One way to respond to a panhandler

One morning this week, I was driving to a meeting, late as usual, and I came up to an intersection and saw a man flying a sign that said, “Homeless and hungry.” I didn’t have time to stop and talk to him, or tell him about the free meal places in town, but I remembered that just the day before, Audrie, my StreetWatch partner, had put a box of food behind the seat in my truck.

So while the light was red, I reached back and grabbed a can of vienna sausages and a package of tuna and crackers, and when the light turned green and I could get up closer to him, I handed him the food out the window and said, “God bless you.” He gave me a big smile and said, “Thank you. Thank you so much!” And then I had to drive on, because there was a line of cars behind me.  But it was something.  And I thought, “This would be such an easy way for people to help.  I should blog this…”

If you want to keep food in your car to give to a panhandler or homeless person, be sure that it doesn’t have to be cooked and that it’s easy to open (pop-top cans, easy-open plastic packaging, etc.)  Make sure that it’s non-perishable.  And bottled water and sports drinks are good, too.

P.S. Be prepared: Some people may refuse the food. If you offer, you’ve done what you can. Some people who fly signs are feeding their addictions, not their stomachs. Don’t judge. Addiction is an illness.  And if an addict is on the street flying a sign to get money to get high, you can be sure that more judgment is just about the last thing they need. Be kind. If you pray, say a prayer as you go…

Homeless: Discharged to the street in Greensboro

On Thursday afternoon, I went by to see friends on the block, at Lee and Eugene, and to let them know about dinner at the HIVE. One of my friends asked for help for his friend, who had just gotten out of the hospital. He’d had major surgery, and then been discharged back to the street, to the bridge where he’s lived for years. He has no job and no income, and was trying to find a way to get his medication, including the antibiotic to keep him from getting a post-surgical infection.

I called the church, but our congregational nurse is on vacation. I emailed a contact at HealthServe, hoping he’d been there, but haven’t heard back yet. I’m not even sure if they can tell me, because of privacy laws. I’m hoping they were able to help him get his meds. I can’t imagine sleeping under a bridge after having major surgery.

Later, I went on over to the HIVE and cooked dinner with the Food Not Bombs folks. As I was leaving to go meet friends at Ganache, I got a call from one of the downtown cops, who wanted to know if we had any food left. He was with a hungry homeless man who’d just been released from jail, and he wanted to know if I could bring him something to eat. So Tim filled a grocery bag with containers of rice, gumbo, bread and fruit, and added utensils, napkins and bottled water. I went downtown and met them, and gave the man the bag of food. He was so thankful to receive it. I talked to him about where to go to get some other things that he needed, and then I went on to meet my friends.

Later in the evening, the downtown cops encountered another homeless man, who’d just been discharged from the hospital. He was from out of town and had no money and nowhere to go. So I tried to help them find a place for him to sleep. First, I called Greensboro Urban Ministry and explained the situation. But all their beds were full. Then I called the Salvation Army. No bed for him there, either. There are no other emergency shelter options for homeless men in Greensboro.

I talked to him for a little while and found out that he’d come to Greensboro from out of state, looking for work. And I told him, quite honestly, that he’d probably picked the wrong place to look. The lack of work has been a central topic of discussion for a while lately among my homeless friends, and we’d been talking about it earlier in the day, on the block and at the HIVE. Jobs — even temp work — are few and far between. The man said he’d probably try to go back where he came from.

I told him that there were no shelter beds available and that I didn’t have any other options for him to sleep inside, but I knew of a place he could sleep outside that would be comparatively safe. It was a ways away from where we were, so a patrol officer came by to give him a ride, and we asked him to drive by the places that serve breakfast and lunch, which were on the way, so that the man would know where he could eat in the morning. He asked for a blanket, and I didn’t have one. I carry them in my truck once it starts getting cold at night, and I hadn’t realized that the chilly nights are already here. I told him I could get him one tomorrow, knowing as I said it, how inadequate that was. He said he hoped to be gone by tomorrow. And then he got in the police car and they pulled away.

One of the remaining officers looked at me and said, “I feel like we just failed him. As a city, that we failed him.” Yeah, me too.

Hospitals discharge people to the street. Jails discharge people to the street. Part of our ten year plan to end homelessness is supposed to include discharge planning to prevent people from being sent from a hospital or jail to the street. But if the shelters are full and there’s no other housing, then what do you do? Hospitals and jails are not housing providers. Shelters only have so many beds. Cops shouldn’t have to be social workers. I don’t know what the answer is. I just know that I agree with my cop friend. I feel like we failed that guy. And we failed the guy who had surgery and got sent back under a bridge without his medicine. And there are so many more like them…

Homeless breakfast: Getting served

From the News & Record, letters to the editor, 08/20/2008:

Urban Ministry serves homeless breakfast

Your article, “Discovering a need, blogger takes action” (A1, Aug. 14), contained incorrect information. It stated, “Hospitality House is the only place in the city that serves breakfast to the homeless.”

I have the opportunity to serve breakfast every Thursday morning at Greensboro Urban Ministry, where between 70 and 150 homeless people are served each morning. These breakfasts are prepared and served by members of First Lutheran Church, Lutheran Church of Our Father, the Episcopal Churches of Greensboro and others.

Each church/organization is responsible for one morning a week. Volunteers arrive at 6 a.m., cook, serve, clean and provide an uplifting message for the guests.

The opportunities in Greensboro to help those in need are endless. Let’s all do our part to show we care.

Susan Wilson

My response:

A follow-up article the next day stated:

“The nonprofit [Hospitality House] is the only place in the city that provides breakfast to people who are hungry every weekday except Wednesday, when the Greensboro Urban Ministry has a community breakfast. Urban Ministry otherwise serves breakfast only to those who stay overnight at the Weaver House.”

The letter writer, Ms. Wilson, serves breakfast for Weaver House residents. The Hospitality House serves unsheltered homeless people and other hungry people. Both are needed and appreciated.

We have also learned that St. Paul Baptist Church serves breakfast on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings. That location is a little over a mile southeast of the downtown area. (Glenwood Presbyterian and Nu Life Church serve breakfast on Saturdays. As far as we know, no one is currently serving breakfast on Sundays.)

The letter writer is correct that the opportunities are endless, because the need here is great. There are many homeless and hungry people in Greensboro. We have more homeless people than we have space in homeless shelters.

We are blessed to have people like Miss Terry at the Hospitality House who daily feed and serve those who would otherwise go without. Those of us who volunteered last week got a glimpse of how much work Miss Terry does, and we are even more appreciative now of her efforts to love and serve our friends.

Cara Michele

We served at least 100 for breakfast on Thursday and 150 for breakfast on Friday, and 150+ at Friday’s dinner. We served a different group of homeless folks than Greensboro Urban Ministry. There are a lot of homeless people in Greensboro. Many more than most people realize. And we still didn’t serve them all.