There is some controversy over whether or not we should give handouts to homeless people. Scammers ARE out there. My boss used to watch people park up the road and then walk down to the corner to stand holding a sign day after day, almost like a regular 9-5 job. Supposedly you can average at or above minimum wage if you’re willing to hold a cardboard sign and look sufficiently destitute. I once had a woman ask me for help to feed her hungry grandchildren and then refuse to let me buy her whatever groceries they might want. She only wanted money.
I am unwilling to let the fear of giving to a hustler deter me from trying to help someone who is actually in need.
There are many legitimate reasons for someone to be homeless. It’s easy enough to look at a seemingly healthy adult and think, “Why doesn’t that guy just go get a job? Flip some burgers. Do SOMETHING besides beg on the corner”. We don’t know everything they may be dealing with. It’s not up to me to judge. It’s up to me to treat everyone like the human being that they are. If all I can do is smile at someone as I walk by them on the street and make eye contact instead of looking away then I need to DO that! I’m being very hypocritical as I write this. I don’t always smile. I don’t always make eye contact. I’m really good at pretending to be busy on my phone. But I want to change that! I know that it can be necessary at times to “play dead” in order to avoid a potentially dangerous situation, but 95% of the time that isn’t the case. Everyone just wants to be noticed, to be treated like a normal person, to be seen as an individual instead of one of many, to be treated with respect. Think about it. We all know the difference. Imagine a time when you went out to eat or through the coffee shop drive-through and the person who served you acted like they actually saw YOU instead of just another customer. Try it sometime. Pick a stranger, smile, and say hi like you mean it.
As a rule, I won’t give strangers money. There have been a few rare occasions where I’ve given someone the spare change at the bottom of my purse. Normally I say I don’t have any cash. I figure at least that way I can avoid contributing to someone’s drug habit.
I will offer someone food if they approach me and ask for help. That’s really the least we can do, right?? Feed the hungry. I mean…who wouldn’t give someone else food if they were asked and were able to. It’s kind of the basis of humanity, isn’t it? It’s definitely the basis of the Christian “Do unto others” mantra. And then there’s this. Matthew 25:35 “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in…”
Why stop with food? Why not do more to help? While it isn’t always a wise idea to just hand a stranger money, you CAN give money to organizations that work to help the homeless. Don’t want to give money? Give time! Years ago I volunteered once a week at our local homeless shelter. Let me tell you, that experience changed my life. There is nothing quite like dishing up food for a long line of people who have NOTHING to put your own problems in perspective.
I saw a video today that brought tears to my eyes and made me incredibly happy at the same time. These ladies volunteered their time and talent to give homeless men, women, and children a little bit of dignity. So awesome!
I want to encourage you to consider the ways that you could help the homeless in your area. You might be surprised at how much you gain from giving to those who are truly, desperately in need. At the very least, make eye contact and smile the next time you are tempted to look away.