Myth Two: Serving the homeless is unsafe

Bullet welcoming volunteers to orientation

Bullet welcoming volunteers to orientation

I get asked a lot, “Is it safe?” serving at Night Strike.  

The answer is YES!

I’m not going to lie, Portland has a motto, “Keep Portland Weird,” and our guests are no exception.  You might see or hear some weird things.  But I truly believe that God is protecting us under the  Bridge.  In 10 years, there hasn’t been anything truly terrible.  That being said, before every Night Strike we hold a quick orientation at 7PM at Liberation Street Church.  During which, we go over some rules to live by.  Personally, I use these rules, whether I’m under the Bridge or not.  Just anytime I’m interacting with anyone I think is homeless.  Hopefully, these rules will encourage you to step out and talk to people and still feel safe.

Here are the “Rules to Live By”

This might seem obvious, but dress appropriate.  Be modest.  You’ll be moving around, you want to be comfortable standing up, sitting down, and lending a hand when needed.  Make sure you wear clothes toed shoes.  You never know what will be under the Bridge, you don’t want to step on broken glass in flip flops!

Be careful when sharing personal information.  I’m all about sharing your name, where you are from and who you are.  That being said, in the year and a half I’ve been serving under the Bridge, I’ve given my phone number to one guest.

Giving money, I know this is a touchy subject for people.  Personally, I don’t give money to guests.  I’d rather give money to charities that I support, I believe they can stretch a dollar a lot better than a single person can.  I do however, hand out food and bus passes when people ask for them.  You could also give out blessing bags.  People are asking for help, money can solve some of them, but not everything.

Be careful when approaching animals.  Most of them are trained to protect their owners.  Just ask permission.  Guests will let you know if their pets are friendly or not.

Ladies in particular, just leave uncomfortable conversations.  You know what I mean.  Don’t sit and take it.  Just turn and a walk away.  You aren’t doing that guest any favors and you aren’t doing yourself any favors either.  This isn’t the time to be polite, they aren’t being polite to you.

This goes along with leaving uncomfortable conversations, but no touching.  I’m a big fan of hand shakes, high fives and the occasional side hugs.  Just be aware that guests can go from being completely ignored for days or longer to having someone acknowledge them, make eye contact and care about them and their story.  Touching can just be super confusing.

Watch your words.  Don’t make promises.  Our guests have been lied too, way too often.  You don’t want to be part of that broken cycle, trust me.  You might have every intention of bringing a sleeping bag or meeting up with them.  But things come up, family commitments or work.

Evangelism, is a good thing.  But only if you get the chance to build a relationship before that.  Really get to know people, know their name, hear their story before your share yours.  Ask if you can pray for them.  If they don’t want your prayers, respect their wishes.  You can pray for them in your car or before you go to bed at night.

Hope these tips help you feel armed to step outside your comfort zone.  If you want some more ways to step outside your comfort zone consider the following:

  1. Come serve at Night Strike.  Come serve in a safe environment and engage with a community you might not normally get the chance to talk with.
  2. Consider donating to Beyond the Bridge, we have the chance to meet more needs for this community with a mobile medical clinic.
  3. Step outside your comfort zone and go out of your way to talk to someone you normally wouldn’t acknowledge.  It might surprise you how the conversation goes.

Have you served before, what would you add to this list?

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