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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