I saw a guy panhandling at the corner of State and Pearl streets a couple of days recently.  I looked at him closely, but didn’t recognize him.  He had one of those “homeless, need help, God bless” signs.  Now folks, I’m going to share with y’all some truth about rescue ministry right about now.

I’ve been panhandled by the best of them.  I’ve been panhandled by guys who recognized me from Gateway Rescue Mission, and a couple of times I actually gave them a couple of bucks.  (I’ve also been cussed out for only giving a couple of bucks.)

One day I was having lunch with some co-workers at a downtown Jackson sandwich shop, when a panhandler dropped by our table to ask for help getting food.  I told him “this is your lucky day, because we all work at Gateway Rescue Mission and they’re serving lunch right now just around the corner.”  The guy split like a banana and made for someone else’s table.

So, I’d like to take this time to share with you my observations and opinion about people who work the street corners.  In a nutshell, most are con artists.  If you give them money, you’re a sucker.  I’ve heard folks say “the Spirit told me to give them money.”  I’ve heard preachers preach that you should ignore them at the peril of sinning.

Way back in my television reporting days, a buddy of mine did an undercover story on street panhandlers.  He got footage of them buying beer and going back to their motel at the end of the day.  If you give money to a street corner hustler, it may make you feel better.  It may make them feel better too, but not for the right reasons.  Most people seriously seeking food come to our kitchen, and know which churches and organizations offer food.

That’s why I don’t recognize most of the street corner hustlers.  They don’t come to Gateway Rescue Mission because they are running a con.

One rule of thumb to follow.  If someone asks for help, offer to buy them a meal.  If they’re serious, they’ll take you up on your offer.  I’ve had that happen a couple of times.  I’ve put gas in someone’s car.  But I’ve also been cussed out when I told a guy “I work at Gateway Rescue Mission and I’ll take you there right now to get you some food.”

True story.  One time a street cat named Detroit asked me for a couple of bucks “because I want to buy a beer.”  He was honest, and I gave him the two bucks.  So let’s be honest.  If you give money to a “homeless, will work for food” guy on the street corner, chances are it won’t go for food.  Be honest with yourself about where your two bucks will go.  Offer help by offering to buy the food or put the gas in the car.

Or if you’re in downtown Jackson, give them directions to Gateway Rescue Mission, 328 South Gallatin Street.  But if they’re really hungry, they probably already know about us.