Guest post by Josiah Haken
I’ve worked at New York City Relief, a Hope for New York affiliate that serves men and women living on the streets, for seven years now. In that time, I have talked with countless individuals struggling with homelessness, addiction, mental health issues, and every kind of physical and emotional trauma you could imagine.
But I have also been astonished by the movement of God in the lives of my neighbors who are homeless. I have learned from them and their experiences, and I have come to know and love God more fully as a result of knowing and walking alongside of those who many of us would consider “the least of these.”
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but here are five things I’ve learned over the last seven years about how to best love my neighbors experiencing homelessness:
1. Sometimes all you can say is “I’m sorry.”
When someone is detailing the horrors, challenges, and circumstances that have led them to a place of homelessness, sometimes there really isn’t much to say other than, “I’m sorry.”
Most homeless folks are dealing with trauma that the rest of us could hardly imagine, let alone empathize with. Yet, my experience tells me that if we have the courage to follow God into a space that we don’t understand or feel equipped to handle, there will always be others who meet us there to make up the difference.
2. Helping someone is not about a return on investment.
After seven years of doing this work with countless failures and false starts, I think the point is simply to remember that value is defined by presence, and not by productivity. With every failed attempt to help someone get off the street, we are given the opportunity to redefine how worth is ascribed.
If you think your investment is only as valuable as the return you get, you will be perpetually disappointed and you will constantly attach strings and expectations to your generosity that will drain the power out of your sacrifice. The point is that to live and love like Jesus means ascribing worth to the worthless, hope to the hopeless, and mercy to the merciless, regardless of what they do with it along the way.
3. Our homeless neighbors are not a problem to be solved.
What we think about homelessness matters. If you assume every panhandler or homeless person you see is addicted to drugs or alcohol and cannot do anything but spend their money in a self-destructive manner, you will inevitably miss the opportunity of a lifetime to engage with — and learn from — the child of God who is right in front of you.
Richard Galloway, one of the founders of New York City Relief, likes to say, “The poor are not a problem to be solved, but a portal to the heart of God.” After seven years of traveling in and out of that portal, I can absolutely affirm that there is nowhere on earth you will feel the presence of God more powerfully than when you’re talking to a new friend who sleeps every single night on a cardboard mattress.
4. Homelessness is not a state of being.
That guy you walk past on your way to work every day is a human being who is dealing with homelessness, not a homeless being. There is a difference. In our society we are way too conditioned to associate our being with our doing. We are not what we do, and the same should be remembered about our homeless neighbors.
Our society almost always considers homelessness an identity rather than a situation. This way of thinking has infected us all. We must consider the language we use and the way we talk about people in order to change the way we interact with them. As long as we think that our homeless neighbors are more “homeless” than they are “neighbors”, we will treat them like an issue to be addressed instead of person to be loved.
5. Loving our neighbors is not a cherry on top of our theological sundae.
We tell volunteers all the time that one of the main priorities of our organization is to “love the person in front of you.” We also believe that the mandate of Isaiah 58 “to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter — when you see the naked, to clothe them …” is not just an add-on to our faith.
This is essential to the call of every Christian. It is a call to connect with people and point them to local resources and programs that offer food, shelter, clothing, and the chance at a new life through advocacy and rehabilitation — and to new life in and through Jesus Christ.
Josiah Haken is the VP of Outreach at New York City Relief. He lives in New Jersey with his wife and two children. You can read more about him and his work with NYC Relief at thereliefbus-teamhaken.org. This post originally appeared in the February 2019 Redeemer Report.
So you want to get involved, to give back, to make a difference in the lives of those less fortunate.
Perhaps you’ve donated to Helping Up Mission and other organizations, and maybe you’ve volunteered with us. These are all wonderful things – but you want to go deeper. You want to move beyond transactional interactions to real, mutual relationships with people who are materially poor.
But where do you start?
You might consider working through the course Are You A Good Neighbor? with a friend.
Are You a Good Neighbor? is a self-paced online course from the authors of When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor… And Yourself. Here’s how they describe it:
Through the course, you’ll learn how to:
- Discover why healthy, two-way relationships are an important key to effectively helping people in poverty.
- Transform your heart, change your everyday habits, and improve your ministry with the poor.
- Learn from poverty experts, and apply that knowledge in your life, church, and community.
