It’s Hard to Know When to Help and When Not to Help

United Way Pinal

By: United Way of Pinal County

Ever drive by a busy street corner only to see someone holding a sign that said “HELP. HOMELESS anything will help?” Do you catch yourself looking at their shoes, clothes, hair to figure out whether or not their story could be true? Then within that split second, and just before the light turns green, you may decide “you know, I wish I had something I could do to help them. But what? Is what I have gonna help them to improve their situation or is it enabling them? Is it my place to judge? What can I do?” By this time, the light turns green, and you don’t want to be the one to hold everybody up or get honked at, so you go. Your brain is still processing your decision making, and you leave wishing you had more ways to engage. But what?

How desperate must someone feel to stand on the street corner and beg? Ya, some opportunists make more money than you, and I combined, but the vast majority of the people standing on street corners begging are not opportunists. These are people down on their luck that have lost hope and honestly may not know how to pick themselves up anymore. They may have lost hope in themselves or the system. How can you, a passerby, give them hope again? And do it in a few minutes? Not all of us are as daring as our Executive Director.

She tells a story of one rainy day last winter, where she was entering a store and passed by a homeless woman pushing a grocery cart out of the rain. She greeted her, and they exchanged pleasantries. As she entered the store, the still small voice in her head said: “You should ask the woman if she needs something warm to eat?” By the time the shopping was done, the homeless woman had already moved on. Our director went to the store and purchased a bowl of hot soup and some crackers and found the homeless woman a few blocks away from the store. She engaged the homeless woman and learned that a few days before she had been robbed of everything she had, including all of her food. When asked “what do you need?” the answer was “a loaf of bread would be helpful.”

Our director went to the store and, with her personal funds, purchased this homeless woman some groceries to last her until the next time her food stamp money would arrive about five days later. These two have become friends but with no way to contact each other. Her story is sad. Her husband passed away a few years ago after being ill for a prolonged period. After his death, her life fell apart. She has no family nearby and just makes do with what she has.

The homeless woman doesn’t want to move into Phoenix where there are shelters because she is afraid of what may happen to her in the big city and she doesn’t qualify for any social disability support. She just doesn’t know where to start picking herself back up. Every once in a while the two will see each other in the community and embrace and talk about how to connect with services. Someday the homeless woman will be ready to move on with her life. She had needs but was ever so humble and unassuming. Our director still looks for this woman every time she drives around town.

It’s hard to know when to help and when not to help or even how much to help. If you aren’t in the social service business, you may not know or even feel comfortable in helping because you may not know where to send them for assistance.

The Homeless Coalitions in Casa Grande and Apache Junction have supported the development of “street sheet.” These pocket-size resource guides target the needs of the homeless, or those at risk of becoming homeless, may not know how to fill. These guides could be a way for you to connect individuals with a place where they can begin the journey of finding their way back when they are ready. You may be their missing link. They may think they know where to go for help, but they don’t.

This easily storable guide gives them all of the available resources in the area in a quick and matter of fact way. Make some copies and keep them in the car so that when you find someone at the park, the street corner or at the store, you can be empowered to reach out and connect them to services. This guide may also be useful to loved ones that are struggling. Create a resource ripple in our community.