Sometimes it’s a family, sometimes just one man standing alongside the road or at a city intersection, with a sign — “Will Work for Food.” The needy inspire feelings of guilt, but if you think of handing over some spare change, Keith Isley with Hope Ministries says you might want to think again. He says giving cash to folks panhandling on the side of the road is not a good idea for many reasons, one being that it’s often quickly converted to drugs or alcohol. Isley says a handout isn’t the way to help people who appear to be homeless and often have other problems. Even if the story they tell you is true, he says a better way to help is by giving them a sandwich or a drink, but cash is not the best way to meet their immediate needs. Isley says it’s also not necessary to belittle or show contempt for street people. He says many have been shouted at and scolded, and it didn’t build up their dignity — and he suggests talking to homeless people could teach us something and help people get perspective on their own lives. Hope Ministries operates Bethel Mission in Des Moines and the Door of Faith long-term recovery facility, and Isley says you could find out which agencies and shelters in your area offer help to people, and advise them to go there.He says many are dealing with addiction and other issues, and good organizations in Des Moines and many cities help the homeless cope with challenges from substance abuse and health to life-skills training. Isley says experience does count for a lot in this area, and organizations that work with the homeless know what works…and what doesn’t. Isley cautions not to get too personally involved with people who seem to be helpless and need your aid. Some homeless people are criminals and fugitives, he cautions, and if you want to talk with them do it in a public place that’s visible, well-lit, and well populated. Isley adds that supporting local social-service, charitable and homeless agencies will let you do your part to help the problem.
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