What can I do?
We often see people in the centre of Wolverhampton who are in need.
In theory there is no need for anyone to be in desperate need but in practice many benefits claims are delayed for weeks or reduced or denied. Foodbanks across the country are finding their services are being drawn on more and more.
There are various Christian and other charities, as well as the statutory agencies, bringing help of various kinds - food, advice, housing etc. So there should be no need for anyone to beg for money on the streets. And there are even times we see someone begging when they really do not need to, but see it as a way of ‘earning’ extra money!
It can be hard to know how we can help and how to remain compassionate, without getting cynical. We want to be open hearted, especially leading up to Christmas. But we also need to be wise. For example, all the charities helping homeless people are clear that we should not give cash to someone begging as it almost certainly perpetuates the problem rather than solving it.
There are things we can do. We can pray - that has the greatest impact long term. And there are some down to earth actions we can take.
Here is a story from Atlanta, Georgia, but the principles are just the same in Wolverhampton.
"One Friday afternoon a poor young man walks into a second hand clothing store in downtown Atlanta. For one dollar, he purchases a shirt for work and leaves the shop. Rather than following him, we will take a look at that dollar, which remains in the cash till only for a matter of minutes before the shop manager removes it and others, sets the accounts right and puts into envelopes the weeks wages for himself and the woman whom he is training as deputy manager.
An hour or so later, this woman leaves the shop, taking the envelope, and walks to the neighbourhood credit union office in the same part of town. The dollar becomes one of several that she pays into the new saving scheme that has been set up for folk who, little by little, are aiming to buy the small apartments in which they live.
The Friday afternoon busy period at the credit union desk is already beginning and within minutes a single mother with three young children makes her weekly visit to collect the housekeeping. The dollar is swiftly exchanged at the community-run food cooperative when the four of them have bought as much as they can afford and carry. The cooperative, set up a year ago, has become so successful that the branch of the large supermarket chain in this rather run-down part of town has closed.
An alternative scenario:
A Christian from the middle-class part of town drives into the area, sees the young man and gives him a shirt."
[‘The journey of a dollar’ from Reneighbouring by Bob Lupton]
What can I do? Yes we can give a shirt or some other immediate help. But more effective is to give time and effort to help set up new social enterprises and charities seeking to help the needy to help themselves. We can also choose to be their customers.
It might be harder work but it is more effective in the long term.