The town of Hope Mills recently joined the city of Fayetteville in establishing a law prohibiting citizens from engaging with panhandlers seeking donations from pedestrians or people in motor vehicles.
This is a sensitive issue for many people, especially those who feel genuine compassion for those who have fallen on hard times through no fault of their own and are seeking assistance until they can get back on their feet.
But the problem in roadside requests for help is determining whether they are genuine or coming from someone who wants money to feed a drug or alcohol addiction.
Rev. Bob Kretzu of Hope Mills United Methodist Church is familiar with the problem. Before coming to Hope Mills, he served pastorates in different communities and saw how those communities tried to offer real assistance to those in need.
“One part is compassion, and another part is obedience, if you’re a Christian,’’ Kretzu said. “Nobody likes to be taken advantage of.’’
Kretzu has been on the receiving end of numerous requests for assistance during his time as a minister. He tries to track each of them down and sadly reports it’s been his experience that nine out of 10 calls he has gotten for help over the years weren’t genuine.
He recalled one experience when he was in Goldsboro helping with a relief effort following the devastation of Hurricane Floyd.
At one benefit event, he said, a man walked in and began yelling, “I’m here for the free stuff.’’
Kretzu said he is pleased when he comes to a community like Hope Mills where there is an existing cooperative ministry like ALMSHOUSE. Similar ministries exist in Fayetteville with Fayetteville Urban Ministry and the Salvation Army.
The purpose of the ALMSHOUSE is helping families reach goals of sufficiency, along with feeding the hungry, clothing the needy and providing counseling and financial assistance. The town supports the ALMSHOUSE by holding regular collections of food in conjunction with its Food Truck Rodeos.
“There, you feel like your compassion is satisfied,’’ Kretzu said of a community-based charity like the
ALMSHOUSE. “Your sense of obedience to care for those in need is satisfied, and your safety is preserved. You know the majority of (the benefits) are going to be used for a really redemptive purpose and not to support somebody’s addiction or other choice.’’
The safety of the public is a major part of the problem with panhandling, Kretzu said. He previously worked in Durham, where over a period of eight years, the number of people panhandling on street corners and at intersections doubled.
“It got to a point where they were fighting each other over the prime locations,’’ Kretzu said. “You worry about the safety of passengers in cars and interrupted traffic patterns.’’
One person Kretzu worked closely with was actually pushed into oncoming traffic by a “homeless’’ person.
That is one reason Kretzu is glad to work with an organization like the ALMSHOUSE in Hope Mills, which offers tangible support for people who have been identified as being in genuine need.
“To me, it’s a win-win,’’ Kretzu said. “It’s a more redemptive use of my time to support a ministry like that than to try to meet the needs of individuals that come by the church. I love when I go into a community and one is already established.
“I really believe in cooperative ministries.’’
Photo: Reverand Bob Kretzu