A very lovely woman from a local children’s organization called us last week, offering to do a food drive for Thanksgiving. We were of course thrilled. Our needs always increase during the holidays and even if they didn’t, it’s surely nice to give our homeless clients something extra.
Towards the end of our conversation the lady made a comment to the effect that one of the things we probably did was to give our clients advice or “point them in the right direction”. After our conversation was over I reflected on these comments. Giving advice and pointing someone in the right direction seems a loving, caring thing to do. What could be wrong with that?
The answer is, I don’t know what advice to give and wouldn’t presume to think that I do. The longer I serve in the motels, the more I become sure of one thing and one thing only—I am a stranger in this world and will never presume to think I have the answers.
Our homeless clients don’t come to us and say, “How did we get here”? “Where is the way out”? They already know. There are many reasons for a family to become homeless and of all of them our clients certainly know which one caused their homelessness. They’re not proud of it. Many times it isn’t even their fault, unless they can be blamed for a sagging economy, job loss or medical disasters. Society is filled with finger pointers and “experts”. Our clients know what they have to do to get out and it usually involves hard work and improved finances.
What they need from us is not practical advice, but practical help. We bring to them the things they need that they can’t procure on minimum wage salaries. After the motel rent is paid, there’s little left for anything else. Food, hygiene items, clothing, baby care items, household items, school supplies, these are the things our clients need. Making them available to our clients helps them stretch their resources.
One of our clients recently said it best—“You love us, you care for us, you help us. But you don’t tell us what to do”. One of our beloved board members, who was once a client echoed the same sentiment. We never gave them advice on what to do and yet in spite of it they managed to get out. All they needed from us was what we do anyway—we kept coming back, we cared about them, we provided resources for them until they had sufficient funds to sustain their apartment rent and we talked about anything they wanted to talk about, but we never, ever lectured them. When they were ready, we kept the promise we’d made to help them with the first month’s rent and it was done.
If you really want to help your homeless clients, do for them the one thing very few people do. Don’t lecture them. Listen to them. The road out of homelessness is paved with practical help, not useless advice.