For over 6 years, our church has served dinner at the Fox Valley Warming Shelter every month. From the very beginning of Appleton Gospel, we jumped at the opportunity to come alongside a tremendous local partner, like the Fox Valley Warming Shelter, and help them serve people in need in our community. We see this work as a logical conclusion to our faith. Afterall, Jesus “did not come to be served, but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many” (Mk 10:45). Why would we not do the same? According to the Post Crescent, “The Fox Cities typically have 300 to 350 people experiencing homelessness, including those sleeping outdoors and those living in emergency shelters, transitional housing or domestic violence shelters.” 1
But volunteering at the Fox Valley Warming Shelter (or another organization like Homeless Connections, The Harbor House, or the Salvation Army) can be intimidating if you’ve never done it before. What’s it like? What if something weird happens? These fears are only natural. But with the experience of serving thousands of meals over the years, I know there’s nothing to fear. I’d like to share 5 Myths About Homeless People that might prevent us from serving those in need:
1. They are lazy.
Hey, I have a home, and I can be lazy. Having a home doesn’t automatically make you a hard worker. We’re all lazy sometimes. But homeless people aren’t necessarily lazy. At the shelter, we pack lunches for many men and women who have jobs and are working to get out of homelessness. Imagine working a 12-hour shift and then going back to a shelter to sleep. Not exactly a picture of relaxation, right? That’s hard work!
2. They have a cell phone, so they must not really need my help.
Having a cell phone or even a car doesn’t mean you have a place to live. People experience homelessness for a variety of reasons. Maybe they…
- just moved to town and had nowhere to stay
- recently ended a relationship and were kicked out
- had a financial crisis and don’t have the credit to qualify for an apartment
- were being abused and needed to flee
- struggled with addiction or something else
Sometimes they have other possessions, sometimes they have relatively little. Also, a cell phone is an essential item when you’re looking for a job. How else would a prospective employer get back to you?
3. They are ungrateful.
This is an easy myth to bust. Every time we serve, multiple people make a point to thank us—often by name! The gratitude is palpable. When someone helps you with something, how does that make you feel? Thankful, I bet. Even if someone was ungrateful, does that make it wrong to serve their needs? I don’t think so.
4. Homeless people are scary.
For the majority of people we serve, you would never know they were experiencing homelessness. They’re just people! A mom with grown kids. A 20-something single guy. A senior veteran. Over 95% of the time, we have no conflicts or issues at all. In the rare instance of a problem, the shelter staff members quickly intervene. Most people are in some sort of life transition and just need a hand to take the next step.
5. Homelessness is the most important thing about them.
Homeless people are, more accurately, PEOPLE who are experiencing homelessness. Where they live is not their primary identity. They’re people who are made in the image of God. People who have family and friends and many different life experiences. People who have hopes and dreams. People with many gifts to offer to our community—but simply have immediate needs. We must never let a person’s circumstances define their value or purpose.
Let’s move past our fears and courageously help our neighbors in need here in Appleton. This is a wonderful community, but there is still much work to be done.