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Saturday, September 30, 2006
What Do You Do?
What do you do when a homeless person asks for money? How often do you give it to them?

I ask because I've heard so much conflicting advice in this area:

Some people say we should never give money to people who live on the streets as many of them are addicted to drugs or alcohol.

I've heard other say that if a person is truly asking for money because they're hungry they should encouraged to use the social services already provided - soup kitchens, etc.

I've even met at least one person who believes that we shouldn't worry about how any money we give to a street person is being spent, that it's the action of giving and caring for them that really counts.

According to the research I've seen between 1/3 and 1/2 of homeless people are mentally ill (as compared to 4% of the general population), and another 1/3 are addicted to drugs and alcohol. The rest of those who become homeless tend to be individuals or families who stumbled upon some bad luck - a sudden illness that wiped out their savings, layoffs at work.

I know that the "common sense" answer to this question is to look at each request on it's own and to follow the prompting of the Holy Spirit. And I'm comfortable doing this...at least for the most part.

I'd like to take this conversation a step further, though -

How much personal responsibility should be expected from a person who is mentally ill or addicted to drugs or alcohol?

How much personal responsibility should we as Christians have to help them?

What have you done? What do you think we should do to help?

(I apologize if this post is a little disjointed....this is something that has really be weighing heavy on my heart).

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posted by Lydia at 9:00 AM ¤ Permalink ¤


  • At 9/30/2006 12:29:00 PM, Blogger juniper

    This is a subject that is close to my heart. My job involves representing some of the very poorest people in my community. Many are homeless or next to homeless. When I first meet them most live in substandard conditions.
    Part of what I do involves encouraging them through the system while they get help. I think that people get hung up on whether to give food or money when asked by a homeless person. Give whatever you think is right to give, but do give. I believe we are called upon to help the poor whether it is a profession as it is for me, or simply to help the person who crosses your path.

  • At 9/30/2006 02:04:00 PM, Blogger Julie

    this is a question I struggle with. I usually give if I have any cash (which is rare) or food with me. Granted out here in the suburbs its not something I encounter often - unless I go into Chicago.

    what I find really interesting is that many homeless refuse to let me give to them. They are asking just anyone who passes by. But when they see me and see that I am handicapped, they apologize for asking, ask me if I'm okay, and refuse to let me give them anything. It happens a lot. It is so weird. There I am a well dressed and fed suburbanite who has more than I need, but the homeless think I am in more need of help/care because I'm handicapped... I really don't know what to do with that.

  • At 9/30/2006 03:25:00 PM, Blogger CSDL

    I struggle with this too. There are a handful of homeless people around my town and I'm not always sure what to do.

    The best thing I have ever heard was to carry around gift certificates for McDonalds or some local resturant and give them away instead of money. In a similar vein, i also know people that offer to take the homeless person to a resturant and eat with them.

  • At 10/01/2006 09:53:00 PM, Blogger Charlotte Wyncoop

    My thinking on this has really changed recently, but not had any opportunity to be put to the test.

    To confess, I've almost always been a walker by - my family never had much money and the example my parents set was to ignore people in need. I didn't get downtown much and so this habit wasn't challenged often. More recently, as my own family has done well financially, I've begun to contribute, but still not much. I am admittedly a stingy person and I'm trying to learn to get over it.

    More recently however, as I've begun to think about the role of the church and Christ followers, I've thought alot about judging. We talk about hypocrisy in the church or individuals and our responsibility to engage each other in a non-judgemental fashion - leaving the judging to God, the Judge of the living and the dead. It seems to me that the principle could apply here as well. If I am called to be generous to the poor and needy, then I am not called to evaluate why they are poor and needy and/or will they make good use of the resources I make available. I am called to be generous. Why? Because God is shaping me to care about others, to get over my judging and stinginess. If I can learn to care about someone I would rather pass by, how much more can I care about those I encounter regularly? Besides, real change in someone's life doesn't begin with whether I give them some change - it begins with God moving in their heart and encouraging them. I'm not sure it's my duty to change them, but it is my duty to give.

    So now that I preached to myself, any bets on whether I can actually carry it out??

