there. I work hard, I smile, I’m cheerful, I listen to the men (I’m usually working in the showers)… but I come home in utter depression, despair and… well, honestly, I have begun to really dislike these guys. I don’t know what’s going on with me. I’m frustrated by the fact that when I turn my back for a moment, the scarce resources we have are stolen by the time I turn around. I’m frustrated by the lies, by the anger, the complaints (“What do you mean, you’re out of hair conditioner/cologne/body lotion! I hate this place!” … seriously…something I hear on a very regular basis ), the muscular, healthy young guys who are there, pushing aside the older, mentally ill men… I called in today to cancel my regular volunteer work, knowing that it meant more work for the overworked staff and other volunteers, but I’d been sitting on the edge of my bed, trying to work up for my shift, and I suddenly just couldn’t do it.

    As a result, I’ve been struggling all day. I feel guilty about feeling this burnout. I feel guilty for resenting the men who steal and lie, knowing this is how they survive. I feel guilty for judging the apparently young and healthy men who appear to be perfectly capable of being more productive members of society.

    I was in a fast-food restaurant last Friday with a friend when a man much like the guy you described came up and asked for money. I’d seen him going from table to table, and I imagine that my own face reflected the distress and distaste you describe in your posting. I didn’t have any cash, and wasn’t happy to be confronted by a panhandler after an exhausting day. I’ve been unemployed for nearly two years, and have been scraping by on contract work. I’d just been turned down for another job that afternoon, one I’d really, really been hoping I’d get.

    “I don’t have any money for you” I said when he got to the table I was sharing with my friend. “Well, at least lemme have some of them fries” he muttered, reaching for my food. I would’ve let him take them — despite the fact that I was hungry, despite the fact that he was not only younger than I am, but overweight enough that it was obvious he was far from starving — but my friend at that point said loudly “Please MOVE ALONG sir!” in a voice that brooked no argument. So, I finished my meal feeling even more guilt. Again. For not feeding a man who didn’t need food. For not giving someone money when I have no money of my own. I’m sure the look on my face, if you’d seen it, would’ve reflected the looks you saw in the coffee shop. Part of me — a large part — was angry at what felt like, what WAS, a violation. This wasn’t an especially unusual situation, just one of scores of similar instances I’ve dealt with over the years. I want to feel love for these men. I want to maintain my boundaries without feeling resentful and without feeling active dislike. Does the fact that I cannot mean I’m a bad person? Does pushing myself into working with these men counteract that dismay I feel when approached?

    I wish I had your clarity of vision and strength of character… but I also hope that maybe you might be aware of what may be going on behind the looks of distaste when a drunk panhandler is approaching patrons of a coffee shop. Perhaps, if I continue to pray and continue to force myself into this work, I will become more like Christ and a lot less like… well, like I am today. In the meantime, I’m struggling.

    • Hey dude, I totally feel you. I’ve been there…and when I was working at the homeless shelter I felt so many of the same emotions. Sometimes all we can do is cling to the hope that tomorrow things will get better.

  46. I’m not even sure what emotion I can write for this one: i understand the guilt, pressure of doing n trying to be effective; but life’s limitation can put a stress on any individual. I would say to that person: you have done your best. Keep doing what you can and leave what you cannot.

  47. THIS – “Its a bizarre disconnect that I grew up experiencing….every week on Sunday morning I would listen to sermons about this dude that lived a tremendously amazing sacrificial life…..and then we would go back home to our suburban lifestyle that was entirely removed from the type of people Jesus was intimate with……..And then for the really strange disconnect; Jesus was homeless.”


  1. The homeless use the bathroom too…REALLY??? « The Culture Monk
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