To what extent should I help the homeless?

Homeless manThis is a big question rolling around in my mind. I’ve had many experiences with homeless people that have shaped my perspective on them.

While growing up there were several occasions of homeless people knocking on our door asking for lunch money. Rather than giving what they, sought my mom would often make a sandwich instead (especially since we didn’t grow up with a huge cash flow either), but 9 times out of 10 we would return to the back door with their lunch only to find no one there. Apparently they didn’t really want a meal. If they were hungry enough they would’ve stuck around for it.

My parents were always generous in helping people in need. Over the course of my life they had many people live with us in our little house, including two teenage girls and a guy transitioning from prison back into real life. We also found housing for a homeless guy who appeared to be serious about finding a job and turning his life around, but unfortunately he sucked up the hospitality for all he could get from it and then went back to the street.

Last year I still followed my parent’s example and took in a guy for almost a week. I blogged about it HERE. Even two months ago Dana and I were at the mall in Texarkana when a guy asked me for gas money so he could continue his trip to something important in Dallas. I told him I don’t just hand out cash, but that I’d be willing to go up the the gas station with him. He agreed to meet me in a couple minutes when Dana and I finished what we were doing, but he never showed up.

Along with taking my youth group to feed the homeless in Dallas and regularly visiting a soup kitchen in Philly growing up, these experiences have caused me to be a little skeptical about the honesty of this demographic.

A couple years ago a friend of mine in seminary was talking about the panhandling issue in the Dallas area and said something that altered my perspective. He said,

“These homeless people may take my money and go spend it on drugs and alcohol, but that’s not an excuse I can use to justify whether or not I should be generous. God commands us to give and help those in need. What they decide to do with my generosity is between them and God, not me. I’m responsible to God, not to what I think they’ll do with the money.”

This was pretty much my outlook until a recent post by The Homeless Guy, a blog I only recently started reading. Read this homeless man’s entire entry. Here’s clips of it:

1) Not all panhandlers are homeless.
2) Most homeless people do not panhandle.
3) Nearly all money given to panhandlers is used to buy drugs and alcohol.

Feeding addictions is the sole goal of nearly all panhandlers. Sure, they may use some of the money to buy food; even drugs addicts get hungry, but if a person were to give food instead of money to a panhandler, that panhandler will be able to save more of his money for drugs….

My recommendation has always been, and still is, to not give money to panhandlers….

In being good stewards, it would only be right to get to know the people you intend to assist with money and other things, before actually giving them.

So now, instead of helping these people without assuming responsibility for any addictions, here’s an actual homeless man telling me to do otherwise. The Homeless Guy goes on to say that he does encourage giving food to homeless people since it’s harder to obtain meals now, so should that be the extent of my on-the-spot giving? Getting to know a homeless person I intend to assist isn’t really that practical most of the time, so what do I do? Do I continue to give of my resources regardless of how they decide to use it? Or, do I keep God’s blessings to myself in the name of “helping them overcome problems?”

Posted on September 21, 2006

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  • Thank you for your considerate post, and the link. Truly, if a person cares about the homeless, they will do more than just pass out food or money or blankets or whatever. In all actuality, the best thing you could ever give a homeless person, is your friendship.

  • I get that the best scenario is to be friends and to help long term, but that isn’t always practical. The dillema is what to do when you are passing 10 people on the street as you are walking to dinner. The dillema for me as someone who lives in a small town is that homeless people are just passing through so all that I can do is to meet their immediate needs. There is no time to build a relationship. So should I simply stop trying to meet their needs because I can’t follow up with the other stuff?

  • Jerry

    I try to focus on doing what is best for the person and not just what is quickest and easiest for my own conscience. If my goal is truly to ‘help’ them then I must make sure what I do is really and truly HELPING them. Make sure you define what it means to you to ‘help’ someone.

  • Christians never seem to mention “WWJD?” when this topic comes up.

    Ever been an alcoholic or a junkie? “Need” becomes a pretty flexible concept when your every cell is gnawing for relief. I agree with the idea of helping the poor in the context of relationship instead of hit & run. But take the “buy him a sandwich” method to another level and go have a drink with him. Meet him where he is (like, um, Jesus did). Then you might begin to earn the right to speak into his life.