    BTW, I'm leaning towards taking them out for food, giving blankets, buying clothes. Because it means I have an opportunity to see them as a person, not a duty.

  • At 10/02/2006 01:19:00 PM, Blogger lydia

    Give whatever you think is right to give, but do give

    Thanks, I needed to hear that.

  • At 10/02/2006 01:21:00 PM, Blogger lydia

    There I am a well dressed and fed suburbanite who has more than I need, but the homeless think I am in more need of help/care because I'm handicapped... I really don't know what to do with that.

    I never would have guessed that you'd get that kind of response, Julie.

  • At 10/02/2006 01:23:00 PM, Blogger lydia

    gift certificates for McDonalds

    Great idea!

    Unfortunately I've heard that there are quite a few non fast food restaurants in Toronto who will refuse to serve a homeless person. Even if they have money. Even if someone else is trying to buy food for them.

  • At 10/02/2006 01:24:00 PM, Blogger lydia

    I am not called to evaluate why they are poor and needy and/or will they make good use of the resources I make available. I am called to be generous.

    Interesting idea. I'd be curious to hear about your experiences in the future with this.

  • At 10/04/2006 11:56:00 AM, Blogger Doxallo

    Lydia, I'd like to share with you some of my personal experience. I have come to beleive that when we are 'moved' its not always about a traditional sense of 'giving'. Around here we have "homeless" who stand on the corners at busy intersections with a sign and 'beg' money from passersby. Often the sign says 'Hungry will work for food, God Bless You'. There was a newspaper article some years ago that told the 'inside' story of much of this type of solicitiation around here - its franchised. One guy finds a corner, works it for a while and then franchises it to someone else. Its quite a racket.

    Having said that - I agree with the general sentiment that its not wise to judge, we don't really know their circumstances -- and I believe if we are led to give then we give and can't concern ourselves with how they spend the money.


    I'd also say consider some other options. I began packing an extra bag of food each day on my way to work and I hand it out the door at the light when I stop. If no one is on the corner that day I take it to work and share it or put it in the fridge for my lunch next day. Consider collecting backpacks from kids at church or in the community when they are outgrown - pack them with food and maybe a toothbrush and toothpaste, a comb, a bar of soap, a handtowel - and hand those out. The backpack means a lot to a homeless person who much carry any belongings with them at all times.

    Find out where local resources are, make a list and include that in the bag - with buslines etc, so they can get to resources if they so choose.

    Just some thoughts.

  • At 10/04/2006 09:22:00 PM, Blogger lydia

    Thanks, Doxallo.

    I'll look into that.:)

  • At 10/08/2006 06:13:00 PM, Blogger Karen Thurnau

    I have been struggling with this one too. I think in my current leanings I have landed in a place that says it is not about the gift or the recipient, but about my heart and attitude as a giver.

    I used to completely ignore anyone begging or asking for money or anything else, and to some degree I still fight that tendency. Recently, when a man approached me in the parking lot of our church as I was putting my toddler into her carseat, giving me the most elaborate story I have heard in quite a while about why he needed money, I had a brief inner struggle. I was fairly certain that his story was fabricated, but I didn't feel that his truthfulness (or lack thereof) was either up to me to decide or to determine my decision to act. Because I had my daughter with me I was hesitant - the mother bear protecting her young - but my actions will speak loudly to her, even at this rather young age. I did end up offering the cash I had with me, even though I did not believe his promises to repay me that afternoon via the church office, and told God that I was giving the money to the man as an act of love. That's what I told God. In the two weeks or so since this incident, I find myself thinking about it a lot. I didn't think in the moment about this man and what he might really need, nor did I ask. Was giving him money to make him go away an act of love? I didn't look at this man as created and loved by God, and I honestly didn't want to be bothered to show God's love to him. So although I did give to him, I am not so sure that I did either of us any good.

    I do still believe that we are called to give, to be generous, to take care of the poor. And I do still believe that our hearts will motivate our actions (or inaction!), and so a love for and from Jesus in us should flow out into action. It all sounds so good when it is in general terms! But when confronted with my fellow humans, I find an unwelcome self-centeredness. Somewhere there is a disconnect between what I say I believe (what I want to believe!), and what my actions say that I actually do believe.


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