We started our homeless wash ministry in the summer. We figured summer would be a great time to launch the ministry because people don’t wear a lot of clothes in the summer here. I’ll tell you what, the first time that truck ever hit the alley and caught the eyes of homeless people, they thought it was a joke. Homeless people would look at this big, 16-foot truck wrapped in big, bright green and says, “Laundry for the homeless.” They would look at it and ask, “Is this for real?” And when we’d say, “Yes. Would you like to wash your clothes?” their first response would be, “This is all I have. What am I going to do? Just go buck naked right here in the alley?” It was a learning process.
I ordered some pods, pop-up tents, and we started carrying sweats and t-shirts or shorts and flip-flops on the truck, which gave the homeless something to wear while we were washing their clothes.
By first identifying and meeting the need, the homeless were like, “They get us.” That earned us the opportunity for meaningful conversation. The hard part is moving from conversation to connection because that’s where you find out if someone really wants help or not.
When we are training people, we talk about the parable of the sower. You have 25% that the Word takes root in and bears fruit. Don’t come out here on the street thinking you are going to get 90, 80, 70, 60 or even 50% of your homeless neighbors off the street. You are going to be greatly disappointed. But what if we could get 25% of them? I tell you, that would be a miracle!
When I’m out on the street, I keep in my mind that what separates me from the person on the street is God’s mercy. I have been to jail twice. The second time, I read a book about the grace and mercy of God. I think it was a jail-issued book, and I thought, “I wonder if God’s mercy could reach me?” Grace is something we get; we don’t deserve it. And mercy is something that we don’t get that we do deserve. I was sitting in jail, and I didn’t really want what I deserved. I didn’t really know what I deserved because that is in the hands of the judge, right? I read this book and I said, “I wonder…” For the first time in my life, I started to wonder. I wondered if God’s mercy could reach me. I went to my arraignment and I was NGO for a second-degree assault with a deadly weapon. I didn’t even know what that carried. The judge asked, “Does anybody else have anything to say before I give my decision?” One of the guys that another guy and I assaulted stood up and said, “I do, your honor. I’m asking you to let him go.”
I got set free! I got out of jail on Easter Sunday! I’m not even joking! I got out of jail on Easter Sunday. My girlfriend, now wife, and my mother-in-law came to me with this green Bible. I still have it. This was the first step of me seeking the Lord because I had experienced His mercy. I didn’t even know what mercy was.
When we go out into the streets, the mercy of God needs to drive the compassion of God. It needs to drive everything that we do because if not, we are going to be doing it for ourselves. We are going to be doing it to make ourselves feel better, rather than truly having compassion on those in need.
If your church would like to start its own homeless ministry, I would encourage you to start simple. Take somebody, maybe one person, and go put eyes on the local situation because geographically things are different, but it won’t take long to figure out where homeless are. Maybe there’s a feeding at a local church that you can connect with to scope out the homeless situation. Or maybe you just walk the areas that the homeless are in. Everybody’s comfort level is different.
For instance, I’m not going to take somebody who’s freshly delivered off meth out on the streets. I mean we have some of the worst areas. Northwest is horrible. They can easily slip back into that. I say that because that is something that people naturally want to do. When they are set free, they want to go right back out there immediately to help others, but a lot of times they get sucked back in if they don’t have proper discipleship and leadership with them. It depends on who it is.
Start small. Don’t try to impact every homeless person in your community. Just start with one name and conversation, because thy are very smart. I mean, it’s very hard to stay on the street. You have to be innovative. They have to figure out ways to stay alive on the street, get food and clothes, and so forth. A lot of it is done through manipulation, so they know how to read people. So if you are not real, they are going to know that. You want to start with a conversation so they actually know that you are real because if not, you can offer whatever and they are not going to engage with you. They are not going to trust you.
If helping the homeless is your heart, then just get started. Start small and see what God can do because God’s heart is for the homeless. I really believe in our culture the homeless are in a sense the current-day lepers that everybody just kind of walks by. Pastor, if God is pricking your heart to get out there, to help this demographic of people, then go put yourself where they are and ask the Lord how you can help them.
I am more than available to you, if you’d like a resource. If you want to come and look at our truck or ask questions, if you want pictures, we can help. We have inspired these trucks to be built all over the country, and we will do whatever we can to help fast track your truck so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel like we did. Just contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will be happy help you get started.
There is a great need for the local church to begin reaching out to the homeless in their community. I’m confident that you will see lives changed for God’s glory as you step out and minister to the daily needs of those without a place to call home.