Part 5: Do You Know Where I Came From?
All of us have a history that affects our perspective on life. Your family and the neighborhood you grew up in makes a difference to how you might live your life. We have had friends and have made decisions that have made an impact on our lives. The mistake we often make when we are helping the homeless (or anyone who is poor) is looking at how to help them, but using our history as the point of reference instead of looking at their life through the lenses of their history.
I learned this some time ago when I was helping a homeless lady pay for her storage unit. Her storage unit was $80 and she was really appreciative when I paid it. She even invited me to see her possessions. As I looked in her storage unit I saw a bunch of junk; she could probably replace everything for $300. So I asked how long she had the storage unit and was shocked when she said eight years. The engineer in me quickly did the math and realized in the last eight years she had spent $7,680 to store $300 worth of junk. So now, knowing how to help her, I just had to convince her that she needs to get rid of this junk and storage unit. When she gets her own place she can just reacquire the stuff; it just makes financial sense. As I explained my plan about getting rid of all this junk, I used the word “valuables." She pushed back. I was explaining to her that it doesn’t make sense to spend so much money on this storage unit, and she said something that would rock my world: "I know you think this stuff is junk; however, it’s my junk. It’s all I own. If I don’t have this storage unit then I don’t own anything. How would you feel if I asked you to give away all you own?"
When we try to help the homeless and poor without considering their experience and history, we can actually cause them harm. I know people who have parents that were addicted to drugs, have been sexually abused by a family member, and/or have had no close family members who has kept a steady job for more than two years. When we are trying to help the poor, we need to make sure that we take some time to get to know them. We need to consider their experiences and history before we try to force our ways, even if it is the right thing for them.
To see other Blogs in this series, click "Charity Hurts"