HOW TO START A MINISTRY TO THE POOR IN YOUR COMMUNITY – Part 5
by Keith Giles
This is the final installment in our series on how you can start a ministry to the poor in your community.
If you have any questions, comments or ideas youd like to share please feel free to email them to me directly at "elysiansky" at "hotmail" dot com.
MINISTRY TO THE HOMELESS – WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
Ministry to the classically homeless is much more challenging than you might think.
Our family has centered mainly on ministry to families who live in motels or to individuals who find themselves suddenly in danger of becoming homeless, or to the elderly.
Ministry to those who have lived on the streets for long periods of time, those I call "Classically Homeless", can be difficult. Here's some of why that is and what can be done to provide assistance.
WHY ARE THEY HOMELESS?
Many of those who live in a state of long-term homelessness are there because of drugs, alcohol or mental illness issues.
For those who are homeless because of addiction and substance abuse issues, you should keep in mind that they will do whatever it takes to get money from you in order to get their drug of choice. Don't be surprised or offended if they lie to you. Don't be afraid to tell them you know they are lying (if you suspect it to be so). Honesty can go a long way and it helps them to know you're not easily fooled.
HOW TO HELP
Usually the best course of action to take is to help them with the condition in place that they seek out help for their addiction. So, if you buy them something to eat or if you put them in a hotel, etc. you let them know that next time your helping them will depend on whether or not they have followed through with getting off the streets and addressing their greater need to escape addiction.
MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES
Many of those who are living on the streets for long periods of time are dealing with mental health issues. Local mental health hospitals have the unfortunate habit of releasing residents who are not dangerous to themselves or to others due to over-crowding and a lack of funding. This puts many homeless on the streets who are not taking their medications and are suffering (not just due to hunger but also the pain of their illness) without any hope of getting better.
Communication with them can be difficult, if not impossible. Some cannot carry on a coherent conversation while others can appear lucid at first and then drift off into delusional behavior and display wild mood swings and unexpected changes due to their illness.
HOW TO HELP
In these cases I usually refer them, if possible, to a local mental wellness organization or to a non-profit that is more adept at treating people like this since it's very far outside my area of expertise.
Of course, not all of those who are homeless are mentally ill or struggling with addictions. Some of them have emotional issues and others have simply fallen deeper into the pit of poverty due to a loss of employment or other unexpected event.
Ministry to the classically homeless is much more difficult to do as a family due to the erratic and sometimes frightening behavior which can be encountered. Our family has focused mainly on ministry to the elderly and to families living in motels or in low-income housing since its something we can do with our children. However, there is plenty of great ministry to be done with those who are living in long-term homelessness. This will usually involve a more specialized skill-set and typically requires a person have lots of patience and a high level of discernment.
MINISTRY TO PROSTITUTES – INTO THE REAL DARKNESS
I've only been out about four times to the streets here in Orange County to minister to women caught in prostitution. Most of what I've learned is based on research and several crushing episodes of utter, empty defeat and failure.
This ministry is easily the most challenging and "outside my comfort zone". It means entering a dark, dangerous world where you are an outsider and the level of commitment required is off the charts.
First, a little bit of background about the issue.
HARD TO QUIT
Most girls who are on the streets will either get off and back into a normal life in the first three months or it will be another ten years before they can escape this lifestyle. Why? Because the work is so repugnant and degrading, at first, that if they're ever going to escape it has to be in those first few months. Otherwise, they get trapped into this lifestyle through fear of their pimp and/or through dependence on the drugs their pimp supplies them with.
HOOKED BY FEAR AND ADDICTION
What keeps most girls on the streets is the fear of being abused or killed by their pimp, and/or their need to keep an expensive drug habit going. Their pimps usually get them hooked on drugs as quickly as they can in order to control them. They know that no other lifestyle would afford their girls the kind of money they need to keep the drugs flowing, so the girls are essentially trapped into this life of prostitution.
Another difficult and impossible situation is where you have forced prostitution through organized crime syndicates. Many girls are here from Russia, the Ukraine, Romania, Thailand, Cambodia, and other impoverished nations. Many were tricked into coming here and are kept here by the threat of harm to their families back in their home country. They cannot leave, even if they desperately want to escape, because to leave would mean the murder of their mother, father, siblings, etc.
