FAQ about Homelessness

How many homeless people are there in Memphis?

What should I do if approached by a panhandler?

What about those people with the "Will work for food" signs?

How do people end up homeless?

Aren't homeless people just being lazy?

How can I learn more about homelessness?


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.