    The idea that I know what is best for the guy asking for my help is pretty condescending. If you can commit the time to develop a relationship, then do it. But if you’re not willing, then give him the freaking cash. Withholding from the poor in the name of stewardship is the height of evangelical hypocrisy.

    • Sorry, but that is just retarded. Jesus spent time with sinners, but he did not engage in their sins with them. Buying an alcoholic a drink, and worse, having one with him, sends all the wrong messages, and actually enables the alcoholic.

  • This has always been a struggle.. WWJD?
    He told us we’d always have the poor with us.
    And we had to consider if we should take food out of our kids’ mouths, and turn them ‘sour on the Lord’, or work for the long term with them, too.
    We’ve been taken so many times (in clever ways) that we would say to be VERY cautious.
    Even Peter and Paul said, “Silver and gold have we none, but such as we have we give unto thee.. in the name of Jesus, “Rise up, and walk”” we have actually used that Scripture to help keep them straight, as well as ourselves.
    In the good old days in the country.. they say the tramps would mark your place. If you fed one, you’d get many more.. God is not going to cut us off, if we try to conserve for better causes in His Kingdom.. It’s a matter of choice.. Not IF we’re doing God’s work.. by only feeding the poor.
    I speak, because this issue will never be agreed upon by everyone..
    Appreciate your good hard logical thinking.
    If God is anything, He is logical.. to me.
    G’ma Betty

  • Tim

    Christians never seem to mention “WWJD?” when this topic comes up…. I agree with the idea of helping the poor in the context of relationship instead of hit & run. But take the “buy him a sandwich” method to another level and go have a drink with him. Meet him where he is (like, um, Jesus did).

    But Jesus also just walked along the road and healed those laying around. He met needs and helped random people on the street, so apparently it’s acceptable to reach out even when the context of building a relationship is not possible. My question lies therein: to what extent do I give and help when building a relationship is not possible? I obviously cannot heal and perform mircales on the spot, but helping others on the stop is still something He modeled. Since I can’t heal or offer gobs of money (which apparently may be more harmful than beneficial to the homeless anyway), what do I do?

  • My point was that you can't control all the variables. I'm not equipped with sufficient information to decide who's "deserving" of my charity. So, if I'm not willing to take time to befriend the poor (and face it, most of them are not really interested in your friendship, at least not when they're needing a fix or a drink or a meal), then I have to be willing to give away what doesn't really belong to me anyway (money).

    The Devil's methodology (if you believe in such a person) is to get us bogged down in such a quandary as this, making you believe that you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't.

    Well, if the red letters are any indicator, you're just damned if you don't.

  • I think that we should always be led by the Spirit. Not only ask yourself WWJD, but "Jesus, what should I do right now." And if you don't get an answer, do what Dorsey is suggesting. Every time I've been in a situation where someone has asked me for money and I've had a personal dilemna deciding, it is usually because I have the resources and I just don't want to give them up. I think that my money is going to be wasted. But, as Dorsey points out, it's not really my money anyway. Why take the chance and miss the boat. You just might be entertaining angels.

    I find that if my life is about giving, then I won't have guilt about not giving to a panhandler. I will have already given to another cause. I am sure that that Peter and John had already spent their money when they were asked for alms. They didn't have time to build a relationship with the man, but Peter wasted no time passing along a divine gift of healing in the name of Jesus. Many times I don't have silver or gold, but what of Christ can I give? They imparted healing. What can I impart? I will need to be full of the Holy Spirit and walk in that awareness everyday to meet these kinds of opportunities.

  • Thank you for telling the truth. That took courage IMO. Stats show that the homeless who are serious about getting back on track usually are homeless for only 3-6 months. Where I live in the Los Angeles area homelessness has become an art. I talked with one young homeless guy once – he was a college grad -and he said the homeless in my city come here in the winter and then Santa Monica in the summer because our city and that city are so good to them. “Good” means supporting their con life style. It is a problem and it won’t be solved by just giving people “fish.” We must also help them to change into good fishermen so they can catch their own fish.

