Several years ago, I visited my friend, Sarah, in San Diego. Sarah worked as a Social worker with Catholic Charities at the time, and was aware of the resources that the city had to offer. One sunny day we were driving downtown with the windows rolled down. We stopped at a stoplight, right next to a man who was panhandling from the median.
The conversation went something like this:
Man: Can you help me out? I need money for food.
Sarah: No, I’m not going to give you money.
Man: I don’t have anything, I need money.
Sarah: There are a lot of resources available in the city for you. I’m not giving you any money.
Man: Come on, I can’t go to those places. What I really need is money for food.
Sarah: I’m not giving you any money. There is (names a place) and they can help you there. If I give you money, it’s going to keep you here on the streets. I want more for you than for you to be out here asking people for money. If I give you money that just keeps you here and tomorrow you’ll be hungry again.
He didn’t like Sarah’s response. He couldn’t take the “no” and kept bothering her until the light turned green and we drove off. Sarah’s mini lecture may not have stayed in his memory, but it stayed in mine.
What is it that I really want for other people? I want them to love and be loved. I want all people, including myself, to know true justice. I don’t always know what that looks like, but I don’t want to assume that the right answer will be shouted down to me from heaven when someone is in desperate need and looking to me for help.
No matter where you are reading this from, whether a major metropolitan city or an unincorporated town, at some point you are going to come into contact with someone who is searching for justice. That could be a man or woman who is hungry and panhandling on the streets. That could be a woman who is living in a domestic violence situation. That could be a son who is not wanted by his parents. What does justice look like for them?
Does justice mean giving money and driving away, or does justice mean offering myself and my gifts/skills?
I don’t know and I’m not going to tell you there’s an answer, because sometimes there isn’t one.
What I can promise you is that you will be much more capable of finding an answer if you educate yourself on the available resources in your city. Sarah did offer this man something. It wasn’t what he asked for, but she chose not to ignore him or leave him empty-handed. She knew what she had to offer, and she knew that if he was hungry, there was more than one option available to him.
For those of you who don’t want to spend the time studying the names of all of the organizations in town (not many people do), there are still some things that you can do today so that when you find yourself needing some information, you aren’t left feeling helpless.
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
- Save in your phone or memorize your town’s Non-Emergency number. This is a police number (police exist to help you, not just to give out speeding tickets). Using this number allows 9-1-1 to remain available for life-threatening emergencies only. You can find this number in the phone book, the internet, or even by walking in to your local police station. They won’t arrest you, I promise.
- 2-1-1. Know this number! It’s like 9-1-1, only for information. When you dial 2-1-1, you give your first name only and your zip code. They have a searchable database of organizations, and the operators are friendly experts. Last night, I used this number to help a friend. All of his identifying documents had been stolen and his only hope for getting off of the streets was his birth certificate in Colorado. Stranded, he needed bus fare. I called 2-1-1 and gave him the number for travel assistance. He now has the choice to go there, advocate for himself, and receive assistance from someone more informed than I.
- Volunteer. You learn about other organizations by osmosis.
A searchable database similar to the one used by 2-1-1 operators. Just surfing it for 10 minutes today will give you an idea of what’s around.
- Find a list. Hospitals have them, churches have them, the internet has them, lists are everywhere. If you take an hour out of your day this week, I’m sure you’ll find one. If you need help, send me a message. For example, Nashville has a pamphlet with all of the available meals in town – times and addresses. There are at least 2 free meals offered for every meal, every day of the week, in Nashville. Find lists and keep them in your glove box, in your office, in your backpack and don’t be afraid to give them away. Here’s one for Nashville.
Don’t try to memorize all of the available resources in your town. Just know how to find the information, because someday, someone is going to ask you for it. Give them dignity by offering of yourself while letting them be responsible for their own story.
What did I miss? Feel free to fill in the blanks or leave your opinion.