Running a ‘Drop In’ for the Homeless
John Davies, Reading, England
In October 2001, two brethren from the assembly that meets at Providence Chapel, went into Reading town centre on a Saturday night, with an exercise to meet the folk that beg on the streets. Their motivation came from a conviction that while giving money to a begging drug addict, or an alcoholic, was irresponsible, just giving a tract and passing by was neither fulfilling their responsibility to evangelize, nor a true reflection of the character of Christ.
Ignorant of what they should do, how they should go about it, and conscious that they were unprofitable servants, they went out, armed just with tracts! They saw no one. During the next week the Lord spoke to them and put into their hearts to take some hot drinks and chocolate biscuits with them, which they did. They saw two ¨C a man (A) and his pregnant partner (B). They sat down with them and just started to chat. They explained very simply what they were seeking to do ¨C to reach out to them with the love of God in a very practical way. They asked about them, their names, their history and took an interest in them as people. They didn¡¯t give much away ¨C why should they? ¨C trust and confidence is earned ¨C they had been let down by so many folk before. They did, however, tell the two brethren where they could meet other beggars on the streets.
So started a regular (every week without fail) work to meet and help the street folk of Reading. The bag got bigger, as the brothers learned what was appropriate to take ¨C sandwiches, biscuits, tea, coffee, hot chocolate, soup, chocolate cakes. The weekly visit earned first friendship, then confidence, and finally trust. They began to be more open and honest, and opportunities to present the Saviour to them opened up, and their attention to it more sincere. Further opportunities to help in other ways became more frequent, provision of sleeping bags or blankets, lifts to A&E, a desperate drive with B to the maternity unit twenty minutes before the baby was born, etc. All these opportunities served to build up relationships and respect with the street folk, as they experienced something (though very small) of the great love of God. The need to reach these folk was always made more pertinent as one and another would be ushered into eternity because of their addiction.
After two years, a Christian charity in Reading opened a night shelter for three months, no more than 100 metres from Providence Chapel. Several of the believers were exercised to visit the shelter during the evenings to serve and sit with the folk that came in. From 8 p.m. (when it opened) to 11 p.m. (when visitors had to leave) there were many opportunities to first, show the gospel in a practical way, which then lead to opportunities to talk about the Lord. The value of such a work was so impressed upon the believers that when the shelter had to close they were exercised to start a ¡®Drop In¡¯ on a Monday evening at the Chapel.
Prayer and thought went in to the work before it commenced. A similar type of work was visited in Bedfordshire to see how they operated and advice from believers already involved in such a work was also taken. The Drop In first opened on April 7th 2003 and fifteen came the first week, thirty-five the second, fifty the third; now seventy to eighty regularly come in every week.
The aims of the Drop In are several:
¡ñ to demonstrate the love of God in a practical way.
¡ñ to provide food and drinks on an unconditional basis.
¡ñ to provide a safe, welcoming and loving environment for folk to come into and feel free to talk about issues in their lives, and so present the Saviour to them. In order to achieve these aims a number of things have to happen.
Two brothers welcome the folk in at the front door, ensuring no alcohol enters the premises. Alcohol voluntarily given up at the door is returned to them when they leave the premises. Any person under the heavy influence of either drugs or alcohol is prevented from entering the building and served outside. It is important that they do not enter the building because their behaviour can result in a compromise in the safety of both helpers and users. It is important that folk coming into the Drop In know that they are coming to a safe, as well as caring, environment. A similar Drop In that opened soon after in Reading, and that did not have such enforcement, was closed by the authorities only months later as a result of unruly behaviour and complaints from the neighbourhood.
The toilets are manned. Only one person at a time allowed in either the ladies or gents. The toilets are checked after every usage and any individual misusing the facility is challenged.
Misbehaviour is met with an appropriate ban. Bans are given out for foul or abusive language, physical or verbal abuse to helpers or users of the Drop In, threatening behaviour, bringing alcohol or drugs onto the premises, drinking or using alcohol or drugs on the premises, etc. The length of the ban depends on the misbehaviour and persistence of the offender. At the start of the Drop In, while we were establishing ourselves amongst the folk, discipline was a challenge and frequent use of bans was necessary, particularly amongst the alcoholics. However, they soon realized that the rules were necessary, and the support of the other users of the Drop In towards the helpers quickly reinforced the message, so that now, five years on, the use of the ban is rarely necessary.
Food and drinks are given completely unconditionally, no matter who the person is, or what he may have done, ¡®For he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust¡¯, Matt. 5. 45.
The standard menu is jacket potatoes with cheese and beans, cheese and/or ham toasted sandwiches (a real hit ¨C going through fourteen to sixteen loaves of bread each week), cakes (lots of them), and hot and cold drinks. Occasionally we will serve sausages or pie and chips. At Christmas we serve a Christmas dinner.
Clothes that are donated are provided for them. New clothes are ideal. Secondhand clothes are carefully screened. If they are dirty or worn they are not put out for the users as we feel it is a slur on the name of the Lord. The most needed items are sleeping bags and blankets, we never seem to have enough.
There is no epilogue. The same Drop In that closed because of unruly behaviour also insisted on having an epilogue. It only brought resentment from the needy, and the accusation that ¡®they only feed us to preach at us¡¯. While this accusation was probably untrue, we found that a more powerful way of reaching them with the gospel was to have believers sitting with them at the tables and chatting to them on an individual basis. This allows a much more personal interaction with them, getting to know them as real people, appreciating their circumstances, listening to them and their story, showing care and compassion to them, trying to help in any practical way, which inevitably leads to real openings to talk to them about the Saviour. Christian literature (which needs to be appropriate and sensitive) is always displayed and freely available. The Drop In is not a recruitment opportunity for the Sunday gospel meeting ¨C it is evangelism in its own right. The need is the same (salvation from sin), so we preach the same gospel and present the same Saviour.
To run a Drop In like this, there needs to be a team of Christian helpers, who are committed to the work, prepared to turn up every Monday evening, get their hands dirty, draw alongside folk, and show them the love of God. We have a team of twenty such believers, without which the Drop In could not happen. It is important that they are all believers. One frequent criticism heard is, ¡®You¡¯re just a charity; you¡¯re just doing a social service¡¯. If you asked the folk that come through the doors, if you sat down and put yourself in their shoes you would realize how wrong the criticism is. One thing that we have learned from them is that believers do charitable works (which they should do) in a different way to unbelievers. One woman said, ¡®We love coming here, because you don¡¯t just serve us, you love us¡¯. Another man said, ¡®The one thing I like about you folk is that you don¡¯t have to preach the gospel at us, we see it in your faces¡¯. The Lord said in Matthew chapter 5 verse 16, ¡®Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven¡¯.
The Drop In has been an amazing opportunity to reach out to folk that would otherwise have never come through the door of the Chapel. It has put us on the map as far as the local community is concerned. We are well known in the local community, amongst the police, social services, street services, the local and national BBC radio stations, and other Christian communities as a people who ¡®will help you¡¯ ¨C isn¡¯t that what we should be? Isn¡¯t that what the Saviour was - a friend of publicans and sinners? Paul says in Titus chapter 3 verse 8, ¡®This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men¡¯.
It has really opened up opportunities to draw alongside folk who have suffered years of abuse, addiction, been involved with criminality and gang fighting, and show them that God really loves them. Space is not sufficient to tell of the number of individuals whose lives have been affected by the love of God through the outreach of the Drop In, as we seek to represent the One ¡®who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works¡¯, Titus 2. 14.
Further information may be had from emailing the following address: firstname.lastname@example.org