When to help, when to not help

I’ve been trying to get a roof done this week.  I contracted with a guy, Greg, from our neighborhood who has cleaned himself up after years of drug use, and he was to have a crew.  Turns out his crew ended up being Kevin, a guy I know who currently uses various street drugs off and on. 

After 4 days the roof is partially resheeted and partially felted– on one side.  Kevin sometimes shows up around noon.  Today he didn’t.  Yesterday he didn’t show up in the morning, so I ripped off half the roof with Greg.   I picked kevin up at his house around noon, got him some food at Burger King and tried to get him going.  He lives in a house owned by another landlord that he works for often.  The door has no doorknob, and there is a string hanging out that you pull to ring a bell inside.  The inside looks more like a barn than a house.  Its not finished.  Kevin has been doing roofing for 30 years.  He showed me paperwork from the 80s and he said he had calculated that he did around 75 roofs that year– he’d had his own business, which is how Greg learned to roof– Kevin had him on his crew back then as a teenager.  But when Kevin’s wife had a brain aneurism, he kind of went off, and he’s been in tough shape since.  

He can be a wonderfully charming person, and he is bright– bright enough to see the irony of his own situation and his own self-destructiveness.  Its fun to talk with him.  But he is also prone to sudden outbursts of anger.  The drugs have sort of knocked out common self control and he has a hard time keeping his head on straight. 

So now as my roof is not very done, and I’m concerned about whether it ever will get finished, I struggle to figure out what to do.  Should I shut it down and look for someone else, or spend a lot of time babysitting to make sure Kevin gets the work done we need (when he works, hes capable of 3 other people’s workload).   I tend towards the latter.  I understand most people wouldn’t put up with this, but somehow putting up with this seems to be part of what it means to help people like this.  Most people just wouldn’t bother.  But it is messy to get your life involved in their troubles. 

Another friend came by today asking about housing.  He once lived in our house, but he is slightly unstable and has some anger and other issues which prohibit him from coming back into our house– so I’m trying to figure out how to help him as well.  He’s been living on the street for a few weeks.  He is from a wealthy family, and he is quite bright.  He is an avid piano player and he is just a couple classes away from a science degree.  But he has family issues and is estranged from his parents for various reasons.  He shared that he had had most of his stuff stolen a week ago and then last night got thumped on the head as he slept in a garage behind a bar downtown where he’d been staying and they took everything else he had– his id, buspass, practice room key (for playing the piano).  So as he walked away this morning, he walked away with all he had– nothing (except the pizza I bought him at Godfathers).  We may have an apartment on Dewey ready for him soon.

So how do you know when to give, and when not to?  This is a difficulty I know many people face all the time, and its hard to stop being gracious (although I suppose for some its hard to start being gracious).  When is it help, and when is it enabling? 

My solution at the moment is to put my work clothes on and go help Greg for a couple of hourse with lifting sheets onto the roof.  Thats probably the best thing I can do to help him out today.

May God have mercy on us all.


3 responses to “When to help, when to not help

  1. Coming out of my apartment building a couple of days ago, I came across a man digging watermelon rinds out of the building dumpster. Just the moment before I had been preoccupied with annoyance at the drycleaner for messing up the cuffs on my jacket. The annoyance disappeared for a moment as I reached almost instinctively for my wallet to give this man a couple of dollars (let me stress, a couple of dollars). As a rule, I don’t give street people money. I’ll give them other things, but not money. But I followed my instinct in this case and broke my rule. Walking away from the man, I felt conflicted about what I had done. What was he going to get with that money? Nothing of any substance, given that all we have in my neighborhood are high-priced convenience shops and expensive fast-food targeted for college kids. I should have went up stairs and heated the left-over chicken and rice I had from the night before. I could have made him five peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and given them to him to pack in his bag for later, or maybe better yet, walked him to Jimmy John’s around the corner. All of those would have been far more than he was going to get with the money I gave him, but all would have brought me into a much more personal space than that created by the universal dirt of exchange. I haven’t seem him around since, but I have noticed that the homeless who took up residence on the east stoop of my church this winter have apparently decided to stay for the summer. The church is sure to get another complaint about the “blight” on the neighborhood from the local business association. When to help and what to do? That is surely the question before all of us: God,
    Grant me the serenity;
    To accept the things I cannot change;
    The courage, to change the things I can;
    And the wisdom, to know the difference.

  2. Andy, this was beautiful for my heart to read because it seems that there are so very few gracious people in our world. Having lived in a 3rd world country for four years, surrounded by missionaries, I was always shocked at how little grace was given to a particular group of folks – people who lived on the street. We realized that it was a personal choice for everyone whether or not to give; and you cannot give what you do not possess – even if it’s grace – but you my friend, you are obviously filled with Grace – and I say that if you have it to share, then share it and continue to spread it around. We always said that once we chose to give, it was up to the people who received to determine where to go from there – but it wasn’t up to us to judge. If people give and then judge, what’s the point? That doesn’t mean we gave to everyone, but we were generous as much as we were able – and that is what your measuring factor needs to be. If you feel ABLE to be gracious, then I say “go for it”. You might just be changing someones life. Peace to you as you spread Grace and Joy into the lives of those who may have very little of either.

  3. simplefreechurch

    Thanks Celeste and Lisa! As a follow up, yesterday when I went over there after I posted the blog, Kevin showed up around 1:30 and really got after it and they got the rest of that side of the house sheeted, felted and partially shingled. I’m optimistic that they can finish that side today before the rain if they really hustle. Kevin is an amazing roofer and amazingly strong for his size.

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