Dirty Beggars and The Filthy Rich
Some call it panhandling, others consider it asking for charity. Which every term you choose simply describes a person who survives by requesting money from strangers. At one time they were known as beggars. This term now seems derogatory and shameful. It defines a person by just one aspect of their existence; their lack financial resources. Unfortunate but true, begging can be personally degrading yet many people, millions around the world in fact, are unable to live without begging for help. How do you feel when you encounter someone asking or begging you for money?
There can be anxious and uncomfortable feelings when approaching a panhandler. It occurs while walking down an urban city street, waiting at an intersection, or even stopped at a highway on-ramp. There you encounter a person begging for attention and help. They tightly clutch cardboard signs which read funny little sayings like “why lie I need a beer”. Others tell of their plight: ”unemployed and disabled.” Often they include a “God bless you”; hoping to share their sense of morality, or cause you to consider the ‘goodness’ in giving charity.
When you help the poor you are lending to the Lord--and he pays wonderful interest on your loan (Prov 19:17)
But if someone who is supposed to be a Christian has money enough to live well, and sees a brother in need, and won't help him--how can God's love be within him ? Little children, let us stop just saying we love people; let us really love them, and show it by our actions. Then we will know for sure, by our actions, that we are on God's side, and our consciences will be clear, even when we stand before the Lord. (I John 3:17-19)
Some wealthy or fortunate people speed quickly by with intense straight forward gaze, trying desparately not to make eye contact. Others study the poor closely as they clutch their purses or instinctively check for their wallets or cell phones, just to make sure they are secure before moving far away from the person begging. Others are completely oblivious, they neither see nor care about the person behind the cardboard sign.
Can we blame people for feeling uncomfortable in the presence of a person asking for charity? It can be over whelming. We are surrounded with those suffering. It reaches via street corners or even frequent television commercials showing faces of starving children, homeless and hurting. We want to lend a hand, but there are so many needs it would be impossible to help every one.
"For the poor will never cease out of the land; therefore I command you, You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in the land." (Deuteronomy 15:11)
What is the answer? Governmental assistance? Giving to every request for charity? Or shall we simply shut our eyes? One humble answer is this...Give when you can, pray when you can't, but care all the time.
Lets Be Honest Though: There are also people who may use your kindness and altruism for less than honorable means. Some individuals who have found themselves in desperate situations due to addiction, criminal activity, or refusal to maintain responsibility over their own lives. Providing money can help them continue in unhealthy and unwise circumstances.
Here are a few tangible suggestions that can also provide an answer:
Try carrying a a zip-lock baggie with the following items:
- Fast Food Certifcates: $1-$2 dollar gift certificates from any fast food chain, for a warm meal.
- Phone Cards: Carry disposable cards with $1-$2 dollars for an emergency call to family or friends when someone is ready to reach out for help.
- Resource List: Printed list of a few shelters, agencies, churches, runaway help and addiction contacts
- Donate: Give time or finances to a local shelter, food pantry, rent or utilities assistance fund.
- See The Need: Remember kindness and mercy for all human beings despite financial status.
While these items do not heal homelessness and poverty in themselves, they provide immediate help and resources for people caught in grips of crisis. Your small offering of alms for the poor may just help open the door to a different future for someone else.
- Of all the richest nations in the world, the U.S. has the greatest amount of people living closest to poverty. 1
- Households with children have greater risk for food shortage and hunger than homes with no children.2
- Over 3 million people will become homeless in the U.S. 3
Growing financial insecurity and personal debt means more people are experiencing real financial struggles. Citizens of one of the wealthiest nations in the world are faced with a new reality; the people behind cardboard signs are not very different from ourselves.
There are good reasons to help. Whether poor, wealthy, or just making ends meet, it is good to help other fellow human beings. Helping others has been linked to better mental health, lowered stress, and increased quality of life4. It's good for you, and good for others too.
May you always have more than enough, and some left over to give.