Archive for March, 2014

Should You Give Money to Panhandlers? ‘Mouthwash Dave’ Offers Lesson

March 27, 2014

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By Michael Joe Murphy

“Mouthwash Dave” didn’t earn his nickname because he sought to enhance his oral hygiene.

Dave panhandled on the streets of Orlando, politely asking the kindhearted, one at a time, for 25 cents. When he’d collect four quarters, he’d make a beehive to the nearest Dollar Store to buy a big jug of mouthwash.

He didn’t have money for beer or wine, so he got his fix with an alcohol-based mouthwash.

When panhandlers stop you on a downtown street, do you feel compelled to reach into your pocket to hand over a buck or pocketful change? Or do “will-work-for-food” signs at intersections tug your heartstrings and spur a reflexive hand-out-the-window donation to the beggar?

You might be doing them more harm than good.

Dawn Neff was one of the founding volunteers at Compassion Corner, a “listening ministry” for the homeless in downtown Orlando.

She will never forget meeting “Mouthwash Dave, a “really sweet guy” and gentle spirit, in the autumn of 2001.

Dave had no sooner introduced himself that he convulsed in seizures, trembling and shaking, Neff recalls, and “I’d never seen that before. I called 911.”

Neff sat with Dave in the hospital emergency room, watching in horror when as more intense spasms of pain wracked his body. He was detoxifying.

In the summer of 2000, Orlando banned begging anywhere outside of blue-dotted lines painted on the sidewalk at 25 locations concentrated downtown. But the 3-by-15 foot “panhandling zones” didn’t confine “Mouthwash Dave.”

He wasn’t aggressive. And neither are most casual panhandlers today.

In cities of any size, it’s likely you’ll be approached for a handout.

Before you’re tempted to help someone on the street who seeks money, ask yourself: What’s my motivation? Am I trying to do something immediately to appease the panhandler so he’ll move on and you can get on your way? Or do you want to help in a meaningful way?

Neff, who ministered to the homeless in downtown Orlando for almost 12 years, offers this advice: “Check your motivations. It’s not necessarily bad to give money to the homeless or to panhandlers. But there might be better alternatives for you – and the person you’d like to help.”

According to many studies, most of the homeless suffer from drug abuse, alcoholism or mental retardation. “The last thing you’d want to do is fuel addiction,” Neff says.

Not all panhandlers are homeless. It might be that the person who’s asking for cash needs it for food or medicine or bus fare to get to work.

“If someone at corner looks famished and you can’t stop to chat, consider going to the closest barbecue joint or McDonald’s, buying a sandwich and fries to take back to the panhandler,” Neff says. “Many times it may not be food that they really want, but you’ll be wiser doing that than giving away money.”

If you’re motivated and have the time, Neff says, “Check out ‘the rest of the story,’ particularly if you’ve seen person on the street or you’ve talked before – if you feel confident they’ll do the right thing. If someone just approaches you for some coins, take the time to get to know them. It doesn’t take much to get a conversation started.”

Neff has given money to homeless people in downtown Orlando, “but those handouts have been very seldom. And when I have, I’ve donated to people I’ve really known, who have no dependency issues, who want $2 only to pay for one night’s stay at a homeless center.”

Neff offers one more thought: “Keep in mind that homeless people are prideful, too.”

The same can’t be said for all panhandlers.

Be wary. But also beware making hard-line decisions and adopting a one-approach-fits-all response when you’re asked to help.

Neff stayed with “Mouthwash Dave” throughout his detoxification at the emergency room, as he convulsed in even bigger seizures. A relationship was established.

Dave was a regular visitor among the homeless and the paupers at Compassion Corner for years.

He struggled with alcoholism until he succumbed to cancer.

A decade later, the ranks of men and women without a roof over their heads in downtown Orlando remain.

So do those “blue boxes” painted on sidewalks.

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Michael Joe Murphy

Michael Joe Murphy

Michael Joe Murphy, a volunteer for the Polis Institute, can be reached at Consider signing up for Dignity Serves, a six-week course that helps you rethink the way we serve others in our community. It teaches you to see problems differently and respond in a way that empowers those you serve rather than just meeting their immediate needs.





When We Lose Our Capacity to Receive …

March 24, 2014


By Dan Crain

ATLANTA – In 2004 I went through a very bad experience with a church, and for the next few years I struggled through my insecurities about my broken ties with this church. I was an empty person who had found my sense of belonging and acceptance as a pastor. I thought I could solve my own issues through prayer and solitude with Jesus.

In 2008 I was sitting with a counselor friend named Amy. In conversation, she asked, “How are you doing?” Her question was an invitation to peer into my soul in a way that only a trained counselor could.

I immediately began to sweat and shake. I had been caught. She knew that something was not right with me, and I did not want to confess my need.

I had lost the capacity to receive because I thought I could solve my own problems, and I had assumed control.  Moreover, I did not want to relinquish control over my own ”issues.”

