When a Streetside Homeless Person Asks for Money
Should we or should we not give? It is a question we face more frequently than we should. As often as it arises, the question remains unresolved in many minds.
We ponder if our giving helps or hurts the society as a whole or the individual. If we give to the homeless, would also encourage more homelessness? If we give, would we encourage the individual toward such habits as smoking or drinking, leaving them worse off?
Why are the homeless without a home? Often because of many incidents and happenings over a lifetime over which they have little control, beginning with their birth. Some may choose a lifestyle of homelessness, but most do not get there by choice. Children of the homeless, not surprisingly, are also highly likely to be homeless. Due to catastrophic incidents in life, some take to drugs and drinking to evade mental anguish, and are unable to function within the norms of the society. In almost all cases, the homeless did not get a helping hand to lift them out of the doldrums in their time of need. Characterizing them as addicts, dumb, or lazy may be convenient excuses to dismiss their plight. The inconvenient truth is that the society has failed the homeless.
Reducing homelessness and caring about the health of the homeless are important and require larger societal actions, but such abstract considerations are not a reason to reject a concrete moment of kindness. Your or my giving isn’t going to revolutionize the world to where homelessness becomes a preferred way of living. Nor can we pretend to know how the money we give will be used. We are allowed to ask them why they need the money.
Once I was walking the streets of Portland late evening after dinner with my friend Dr. D and a few others. Dr. D and his students have spent time volunteering in cities in America and elsewhere, helping the less fortunate. We were passing by a homeless man. Dr. D acknowledged the man and nodded but didn’t give. He explained. The homeless understand that not everyone can or will give. But they appreciate it when passers realize that they are real people and treat them that way. They have feelings like you and me. If I decide to give, I check discreetly to be sure I have money before approaching them. More giving brings more happiness. Whether we give or not, there is no reason to show contempt. We don’t know their life story.
We don’t have to give to every homeless person on the street. But together, we can make a difference. Beyond giving, maybe we can contemplate what we can do to minimize homelessness in areas surrounding us, as we celebrate the holidays with family and friends at our homes. For your giving, please consider organizations to feed the hungry and welcome refugees from Afghanistan and elsewhere. Here is a link to writings from 2020.
Happy new year!
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