Posts Tagged ‘addiction’

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

March 27, 2014

 photo 2


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.

photo 1

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.

                                                                   *     *     *

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.

The Power of Community: How Daniel Returned Home

April 13, 2012

Daniel and his children reunite in Ohio.

By Dan Crain 

ATLANTA – When Daniel left home six years ago, addiction guided his path, and he might as well have walked off the face of the Earth.

His parents’ parting words to him: “Don’t ever come back here.”

He left everything behind: his home, his job and, most important, his kids.  His destination was addiction, bouncing between prison and the streets.

About a year ago, Daniel left prison for a third and final time.

Daniel’s testimony last week riveted each of us: He was going home.

Soon after getting out of prison, Daniel visited Church on the Street’s ministry, Retreat from the Street. Its members strive  to live in community with Atlanta’s most vulnerable men and women — those who live  on the streets — and welcome them into fellowship.

Daniel began to show up for a simple breakfast, Bible study, prayer and lunch on weekdays. After awhile he decided it was time to get serious. Daniel gave his life to Christ.

This was just the beginning of his journey. Church on the Street continually held its arms open, welcoming Daniel into community.

He felt God’s Spirit say to him, “If you stay apart of this community, there are some wonderful things I want you to receive from them.” Daniel did not want to stand in the way of God’s blessing by thinking he was OK. He was not OK. He knew he needed help. Once he admitted this, blessings came.

In the Church on the Street community, everyone plays a role — everyone is asked to contribute. One of the first opportunities Daniel was offered was to clean the bathroom to serve the community. Albert Schweitzer is quoted as saying, “I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know — the only ones among you who will be really happy are those that have sought and found how to serve.”  God has given everyone a gift to serve community – even if it is as small as cleaning toilets.

Daniel remarked that he immediately felt the love of the Church on the Street leaders. They were not interested in just giving him food and clothes and sending him on his way. They took time to get involved in his life. To have such love extended unconditionally, instead of with  judgment, was absolutely crucial to Daniel’s journey.

He shared that one of his struggles is a predisposition to look down on people on the streets. Despite being an addict, he had taken solace in the fact that he was not as bad as someone who has a stronger addiction to crack cocaine. Truth is, we all find ways to judge others in order to escape the reality of our own pain, regardless of where we find ourselves.

Since he has been a part of this community, he has felt his impulse to be judgmental disappear. His conversation and spirit are also different. Just simply by being apart of this community, he has experienced change. This place and its people have become his family.

After a few months of spending time with this community, he was offered an opportunity to get off the street. What sets  Church on the Street apart from many houses of worship is its dedication to actively and intentionally  embrace the homeless, welcoming them into community. This is particularly true for Daniel. Elders in the church invited Daniel into their homes, and they have benefited greatly from his friendship.

Daniel commented at one point that, “This place is the best thing that has ever happened to me.” Through being a part of community, he has sensed God’s Spirit say to him, “You are my son, with whom I am well pleased.” After 20  years of struggling with addiction, he is at last beginning to experience healing.

And in community, his gift of cooking was discovered. He was named the chief chef of the Church on the Street’s kitchen. (Oh, and Daniel already had his culinary degree.)

He is now on his way home to a small town in Ohio. Through God’s grace, he now has custody of his three youngest children. These kids are special because they never gave up on their daddy even though he had given up on himself.

He also has a solid support system through a church in the hometown.  Interestingly, the small town in Ohio has a huge methamphetamine problem. Daniel’s church has reached out to him to know how to best reach out to people who struggle with addictions to meth.

These are the kinds of ministries that Polis is trying to encourage people to emulate. A ministry that is purely focused on giving and receiving with the most vulnerable in the context of community. It is in this context that people’s talents are engaged for the betterment of the city.

The myth of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps is just that, a myth.

What is the best way to experience change in our lives? It is in the realm of community. No one is self-sufficient. We all need each other.

What I love about this story is that Daniel spoke of personal responsibility. He spoke of realizing his need to change. But, he spoke of it all within the context of community. No one changes alone.

Crain family

Crain family

Dan Crain is a liaison/trainer in South Atlanta for Polis Institute. 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.