What are the best ways of helping people?

helping-handsEvery Tuesday at WLM’s centre for homeless people at Seymour Place in central London, we have a Spirituality Discussion Group for our homeless clients. Even though membership of the group changes frequently, the group decides themselves the topics it wants to discuss. Its one the highlights of my job when I am invited to lead a session.

Last week, I led a discussion on ‘What are the best ways to help people?’

We started off by discussing what parts of the Bible refer to helping others. We brainstormed a list of stories, teachings and commandments which relate to this question. The group showed a rich knowledge of verses and passages from both the Old Testament, as well as Jesus’ example and teaching and the life of the early Church.

We then discussed, what makes helping people difficult?  The group was very honest and we listed things like not knowing what to do, not having the resources, some people’s problems being too big, addictions, mental health problems and the difficulties of enforcing our agenda onto someone else.

I then asked the group for their top tips for helping people and we wrote them up and discussed them as a group.  We agreed that it was good to avoid being naive on one hand – but also avoiding being cynical on the other. Both of these responses are not very helpful. A word that was used a number of times was wisdom. We needed wisdom to know how to really help people in a way that actually helps them.

So this is the wisdom shared by the group of homeless people:

  1. Point people to where they can get the right help for the issues they face

  2. Be ‘with’ people and be available

  3. Help them get to a place where they want help – it has to come from them

  4. Accept them for who they are – don’t avoid or threaten if they don’t take the help

  5. Be truthful and genuine

  6. Take time and build relationships

  7. Be aware of your own motives – why are you helping?

  8. Speak up for the underlying causes behind the issues e.g. London needs more basic accommodation

I think these responses are really worth reflecting on.  It was not a scientific study – there were just 6 homeless people part of the group that day and I am aware that my presence could have influenced what was discussed. But I think there is real wisdom in what was shared and I was struck by the humanity and thoughtfulness of what was said.

I shared this list with colleagues and my church home group the next day and it sparked a really honest and helpful discussion about how we respond to people around us.  Maybe you could do something similar with a group or team you are part of?

About Jon Kuhrt

Jon Kuhrt works with people affected by homelessness, offending and addictions at the West London Mission. He, his wife and three children live in Streatham, south London. He likes football...but loves cricket.
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