This is a picture my friend, Angela Hopson, took will doing outreach among friends experiencing homelessness this week. It shows an area at one encampment where boxes of perishable and non-perishable food is just dumped for people in the camp to use. For those of us who work regularly with friends experiencing homelessness, we need to share pictures like this and help them go viral. This is the epitome toxic charity and we need to help people see the results of all our “random acts of kindness.” This is the stuff that hurts more than helps.
This is the type of stuff we see happen all the time. Some well-meaning people feel a compulsion to “help those who are less fortunate.” A lot of times we see a feel-good story on the news and think, “I can do that,” without ever asking what the people we’re trying to help really need or finding out if others are working to meet the need. It helps us feel good and we post pictures on social media so our friends can tell us what good people we are.
What we don’t see is all the piles of unused food (especially perishables) that only rot and attract rodents (making the lives of our friends more difficult). The businesses and neighbors nearby begin to take notice and pressure the camp to close. If it’s on private property, they can be evicted quickly. If it’s on city property in Indy, it takes a little longer but the neighbors keep pressuring the city until they give in.
What would be the better thing to do when you feel a desire to help? Befriend one person experiencing homelessness. Recruit a couple of friends to join you with your friend experiencing homelessness. Get to know that person’s real needs and dreams (it may take longer and get messy at times but it will be worth in the long run). Without enabling self-destructive behavior, be an advocate to help them navigate their way back to a more stable life. Get to know the resources that are available and be the bridge that helps them get there. These are true acts of kindness.