The panhandler dilemma

Does one give to someone who asks for money on the street? Why shouldn’t I, if having so much compared to what little the other seems to have? Wouldn’t Jesus do the same?

Perhaps not. I have agree with Michael Spencer (Internet Monk) that being a Christian doesn’t absolve you — indeed, implores you — to make thoughtful stewardship decisions. Being a Christian doesn’t mean being a dope. Giving spare change might ease your conscious but perpetuates a kind of street corruption and misses those who have the greatest need in any sustained way. (The bottles and human waste didn’t get in the alley by itself.) I agree with his assessment: if you care, give to an agency that works directly with homeless and at-risk persons.

I say this especially to the tourists who come to Washington, D.C.  If you mean to do good, do it where it helps the most vulnerable.

The ones I feel the worst for are those who sell a local newspaper written by and sold by homeless persons. Since they’re prohibited from panhandling while selling (or selling anything else) this corps of the most articulate, highest functioning (I’m thinking) and hardest working persons are probably making the least of anyone working the streets.

If you care, how about giving to So Others Might Eat (SOME) (Charity Navigator three star rating), or Christ House, an in-patient medical facility for homeless persons. (Charity Navigator three star rating).

3 Replies to “The panhandler dilemma”

  1. Back in the 1980s the city of Madison Wis would have signs posted to please not donate to the panhandlers as the city offered plenty of shelter, food, and clothing for them.

  2. While I agree with you, the complicating factor is, of course, mental illness, how it affects the homeless, and how it might discourage/prevent them from taking advantage of the services available.
    Good post though.

  3. I think the comment about not being a dope is both humorous and valid. I think it is complicated and difficult to say no to people who seem to be in need and ask you for money, but I don’t do it, for the reasons you’ve cited. I do recall once leaving a fast food restaurant and was about to throw away the remaining fries and soda into the trash as I walked out, when a homeless person came in and asked me if she could eat what was left on my tray. In that case, I gladly obliged, though what was left on my tray was a pittance.

    The SF Chronicle columnist Jon Carroll does this annual “Untied Way” campaign where he advocates just handing out lots of cash to homeless people and not worrying about what the recipients do with the money. I just don’t agree that this makes any sense.

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