Dr. Jamie Jenkins: How to Help the Homeless

Since 1990, the Housing and Homeless Council has given grants totaling more than $3.7 million.

The Council is an agency of the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church and was created to help churches and other non-profit organizations in ministering to the very poor and homeless.


The Council grants funds to churches and non-profit agencies that provide shelters, soup kitchens, transitional housing, clothing closets, and other services to very poor and homeless persons. Grants are funded from an annual homeless offering in United Methodist Churches and some from other donations.

Grants from the Homeless Offering are distributed to programs that provide shelter, food, transitional housing, permanent housing, and rent and utility assistance, as well as programs that help persons learn skills to get them out of homelessness. [All United Methodist churches in the North Georgia conference are urged to take an offering this coming Sunday to support the Council.]

Other things you can do that will help people who are homeless are listed below.

1. Become familiar with programs in your area that provide help.

When someone asks for help, you can direct that person to a program that will provide the help they need.

2. Do not assume that homeless persons are alike.

There are a number of circumstances that cause a person to become homeless. The shabby person on the street may be the stereotype, but the homeless person may be a woman fleeing a domestic violence situation with her children, someone who is working but unable to make enough to pay the rent, or someone living out of a car.

3. Talk to the person with respect.

Homeless people face isolation and scorn. It means a lot when someone addresses them in a civil, polite way.

4. Share the love of Christ.

Encourage the person with loving words and actions. Often the homeless person is a Christian. You may be amazed at that person's faith in light of his or her circumstances.

5. Pray for them.

Homeless persons appreciate someone taking the time to listen to their concerns and pray with them. You may feel powerless to help someone in a difficult situation, but the power of prayer connects you with a powerful God!

6. Consider carefully before giving cash.

It is often easier to give cash to a homeless person than to take the time to help with the person's actual needs. If someone says he needs money for food, it is better to buy food than to give cash. Cash may present a temptation to purchase drugs or alcohol, or it may even make the recipient a victim of crime.

7. Take precautions for your own safety.

While most homeless persons are not dangerous, there are some who may present a threat to you. You can let the person know in a courteous manner that you are taking precautions because you don't know him/her and that you expect her/him to respect your boundaries.

8. Support ministries that help poor and homeless persons. There are many wonderful ministries that serve people in need. You can help as a volunteer and by in-kind gifts and financial giving.

9. Help start a ministry in your area.

If you find that there are no programs in your area that will help with needs you see, your church or a group in your community may want to start a ministry.  The Housing and Homeless Council is available to help you organize a ministry, and programs that serve poor and homeless people can apply for grants. The application deadlines are March 1 and September 1.

10. Support policies that help poor and homeless persons.

Many persons cannot afford housing because the cost of rent is beyond their income level. Often organizations that try to help special populations run into opposition from community groups who say, "Not in my backyard!" You can advocate for more affordable housing for low-income workers. You can support facilities in your community that provide housing and other assistance to persons due to domestic violence, mental illness, and addiction.

You can learn more about the Housing and Homeless Council at http://www.nghhc.org.

Jamie Jenkins

[Taken with permission and adapted from "Monday Morning in North Georgia," North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church, Feb. 21, 2011]