Frequently Asked Questions
Many people have questions concerning the Memphis Union Mission. The questions often cover a wide variety of topics. Please select a category below that addresses your particular area of interest.
How many homeless people are there in Memphis?
According to most recent studies, there are approximately 2,000 people who are homeless in Memphis on any given day.
What should I do if approached by a panhandler?
1. Don't give cash.
In most cases, it's best not to give money to panhandlers, especially when they're within walking distance of churches and service providers that have programs to help them. Too often, well-intended gifts are converted to drugs or alcohol - even when the "hard luck" stories they tell are true. If you must give, it's better to give coupons, gift certificates, or other items that can't be converted to cash.
2. Talk to the person with respect.
Taking time to talk to a homeless person in a friendly, respectful manner can give them a wonderful sense of civility and dignity. And besides being neighborly, it allows the person to fight the isolation, depression and paranoia that he or she may face.
3. Share God's love whenever you can.
If Jesus were walking the earth today, He would certainly spend time with the homeless. He would speak with them, heal them, and help them. Today, Jesus chooses to work through those who believe and follow Him.
4. Pray for the person.
Exposure to the elements, dirt, occasional violence, and lack of purpose all drain years from a person's life. God can use your prayers and the brutality and the futility of life of the street to bring many of the broken to Himself.
5. Take precautions for your own safety.
Some living on the streets are criminals and fugitives running from the law. Always be prudent while talking with street people. Stay in areas where other people can see you. Don't take unnecessary chances.
6. Give out "Coupons for the Homeless."
Memphis Union Mission's "Coupons for the Homeless" are available for a suggested donation of $20. These coupons can't be converted to cash, and they can be exchanged at our Men's Shelter for a nutritious meal and safe lodging. You can purchase them by donating online. For more information, call (901) 526-8403.
7. Support Memphis Union Mission.
Your gifts will help provide homeless Memphians with their basic needs, as well as opportunities to escape the cycle of homelessness for good.
What about those people with the "Will work for food" signs?
Most people who stand at intersections carrying the signs are full-time panhandlers. When you encounter these individuals, you may want to use the suggestions mentioned above.
How do people end up homeless?
There is no one reason someone ends up homeless. Typically, a whole multitude of factors go into landing someone on the street. It may be a combination of substance abuse, job loss, personal or family tragedy, mental illness, or other factors.
Aren't homeless people just being lazy? Why don't they get a job?
A whole multitude of factors go into landing someone on the street. Therefore, stereotyping all homeless as "lazy" is unfair, and it does nothing to address their real needs.
How can I learn more about homelessness?
We highly recommend the book Under the Overpass: A Journey of Faith on the Streets of America by Mike Yankoski. The author lived on the streets as a homeless person for five months, and the book describes his experiences. To learn more, visit the web site.
About the Mission
Does a person have to be a Christian in order to receive services?
No. Memphis Union Mission does not withhold its services on the basis of race, religion, or nationality.
Is Memphis Union Mission tied to any particular church or denomination?
Although Memphis Union Mission is a Christian ministry, we are not tied to any particular church or denomination. In fact, we enjoy support and involvement from a wide variety of congregations.
Is Memphis Union Mission strictly a local organization?
Yes. Like most rescue missions, Memphis Union Mission is autonomous and governed by a local Board of Directors. All funds received stay within Memphis and Shelby County.
How many staff does the Mission have?
Ministry-wide, Memphis Union Mission employs 35 individuals.
Does the Mission charge for its services?
Most of Memphis Union Mission's services are provided free of charge. Our residential recovery programs are free. Furthermore, most of our emergency services, including clothing, hygiene, and food, are also free.
Overnight guests who have elected not to enter a recovery program receive four free nights each month. Once they have used up their monthly free nights, they pay $6 a night, which includes dinner, overnight stay, breakfast and access to other services.
Overnight guests always stay for free on nights when it is below freezing. Furthermore, we are able to provide work referrals for guests who are willing to work, and we honor vouchers from several area churches and ministries. We also allow guests to stay for free if they are willing to help with simple chores around the Mission and forego using drugs and alcohol.