I observe this happening all the time with pastors and ministry leaders who are always considered “the answer people.” They are always in the position of helping, serving, giving. They give with little regard to themselves, and often find justification in such. I feel the tension in myself.

This can lead to burnout, a loss of capacity to receive.

Ministry itself can be addicting, because it often feeds something very dangerous in our souls.

Those of us in leadership in any context give and give and give, and at some point, we can lose our capacity to receive.

Receiving is hard, very hard. In American culture, we are typically defined by what we do, accomplish and achieve. Receiving is the antithesis of this. Receiving means that I need to ask for help to get something done. And most Americans don’t like to ask for help.

As Americans, we work for everything we get, right?

I would argue that we don’t want to ask for help because we honestly don’t believe that we are worth whatever someone wants to give us. Whenever someone pays us a compliment or gives us something nice, we hide our faces in shame, saying,  “If you only knew me and how bad I am.”

When you ponder our typical response, you encounter the heart of the gospel. Christ wants to give us good things in the midst of our brokenness.

This is one of the aspects of the parable of the Two Lost Sons in Luke 15 that I love. The younger son leaves home and destroys everything that the Father had given him.  He ends up sleeping with prostitutes. He decides to return home, not to be the son, but to be the servant who works to earn his goodness back.

 The father, however, not only embraces his returning son, but cloaks him with a robe, puts a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And then the father throws a party. Can you imagine what the younger son thinks as a party is thrown in his honor? He is probably thinking to himself, “Dad, I just wasted all of your money by partying and sleeping with prostitutes. I am not worthy of what you are doing.”

I can only imagine the father turning looking into his son’s eyes and saying, “Yes, you are. You are worth everything I am doing for you.”

Christ wants us to receive help.

Why? Because we are fundamentally worth whatever Christ wants to give us through other people. Christ is on our side. He honestly believes in our goodness when we come to him in repentance.

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My friend Amy and I met for two hours the next day, to begin to sort through some of my issues with God, church, and life.  For the first time, I began to experience Christ serve me as I began to learn what it means to receive. It was the beginning of a journey toward freedom. I am still on that journey today.

Dan Crain and his family in Atlanta.

Dan Crain and his family in Atlanta.

Dan Crain is a liaison/trainer for Polis Institute. He and his wife Adrienne and their family live in South Atlanta. He can be reached at

Consider signing up for Dignity Serves, a six-week course that helps you rethink the way we serve others in our community. It teaches you to see problems differently and respond in a way that empowers those you serve rather than just meeting their immediate needs.

Celebrating the Possible

March 18, 2014

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Is it possible for a stadium redevelopment project to truly benefit the urban neighborhood in which it resides? This question is burning in the hearts and minds of residents who live near Orlando Florida’s Citrus Bowl.

In 2013, hundreds of them participated in a survey that assessed their interest in being a part of the next generation of the Bowl’s history. In short, they are very interested. The survey revealed eight key ideas for initiatives that residents believe will improve quality of life in the neighborhood. Nearly 200 residents are signed-up to be involved in specific initiatives and about 40 residents have emerged to help lead the way.

Steve Hogan, the CEO of Florida Citrus Sports (FCS), has expressed his commitment to work with the community. FCS is a non-profit that has been using the proceeds of its events to benefit children in the region for decades. Now, as the new stadium becomes a reality, they want to work with the neighborhood in which the stadium resides to focus this positive impact while still creating opportunities for children throughout the area.

Steve is part of a larger group of business leaders now known as LIFT Orlando who are making the same promise – to partner with residents to improve quality of life in the neighborhoods immediately adjacent to the stadium.

One of the last events held at the stadium before much of it was demolished was a Family Fun Day. Residents were invited out to be the first to see the results of the survey and to hear Steve Hogan’s pledge to meet the neighborhood half-way in order to make positive things happen. Children played and danced. Adults laughed and talked. Inspiring art work from the children depicting their hopes and dreams were on display for all to see. It truly was a celebration of what’s possible.

Now the work begins. Meetings have been taking place. Leaders are emerging. Ideas are taking shape. Here are the initiatives that are being discussed, some of which are underway.

  1. Youth Recreational Programming
  2. Neighborhood Advisory Board to Citrus Bowl
  3. Farmer’s Market
  4. Community Computer Center
  5. Walking Trail/Walking Clubs
  6. Housing Redevelopment
  7. Lake Lorna Doone Park Improvements
  8. West Downtown Business Association

If you are interested in more information or would like to be involved, please contact POLIS at If you are interested in reading the summary report distributed at the event, it is available here.

Phil Hissom

Phil Hissom is the Founder of the POLIS Insitute and the primary author of Dignity Serves. He can be reached at

Consider signing up for Dignity Serves, a six-lesson course that helps you rethink the way we serve others in our community. It teaches you to see problems differently and respond in a way that empowers those you serve rather than just meeting their immediate needs.