The course is designed to help you take an honest look at your beliefs, habits, and practices as they relate to poverty. You’ll develop some simple next steps you can take. And you’ll gain an expanded vision of how God is at work in the world.
– Chaplain Vic
Baltimore, MD (September 29, 2017) – Giving back to the community has always been a high priority for the Delbert Adams Construction Group (DACG). This week, DACG passed over the key to a new welcome booth to the folks at the Helping Up Mission. This booth is a parking lot icon and functions to welcome visitors.
To read the full article CLICK HERE
by Teddy M
Burning down my house of cards
I’m left sifting through the ashes
Embers drifting through the night
The framework down it crashes
The wreckage from the past behind me
It litters a broken road
I plod along a beast of burden
Driven by his master’s goad
I need to feed the monster
That has latched on to my soul
No matter how hard I seem to try
I can’t fill this God sized hole
Willingly I sell my soul
Ten dollars at a time
And trade my family, friends and life
For just another dime
Now these four walls are closing in
My world it keeps on shrinking
Captain on this listing ship
And down with it I’m sinking
I scream out loud to God for help
But it’s Him I cannot find
I’ve been swallowed by the gates of hell
And it’s driving me out of my mind.
It doesn’t have to be this way
I can stop anytime I want to
But fear it keeps me chained in darkness
So all I’ll ever do is haunt you
Passing through the stream of life
With hardly the smallest flutter
The word that I would use to ask for help
I just cannot seem to utter
This God-sized hole is just so big
That no light or joy escapes it
This demon has its claws in me
And I just can’t seem to shake it
All these years have passed me by
Time it slips right through my hands
Wondering how I got this way
What happened to all my plans?
I gave it all away for nothing
And cheaply sold my soul
No matter what I try to do
Only God can fill this hole.
For years, men in the addiction recovery program at Helping Up Mission have written poetry as a part of their recovery process. Now, they have gathered, edited, and published a sampling of their writings as a book: War of Grace: Poems from the Front Lines of Recovery. This video was produced in collaboration with the amazing team at Mozell Films.
You can download the ebook and audiobook: free of charge, at:
A recovery poem by Jason N:
Standing on this rooftop
In this beautifully broken home
My city all around me
As far as my eye could roam
The lights and the chatter
Streaming through my mind
The things I can remember
And some I’ve left behind
There’s a quiet desperation
Hanging in the air
Things seem to be in ruins
And it smells of disrepair
There’s roads down there, so many roads
That I’ve often traveled on
A bad turn here, a bad turn there
And I wonder where I’ve gone
The city lights so bright
They seemed to sing out my name
The side streets so bleak and dark
And always filled with shame
But there’s good in this city!
There’s a desire which still burns
And it’s hidden in plain sight
Around every twist and turn
So don’t just stand there angry
And think what this city’s done to you
This city has its own life
And you hurt it a little too
So I’ll be standing on this rooftop
In this perfect time and place
I’ll pray for my city
And gladly defend its case
For years, men in the addiction recovery program at Helping Up Mission have written poetry as a part of their recovery process. Now, they have gathered, edited, and published a sampling of their writings as a book: War of Grace: Poems from the Front Lines of Recovery.
You can download the ebook and audiobook: free of charge, at:
Follow us on Instagram for snapshots of men in the process of recovery.
This video highlights the recovery stories of three men, as told by their loved ones.
- Wayne is studying at Stratford University to become a chef.
- Aaron is mentoring young boys in the city through Acts4Youth.
- Drew is on staff here at Helping Up Mission, handling media and communications.
Watch short interviews with these three men here:
“Defined” was produced in collaboration with Mozell Films.
We partnered with Mozell Films to produce a beautiful video that captures who we are and what we do in less than 4 minutes. Enjoy and share!
Today is our 2016 Graduation Banquet – one of the most memorable moments of the year for us at Helping Up Mission. We partnered with Mozell Films to produce new videos, and today we’re releasing them to the world!
A Community of Hope
This video is an overview of who we are and what we do.
This video highlights the recovery stories of three men – Wayne, Aaron, and Drew – as told by their loved ones.
Recovering addicts give brutally honest definitions of shame, vulnerability, and hope – showing how the path from shame to hope leads through vulnerability, not around it.
The Serenity Prayer
Many people are familiar with the first stanza of the Serenity Prayer, written by Reinhold Neibuhr. But have you heard the whole thing?
We just released an ebook/audiobook collection of poems written by our men. Go to our poems page to download it for free!