safe haven

Since I’ve moved to Chicago, I’ve always struggled with how to engage with homeless people.

As I ran into work on Thursday morning, a middle-aged man was sitting in the middle of the sidewalk. I slowed down. In a strained voice, he said, “Please help.”

Since I’ve moved to Chicago, I’ve always struggled with how to engage with homeless people.

Sometimes I would give them money. Sometimes I wouldn’t.

And then years ago, I read a study that said, “If you give a homeless person money, they will buy drugs or alcohol with it.”

So armed with a new justification, I did what everyone else does: I ignored them and walked on by when they asked for help.

The worst part about it is, I’ve been in their position. While not homeless or addicted, I did beg for train fare to go home to see my dying mother.

I still couldn’t see what I should do in these daily interactions, until one day my family came to visit me for lunch at the office.

As we were walking down the street, we walked by a homeless person. As much as I hate to admit this, I didn’t even notice him.

I’m holding hands with my daughter and she stopped walking and said, “Daddy, why didn’t you help him?”

All at once, I realized what I was doing: I was the priest in the story of the Good Samaritan.

I did the exact same thing as the Levite. My brother was on the street asking for help, and I did nothing.

I couldn’t lean down and say, “Fiona, we would help him, but based on a research paper, he is going to buy drugs.”

So I did what any over-reacting father would do: I opened my wallet, took out $20 and said, “Here. Let’s give this to him.”

We turned around and gave him the money.

As we walked away, I’ll be honest: I felt pretty good about myself. And for good reason. Matthew 5:42 says, “Give to those who ask you.” There was no caveat that said, “Unless you think it will be spent on something you wouldn’t approve of.”

In the next block we saw another homeless person. Fiona looked up at me. I realized that at this pace, I was about to go broke if we walked three more blocks.

So when Neli Vazquez Rowland, the founder of A Safe Haven, an organization that helps thousands of homeless people every day, came on the Stay and Fight podcast this week, I asked her, “What should I do when I walk by a homeless person.”

Without hesitation, Neli handed me a stack of business cards. The cards give the address and phone number for A Safe Haven. More importantly, A Safe Haven doesn’t just provide housing and drug treatment programs, it provides jobs and dignity.

The result is that A Safe Haven has a 200% higher success rate than normal drug treatment facilities.

So today, as I ran into work, I slowed down when someone asked for help. I asked his name. He said, “Craig.” I said, “Craig, I have someone who can help.” I handed him a business card for A Safe Haven, paperclipped with $2 for bus fare.

With tears in his eyes, Craig said, “God bless you.”

Not such a struggle anymore.

Matt

P.S. The Illinois Policy Institute does a lot of grassroots work — door knocking, phone calls, spreading the gospel of free markets. Going forward, we will be partnering with A Safe Haven to use their temp agency to employ formerly homeless people to evangelize the miracle of the free market in communities we have never been able to reach before. And I can’t think of better ambassadors than people’s lives who have been changed because of work.

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Matt Paprocki

President @illinoispolicy the nation’s leading state-based think tank.