It's very shocking to realize that human slavery is alive and well in the United States of America. Just about a year ago the Orange County Police Department broke up the largest human trafficking/forced prostitution ring in the history of this region. I remember it because it was just weeks before the Freedom Day on March 25th at Vanguard where hundreds gathered to protest slavery and bring attention to this very real problem.
America is the number one market for human sexual slavery. Anaheim, the home of Disneyland, is one of the largest markets for human trafficking in the Nation.
You can find out more information about this online at
You'll encounter one of four different kinds of girls who work on the streets.
1)Street level- Normally these are homeless girls who have no pimp and work prostitution for the food and for drugs. It's purely survival and quick cash.
2)Weekenders- These girls come and work to support their children or save money for college or other reasons. They are healthy and generally wear clean, attractive clothing.
3)Circuit Girls- These girls work a circuit throughout California, Nevada, Florida, etc. They wear exaggerated clothing (very Hollywood-esque). These look the most like obvious prostitutes and are the easiest to spot.
4)Transvestite- A man who dresses like a woman to turn tricks. Some have had surgery and take hormones to round off the illusion. You think it would be easy to tell the difference. You would be wrong.
*Stay Up Late
Due to the nature of this ministry, to find the girls you need to be where they are, and that means on the streets between 12am and 4am. You're guaranteed to loose sleep over this ministry.
If you go out you need to always stay in mixed teams of guys and girls. It's a bad idea for guys to go out alone, since they might be arrested for soliciting, and it's not safe for girls to go out alone either. Mixed groups of at least four people work best.
*Pray, Pray, Pray
Prayer is crucial since you are entering into the Enemy's camp. This is where the Kingdom of Darkness clashes with the Kingdom of God. Expect a lot of spiritual attack at home and during the ministry time.
You mainly want to get to know these girls. As with other ministries weve discussed thus far, consistency is the key. Build a relationship. Buy them breakfast if they'll let you. Listen to their stories. Ask them what they need and try to meet practical needs.
One local ministry to prostitutes brings gift bags to the girls with make-up supplies, gift cards to shops and food stores, clothing stores, etc. It brings down their guard and allows you a chance to smile, bless them, find out their names and ask if you can pray for them.
Believe it or not, getting to know these guys can be a significant part of the process. One ministry I know of actually spends a lot of time trying to help these guys change their lives and turn to Christ. If they do, the girls usually follow and the operation is shut down because the girls, and their pimp, have surrendered to Christ and are seeking to live a new life.
Sadly, 98% of the girls who are on the streets now will stay there, and die there. This means that out of every 100 girls you reach out to, only 2 of them will get off the streets and stay off.
For those who do get off the streets, the process means getting off the streets and then relapsing over and over again for a few years before finally, eventually, getting off the streets for life.
Of course, these statistics don't tell the whole story. Some girls get off and stay off in one shot, some leave after several years, others after only a few months. But you should know what you're getting into before you commit to such a challenging ministry.
GETTING THEM REAL HELP
If you encounter girls who are under 18 you should refer them to "Children of the Night" (if you have one in your area) or even the local police department. These are minors who need to be rescued from this lifestyle.
The challenge I've run into is the lack of resources for girls who are under 18, don't have a Driver's License, or a SS card. These are usually girls who are here illegally or runaways.
If the girl is over 18 you can send them to Teen Challenge and/or another drug and alcohol treatment center where their addictions can be addressed and they can receive spiritual guidance and emotional healing. Sadly, most non-profit groups will not accept a girl who is under 18. Go figure.
What is really needed to minister to these girls is a long list of resources:
*Free Child Care
*Healthcare access (for health checkups, STD's, etc.)
As I said before, the most challenging and overwhelming ministry I've ever known is ministry to prostitutes. Not for the faint of heart.
I know this series doesn't even come close to scratching the surface of this topic of serving the poor and the homeless and people in need, but after a five week series I think it's time to move on to other topics at the [Subversive Underground].
I do hope you will email me directly if you have further questions or response to this series of articles. Many of you have already asked me for permission to reprint them and use in your Church or ministry efforts. That's what these are for. I do appreciate knowing about where these are being used and how, but otherwise they're meant to help you to serve others more effectively.