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Assessing Needs vs. Wants
Created in God's Image&Likeness
In addition to the Gospel Rescue Mission providing food, shelter and clothing to desperate people, we also adhere to the dignity and worth of a human being who is created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26). A homeless person is one who is created in God's image and has unique talents, skills and gifts which can be used to bring glory to God. Therefore, it is our prayer and desire to assess each homeless person's life very carefully so that we can assist him or her in developing their full potential.
When Helping Hurts by Authors Corbett&Fikkert
Sometimes, however, that means saying "no" to certain things while encouraging greater autonomy or independence. For instance, GRM is careful not to provide money to the homeless which may be used for smoking, drinking or taking drugs. These could hinder a person's recovery and would be poor stewardship of funds.
According to the authors of When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor, shelters, churches and relief agencies must distinguish between a need for providing instant relief, rehabilitation, and community development.
Tsunami and earthquake victims are those who need immediate emergency aid, for example. At the mission we have women who have been abandoned by a husband or boyfriend and who have no family in Southern Oregon. Some are abused and escape with only the clothing on their backs. Others have lost jobs, their homes and a car through no fault of their own.
Rehabilitation occurs once the needs of emergency aid have been met. For instance, in the case of a tsunami or earthquake it is important to help victims to rebuild their own damaged infrastructure, homes and businesses. The goal is to rebuild to pre-crisis conditions. Mission residents may need help in acquiring a driver's license, securing decent clothing to apply for a job and time to recuperate from an illness before they can become independent again.
Community Development occurs when local people use local resources, talents and social connections to work toward bettering themselves. It may involve local people mentoring or tutoring homeless adults who wish to pass the GED high school equivalency exam or to learn new skills.
How Does This Apply to Us?
According to authors Corbett and Fikkert the biggest mistake that Christian organizations make is to apply relief to situations and people who might do better in the long run with rehabilitation or development. Many people who present themselves for aid at a shelter or church state that they need emergency help. But, do they really?
Questions to Ask
Is there really a crisis? What will happen to the individual if the shelter or church does not offer financial aid or shelter? How is the individual himself responsible for the crisis? For instance, could the family who cannot pay the utility bill use space heaters instead of whole house heating? Could a woman about to lose her house to foreclosure rent rooms to boarders who might bring in extra income? Should the drunkard be placed in a sobering facility rather than left on the streets?
In a few situations GRM has seen homeless residents lose their children to foster care due to their own indulgence in drugs. The children were left stranded…alone…while the parents partied! Meanwhile, the parents trashed their rooms at the shelter and took advantage of free room and board. Should GRM continue to offer shelter to these negligent parents? Is that responsible action? Would you support these parents? (We refused further aid to them).
In another case a middle-age man gambled away all of his new wife's savings leaving her and himself destitute. While gambling he smoked pot, cigarettes and took meth. At this point his parents and relatives wanted nothing to do with him. He became homeless. The mission took him in for awhile as long as he could contribute cooking and computer services. But, should we? Did he deserve our help? Is this what our Lord would want us to do?
As we continue this discussion, please let us know what you would do in similar situations. We are looking to help resolve the issue of "needs" vs. "wants" at the Gospel Rescue Mission with the help of our community. Let us know what you think…your opinions matter.
Corbett, Steve and Brian Fikkert. 2009. When helping hurts: How to alleviate poverty without hurting the poor and yourself. Chicago: Moody.
(A special thanks to Pastor Mark Sumpter from Grants Pass Youth for Christ and Faith Orthodox Presbyterian Church for giving us a copy of this book).
Valorie Emilio teaches and works with women at the Gospel Rescue Mission in Grants Pass, Oregon, where her husband, Ken, serves as Director.
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