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The Homeless Dilema

Updated on March 29, 2013

To Give or Not to Give?

Everyone sees it at some time or another--whether you're coming out of the grocery store or driving down the street--there they are; wearing ratty clothing, perhaps needing a shower or a shave, and holding a sign begging for help. What do you do? Do you pretend they aren't there and go on your way? Do you tell them to get a job? Do you stop and direct them to the nearest church or shelter? Do you give them food or money?


Why Some Walk Away

Those who walk away often tell themselves that there shelters out there who could do more to help than they could. Or they tell themselves that if they gave money then it would only be used for drugs or alcohol. Or they might even say that the person is no more homeless than you or me, and makes a good living pan-handling.

And they could be right. There are shelters out there for just such a people. There are homeless people who got that way because of their addictions, and they continue in those addictions even after losing everything. And there are those dishonest panhandlers that make quite a good living tax-free.

Why Some Choose to Give What They Do

Some people see a homeless person and are skeptical enough to wonder how they got to that point and what would they would do with whatever they are given. But they can't quite walk away. So they give them something that can be used for the comfort or well-being of the person; such as food, clothing or blankets. But they will not give them money, because they can't monitor where it goes.

Then there are those who see only the shivering needy look in the homeless person's eyes. They see someone in need and can't walk away. They don't think of what might happen if they give them their money. They see a way to help, and they do it without judgment or forethought. They do what they would want someone to do for them if they were in the same position. 

Homeless Man with Radio Voice Hopes for Work

Which is the Right Way of Thinking?

Is it better to walk away? Some say that if you give to a homeless person, you're opening the door to more troubles. You end up with more of them asking for help. You're putting your own livelihood and safety at risk. You're contributing to a problem that can't be solved by giving something for nothing.

Is it better to see to the homeless person's comfort without putting money in their pocket? You have more control this way. You aren't contributing to an undesirable habit the person may have. You've fulfilled whatever obligation you may have felt to your conscience by not turning your back. You gave help on your terms.

Or is it better to give freely without judgement? You gave what you thought would help fill an immediate need. Do you know how it will be used? No. But you trust that the right thing will be done with what you have given.

Is there really only one right answer to this? It's hard to say without knowing the situation. The fact is, most times we don't get to know the specifics of any homeless person's situation unless we take the time to talk to them to find out if there is a true need or deception. That's something not many will take the time to do.

Did I make a Wrong Choice?

I was leaving the grocery store today--the day before Thanksgiving--and was about to leave the parking lot when I saw something that made me pause. There was a man, tall and slender, shivering in his thin red coat, holding a sign saying "Homeless. Anything will help."

"What is that man doing?" My oldest child asked me.

"He's asking for help," I answered.

And I found myself pulling over, grabbing my wallet and taking the last of my cash (a grand total of $15) and handing it over to the man, who promptly said, "God bless you!"

I wish I could say that I felt all warm and fuzzy inside after what I did, but I didn't. I felt sad. I wondered what had brought this man so low. I wondered where he would go next and what he would do. I also couldn't help but wonder if I'd just given him what he needed to make a trip to the liquor store. I hoped not. But more than that I wondered if that's what Jesus meant when he said that what we do unto the least of his children, we do unto him?

I've come across similar people with similar signs before. Sometimes, I've driven by them, not having anything that I could give at the time. Sometimes, I've given some of the unperishable food I've had in my car after leaving the store. Sometimes, I've given the little bit of spare change I've had. But every time, I've been affected by what I saw.

I don't consider myself gullible or clueless to the happenings of the world. In fact, with my upbringing, I'm all to aware of the bad sides of human nature. But I'm also very aware that there is good, too. And having been in a position of hunger (and yes, even homelessness) myself as a child, I can't help but feel for those who are without. I know what it's like to be at the mercy of a stranger's kindness.

I wish I knew more about where I could direct this man to find shelter and a warm bed. But I haven't kept up on such places. I've donated items to various organizations, given money to my church to help those in need, but I'm ashamed to admit that I've never actually searched out where these items and funds were being sent. I've just trusted my church and other charities I've chosen to know where the need was greatest.

But really, what is the right thing to do in this situation? I know there are some who would have a problem with some of those choices I've made. And I can't really say if I've made the right ones. There's more than one side to this issue, making it more complicated than a simple right or wrong.

As for me, I suppose I should feel good about listening to my conscience, something not as common today as it once was. Whatever that man's intentions were, I know I had the right ones.


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