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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.

Tell Me What You Think of This Issue

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    • TJenkins602 profile image

      Moses Jones 

      8 years ago

      The reasons for homelessness are quite diverse. I myself am homeless. However, I do not expect or require people to stop and give to me. It doesn't hurt me when people just ignore me. What I don't like is when people target me for sick acts.

      I think it depends on the individual. There are people out there that are homeless due to drug abuse, mental illness, etc. However, there is a population that is kept silent. This is homelessness due to being cheated or worked over in some way. What sucks is no matter what the reason is for your being homeless, you adopt everything that comes with it, including the stigma and the stereotypes.

    • Sparhawke profile image


      10 years ago from Manchester

      Been there and done that too while wandering around France as the job I was supposed to have did not can actually happen to anyone at any time, at least i have some idea of how it feels now and what can actually help in that situation :)

    • patlesaux profile image


      10 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I have known many homeless people who if they can improve their lives would wish they can start over and make plenty of changes to how they arrived at this type of life so they don't make the same mistake twice. Being homeless can be a sign of what's to become of us in the near future if we don't do nothing about this now.

    • Beata Stasak profile image

      Beata Stasak 

      10 years ago from Western Australia

      Thank you for your great article about the issue many people don't like to talk about. People living on the fringe of our society often not by their own fault don't need our handouts, they need our help to learn to be independent and part of the society again.

      I work with many young people with different stages of mental and physical disabilities and the best gift I can give them is not to assist them but teach them to be independent and valuable members of our society as much as possible....all the best from Beata

    • Antonia Monacelli profile image

      Antonia Monacelli 

      10 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Congratulations on your hubnugget nomination!

      Very interesting topic. Though I was always aware of the "scammers" that prey on people's compassion, and are not homeless or in need, I always felt I'd rather err on the side of giving my money to someone who didn't need it, or who would spend it on drugs/alcohol, then not ever give, and therefore never help someone who did need it.

      I did encounter a scammer once - well, more than once, but the same man. He approached my vehicle once when I was in a parking lot near the bus station, and gave me his story about how he had lost his wallet, and only needed "a few more dollars" for a ticket back home to a nearby city. I gave him a few dollars in change that I had in my car. Unfortunately, this same man approached me 3 or 4 more times in the weeks afterward with the same story, though obviously he didn't get any more money from me. Despite that, I still give when I can!

    • nell79 profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from United States


      I'm sorry to hear about your experiences. Life can be hard.

      I wanted to say something though, about your thoughts on Jesus. He did volunteer to die for our sins. He knew we would not be able to live a sinless life, which at the time was the only way we could be saved.

      So He gave his life for us. He did ask God if there was any other way, to take the cup from him, for He was fully aware of the pain that lie ahead. But He knew even when he asked the question that there was no other way. He'd lived a sinless life, and was the only one worthy of the sacrifice. He knew what was coming, but loved us and went ahead with it anyway. The bible tells us this, so I'm not making it up.

      Take the gift He gave you (and all of us) and become worthy of it. That's the best advice I would give anyone :)

    • nell79 profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from United States

      It's interesting to hear all the takes on this issue. It's not an easy one, for sure, and one that a lot of people prefer to ignore and sweep under the rug. If you don't see it, it doesn't exist. Anyway, I was hoping to get people thinking about this. Looks like a lot of you already have been!

    • CorporateBoss profile image


      10 years ago

      Well now that I have read other people story that had at one time became homeless for one reason or another.I think that I can give a little more insight into what can cause a person to become homeless other than they are just bums and lazy people as some would call them.

      Now here is my story of how I became homeless.First of all I came from a family of well respected people that worked all their life honestly to make a living.And at age 16 when I decided to drop out of school I had to get myself a job because by dropping out of school I found out that I no longer was going to have clothes brought for me to run the street.So from that time on I worked and kept me a job because I didn't like to be broke.But in 1999 I got into alittle trouble that caused me to do five years of my lifebehind bars.I had done nothing wrong. It's like Jesus I would say.I was punished for a wrong that was committed against me. And it was covered up with lies because of the criminals in power.So I was convicted because of their sin.Something like what Jesus had died for.A crime committed against him and it was covered up by saying that he had died for your sin.He had never volunteer for death.So how is it that he died for your sin.He had died for the sin committed against him,they killed an innocent man.

      So back to my story.I was sentenced to five years for habitual violation which was suppose to be driving under influence.Which no breathalyzer was taken to prove anything.So I got railroaded in to prison.All because I couldn't afford my own lawyer.And yet I was suppose to only do 1/3 of the time I was maxed out to worsen the conspiracy.So before I got out lies was told about me to my family and friends so that no one would do anything to help me out in trying to get a place to live.My kids mom told me when I got out that I had been killed in the prison system.My family was affaid to let me stay with them because of lies that they wouldn't even tell me what was said.My wife divorced me after 21 years of marriage because of lies told to her. And never told me what she had been told.So now with only the clothes on my back and no place to live I was forced to live in a homeless shelter.Now I really don't want to go there because of my pride. I was always a preson who could take care of myself and people knew me as a person that didn't depend on others or ask anyone for anything.But I had no choice,I had to swollow my pride.So I want to Legal Aid and told them my story and they helped me get into a homeless shelter.Because I wouldn't have been able to on my own because I had no record to prove nothing about myself,not even a prison record when I was released from prison. And the lawyer had let me know that, and couldn't understand how that had happened.