  • I believe Jesus would – as we should as well – present the Way of salvation from sin and death at every opportunity. An opportunity to do that can arrise when dealing with a con artist, addict, or someone really in need. So perhaps that should be the primary focus. In that, I understand that we should still help people physically however. In fact, people probably won’t care about Spiritual needs if you ignore their physical needs. In the question of ‘when should we do that?’ we should remember to follow the Holy Spirit’s (who we are indwelled with at salvation – Ephesians 1:13-14) leading and help how He leads us too. If we seek to glorify God and promote His kingdom by following the Holy Spirit, we will do what’s right.



  • Tim


    Full-time youth pastor salaries are typically pretty slim (average of $28k/year, last I heard), but not in every case.

    For training, many Bible colleges and seminaries now offer youth ministry degrees. Plus, other organizations such as Youth Specialties also offer conventions, workshops and materials for further education and training in youth work.

    Concerning qualifications, this will be different for each church/organization as to what they expect. Typically qualifications include a passion for young people, a clean criminal background check, relational and focused personality, spiritual and emotional maturity and vision for what the ministry will “look like” in function and in purpose.

    There are few advancements in youth ministry. We’re all kinda on the same playing field, just with different contexts, different students and different areas of responsibility in our organizations. There’s really not a hierarchy ladder to climb, only lateral transitions from one ministry to another. Some may view youth ministry as a “stepping stone” to be a Sr. Pastor, but I personally have a big problem with this kind of mentality.

    Hope that answers your questions a little. Thanks for asking!

  • Can I just throw in the idea of giving to an organization that does build relationships with the homeless? So then you may not have the chance to build a relationship with the guy on the corner and obviously just handing him some money or some food is just a toss-up in its effectiveness… so give to those who do build the relationships with the real needs and in so doing you’re reaching the guy on the corner in an effective manner while using your time well too.

  • Toulina

    My son and I are in financial trouble and barely have enough food to feed ourselves. My roommate took someone he knows only from being online, which I had no knowledge of, I thought he know her in person, and now I am worried about what we are going to do… My son comes first. I am trying to do right by God and struggling with it, but Iam also a mother and need to look out for my son first. The only thing I can do at this point is find her a shelter… I just feel awful, but yet at the same time, I have literally 2 days worth of food to give my son and the Lord understands that, right?

  • Tim


    I agree that you and your son come before your roommate. The Lord entrusted him to your care, so he should be a much higher priority than providing for your roommate. I pray the Lord will provide for you in some miraculous way that brings glory to His name.

  • Richard

    I just met a 57 year old homeless woman laid off and no where to stay and it has really opened my eyes! She fell on hard times and seems genuinely interested in getting her life back on track. She has determination and faith and seems to have no addictions. We’ve become fast friends and I give her small amounts of money when I have it. Ten dollars here and twenty dollars there. She doenst need money for food because she gets that from the two main charities here in town. I feel blessed to have the experience with her and for the right individual, I would help again.

  • Tim

    That’s great, Richard! I’m glad you have the ability to be prudent as you share what you have with others, both your money and your friendship. God will bless you richly.

  • Alyssa

    i have to do a debate on why no one should help the homeless. Does anybody have ANYTHING on why we shouldnt? I know its horrible, but i have no clue what to write. If anyone has suggestions, that would be great

  • Tim

    Hmm… Alyssa, I’m not sure I have any solid resources to point ya toward for that, but maybe The Homeless Guy can.

  • Alyssa

    Thank-you =D

  • Sir:

    Am 68 and living in my van! Sick since a youngster, Untreated burst brain aneurism, finding it difficult to catch up! Joined the marines (61-67) shortly after that occurence, suffering mightily throughout, and still to this day! Most of my time is spent at the Sulzer library in Chicago trying to get things together, but the complexity of a “Breakout” astounds even me! Working daily, an hour or 2, on a little money making project, but am uncertain as to whether it is legal and cannot affords any fee! I really need cash to live in a motel or room! Do not Drink, smoke or ingest drugs of any kind, only B/pressure variety! Is there anyway you can help?
    Any suggestion would be appreciated! It is getting late for me, and my health, whil appearing ok, is getting worse internally! Incidentally, i found it was a Burst Brain aneurism whil discussing the episode with a Dr> Chung, I think, in the Marine corp Veteran’s hospital!


    Thomas W. Atkielski

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