We are structured this way because we do not want to enable our guests. Instead, we want to encourage them to take positive steps to better their situations, including finding employment and/or confronting issues that have landed them on the streets.
Why do you make chapel attendance mandatory for homeless people to eat?
Asking our guests to sit through a brief chapel service before eating a free lunch is not asking too much. Many service providers in Memphis do not require chapel attendance. Therefore, guests who object to our chapel services have other options available. Furthermore, many of our guests come to the Mission precisely because they like the chapel services.
More importantly, we know that the chapel services have had an impact on so many lives. We can relate story after story of men and women who have received Christ and experienced a total transformation, and it all began in a typical chapel service.
Didn't the Mission lose government funding over this issue?
At one time, Memphis Union Mission received USDA food subsidies. However, the Mission was disqualified from this program in August, 2000, when the USDA discovered that we make chapel attendance mandatory. The Mission has not changed its policy, and neither has the USDA. Ultimately, friends like you have made up the difference, so we are fine without the government's help!
I've never given to you before, so how did my name get on your mailing list?
It is vital that we continually gain new donors. One way of doing that is through special mailings. Once a year, we rent lists of names for one-time use. Your name may have been included on one of these lists which we rent.
If you give a donation to us from this one-time mailing, you will be included in our regular mailing list. If you do not respond with a donation, you will not be put on our mailing list, and there is no need to have your name "removed" from our database.
Where do you receive your funding?
Memphis Union Mission is funded entirely through private donations. Individuals make up the largest portion of our support, and the remaining amount of support comes from companies, churches, foundations, and civic groups.
Does the Mission receive any government funding?
Memphis Union Mission does not receive any government funding (Federal, state, or local).
Do you sell donors' names to other organizations?
To ensure the privacy of our friends and supporters, Memphis Union Mission does not sell, lease, rent, or loan our supporters’ names.
Selling our donors' information to a third party would not only violate our donors' trust; it would be detrimental to the financial health of our ministry.
What percentage of my gift goes toward administrative expenses?
According to our most recent financial audit, 75 percent of all funds received go toward ministry expenses, and 25 percent goes toward administrative and fundraising expenses.
Please keep in mind that our audited financial statements do not include the value of gifts in-kind, nor do they include the value of volunteer labor. (Some organizations include these values in order to make their percentages appear better.)
Can I get a copy of your most recent financial statement?
Yes. You can dowload a copy by visiting our giving page.
Are you a United Way agency?
No, but you can still give to Memphis Union Mission through the United Way's Donor's Choice program. Please keep this in mind if your employer participates in the annual campaign.
Our United Way identification number is #5111.
Why does the Mission send me all this stuff in the mail?
Our letters are the best vehicle we have, other than personal visits and tours, for making people aware of our work and communicating our financial needs to those who are concerned about the people we serve. We know that everyone cannot give every time they receive a request from us, but we also know that it is our responsibility to keep the needs of homeless, hungry and hurting people in front of those who care and can help.
Can I cut back on the amount of mail I receive?
Sure. Simply contact Steve Carpenter at (901) 526-8403 and communicate how often you wish to receive mail.
What should I do if I get duplicate mailings, or have an address change?
Simply send us any necessary corrections. (Mailing address: P.O. Box 330, Memphis, TN 38101-0330). For address changes, it would be helpful if you would cut your name and address from your most recent mailing so we can verify that we are making the correct changes. If you are receiving duplicate mailings, cut the mailing address from all the pieces and send them to us. Indicate what address you would like to have deleted. Please allow six to eight weeks for changes to take effect in the mail you receive.
Do you conduct telemarketing campaigns?
No. Memphis Union Mission does not raise funds over the phone.
Do you conduct door-to-door solicitations?
No. If you are approached by anyone at your door or in a public place, asking for donations for Memphis Union Mission, do not give anything. We don't solicit gifts this way.
Can I give a monthly gift, instead of getting all of your mailings?
Yes. We have a program called the Friends of the Friendless that allows you to give a monthly pledged amount to the Mission. You should receive fewer appeals, and provide the Mission with a steady source of income. To learn more about this program, click here.