      So the moral of the story is that you can judge a book by the way it looks. There are alot of things that can cause a person to become homeless. And it don't have to be a fault of their own.

    • Rosie2010 profile image

      Rosie Rose 

      10 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      Hiya Nell, Congratulations on having his hub on the homeless as a Hubnugget Nominee. I enjoyed reading this very interesting take on the homeless. A well-deserved nomination. There are a number of panhandlers in downtown Toronto where I used to work. I usually ignored them except when they say they need money for food, then I take them to a restaurant and order what they want and pay for it. I also stop if someone ask me for money to get home, I give them a token to get home. I very seldom, if ever give money.. but I try to do what I can. Like you I don't feel good about it, I also feel sad. All the best to you.

      Happy Holidays,


    • megmccormick profile image


      10 years ago from Utah

      People become homeless for a myriad of reasons, among them are mental illness, medical issues, unemployment, being under=educated and non-skilled, illiteracy, etc. What is appalling is that all of the reasons people are homeless are preventable and should not even be issues for people in a country with our resources. It's shameful that we spend billions and trillions on illegal wars and subsidizing the oil industry and banking industry but won't use our tax dollars and resources to solve the issues that lead to homelessness in this country.

      Thanks for raising the questions and getting people to think about a topic that never seems to get the media coverage it deserves. Congrats on your HubNugget nomination.

    • Darrke Thoughts profile image

      Darrke Thoughts 

      10 years ago from Eugene, Oregon, USA

      Great job with your hub. I've been there on both sides, homeless and needing help as well as helping or not when I see someone. I can't afford to give to everyone out there, but when I can I think it's up to them to use the money they get as best they can. It's not up to me to judge them, only myself. I think giving what you can, even a smile or kind word to let them know they are not invisible is the best choice. Thanks for writing.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      10 years ago from Sunny Florida

      Homelessness seems more prevalent in society than ever before and I sometimes give money or food. I think you asked an important question and there doesn't seem to be any easy answers. Congrats on your Hubnugget nomination.

    • travel_man1971 profile image

      Ireno Alcala 

      10 years ago from Bicol, Philippines

      Homelessness is everywhere. As responsible people with conscience, it is the right thing to extend our help to the needy. Thanks, Nell for discussing it here on HP. BTW, congratulations on your HubNugget nomination. :D

    • nell79 profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from United States

      Thank you for taking the time to read it, RedElf. I know these are questions most people like being asked, but then I tend to veer away from the easy ones for some reason!

    • RedElf profile image


      10 years ago from Canada

      Very brave and honest of you to even ask the questions! Thank you for sharing this thoughtful article.

    • nell79 profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from United States

      Thank you for sharing your great examples of charity. Giving to a person in need can be a rewarding experience and one most will never regret.

    • mailxpress profile image

      Michelle Cesare 

      10 years ago from New York

      I can't imagine being homeless. I'm not rich but I'm not poor either. I'm in the middle and have been all my life.

      I've given to homeless people money and I've also given food and clothing too. I do place my change into the cup at 7-11 or the deli which goes to people who need but I don't track it. I've also given to neighbors who had nothing but did make just enough to pay the bills to have a roof over their head. Food was a treat to them and putting food in their fridge to get them over a bad time was the charity I gave and still do. We help each other.

      Here's something I've done time and time again. People who get a nickle for each bottle or can. Most are poor when doing this but when I walk up I hand over my huge bag of can and bottles. The people are so grateful and need the extra 3 or 4 dollars.

    • minnow profile image


      10 years ago from Seattle

      I've been between homes myself. There is no single answer. Rather than give money directly, I choose to make a donation to a food bank every time I go to the grocery store in November and December. Ten dollars will buy 30 meals. It's a way of giving thanks that I have a home and can buy food. (Now if I could just get a job.) Great hub! Thumbs up!

    • nell79 profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from United States

      Thank you for sharing your story. Because we don't know the circumstances of those who are homeless and we haven't walked in their shoes throughout their lives, we definitely shouldn't be casting judgements.

      Sounds like your mother is a smart woman. And I'm happy to have inspired you to write!

    • badegg profile image

      Del Banks 

      10 years ago from Southern Blue Ridge Mountains

      Homelessness, I know it well. Before coming to Georgia and settling in the Jasper area, we were homeless in a resort hotel on the Disneyland strip. What got us there? Illness, injury, and the loss of work caused by the same. I was a mechanic working my way through law school, but was injured on the job. Although I had a job working as a night manager for the hotel to cover our room, we were still at a loss for food and money. I took a second job during the day to get out of that mess, and eventually came to be with family in Georgia.

      If you see a homeless person and you have the means to help, then by all means help. It is not up to you or anyone else to judge them. While we were in the hotel, I came across many people that were living on the strip, sleeping in the bushes and on bus benches. We all tried to pull together and help out the lesser fortunate, because no matter how bad off you think that you have it, there is someone who is worse off.

      I was never able to finish law school, but we are happy and content. Things could be better, but we are not complaining.

      My mother always taught me to help someone who needs it without question...they may be an angel.

      You have just given me the fruit for another blog.


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