Giving to Homeless: Yes or No?
Do you ever see any homeless people – or people one might assume are homeless – asking for money?
I suppose it depends on where you live, and where you might work. For me, in a comfortable suburban locale, this isn’t part of the scene. However, working downtown, I do run into people asking for money once in a while. They’re typically sitting on the sidewalk or leaning against a building, looking disheveled and way older than they probably are, dressed in layers of worn out clothes, with a change bucket or tray, and a cardboard sign asking for money.
Whenever I see someone asking for money, the reaction on whether or not to give can vary by the day and situation. I’m always moved in some way, but there are times when I’m more likely to help than others. As I’ve shared before, anybody can be generous and help out those in need. Of course, we’re human ourselves and have our own survival instinct, so most of us don’t give it all away. At least I don’t.
What do you do when you see such a situation?
Here’s my how mind works, with this quick thought process I go through in a matter a few seconds when I see a typical situation of a homeless person on the street asking for money, spelled out step-by-step:
- Feel sympathy. I truly don’t like to see people that are miserable and suffering. My initial thought is not to overanalyze reasons for their plight, but to simply feel bad that I see someone living such a bad existence. I instantly feel a touch of pain for the person.
- Think about my immediate needs. Here’s where self-oriented thinking comes into play. There are two ways I go with this:
- Rejection. If I’m rushing to get somewhere, which I usually am if it’s a workday, I just might shut down any thoughts of helping. My instant thought in that case would be, “I don’t have time for this”. I think subconsciously, I’m thinking of my own needs and making sure that I get where I need to be – so I don’t end up in that person’s position. Honestly, this is probably the case most of the time, even with that instant sympathetic feeling happening that I mentioned before. In this case, I’ll walk right by and pretend not to notice. In which case, I feel a tiny bit of guilt, but then suppress the thought and move on with my day and forget about it. The process stops here in these cases.
- Consideration. These are times when I’m not as rushed, or I see someone who looks particularly in need. If I see somebody who’s really old, I might stop in my tracks and think about offering some help. In these cases, I’ll briefly get a wave of thinking “maybe this one is different”.
- Deliberate. Here’s where I start to think, should I help this person? I’m almost ashamed to say, but my instant thought is “I don’t want to part with my hard-earned money”. It’s kind of an instinctive, survival of the fittest reaction. However, I always follow that with a thought along the lines of “yeah, well kindness is a good thing and I should be better than that. Besides, imagine how that person is suffering, and it’s for the greater good to think of others in need”
- Decide. At this point, if I hadn’t already walked past as I noted above, and had reached the deliberation stage, I’ll make an instant decision. If the person seems to be young, healthy, or highly confident – they won’t get anything. If the person seems older, sickly, or begs – I break down and give something. It might be a dollar or two. Perhaps food might be the best thing to give, though I’m not always carrying it around with me.
How often do I give? Maybe 5% of the time.
I’ve heard all kinds of arguments for not giving people anything. A more civil way of saying this is comes from folks who say they’d rather give to “organizations” than individuals. A less civil way of saying this comes from people who say things along the lines of “why can’t they just stop being lazy and actually find a job”. Of course, this ignores the reality that jobs aren’t easy to find for everyone depending where they live, and some people are in such sorry shape physically and/or mentally that it might not be an option anyway.
Ultimately, we have to look out for ourselves and our families to survive, first and foremost. You can see this view evidenced by my rough estimate of a 5% or so frequency of giving. However, some compassion and occasional help for the destitute makes us human, right?
Another way to go about giving to the homeless is by donating large items that you no longer have any plans to use. For example, if you own a boat that has not been used for years, you can donate it to a charity, where it can possibly be used to build new homeless shelters. Many people prefer to donate in this manner, since they know where the money is going to be used. When you donate your boat, the proceeds from the sale of the boat are used to help those in need and you can receive tax credits for your donation, making this the best of both worlds.
My Questions for You.
Do you ever give to homeless people – or would you, if you saw one?
Do you have any experiences of giving that you specifically recall? What do you remember from it?
Do you think it’s selfish to totally refuse to help such people in all instances?