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Should You Give Money to a Homeless Person?

August 5, 2009

It’s happened to all of us.  We’re walking along, minding our own business or perhaps enjoying a conversation with a friend and out of the corner of our eye we catch sight of him.  There he is wearing layers of disheveled clothes, looking like he hasn’t showered in months and holding out a cup begging for change from every passerby. 

“Ridiculous”, you think to yourself, “why doesn’t he just clean himself up and get a job?”   Then the “good” part of your conscience kicks in, “I should really give him something, what if he really is desperate for food?  Ah, he’ll probably just buy drugs or booze anyways.  I wouldn’t want to contribute to his problems”.  And so you walk by feeling justified in your own mind. 

Photo by St.Stev

I know I’ve certainly been there.  So what is the right thing to do?  Should we give money to the homeless man or woman begging for help?  I think it’s a fair question because on the one hand we all have an innate sense to help others and on the other hand a lot of us have that feeling that the homeless person will not use the money to buy food, but rather on something he shouldn’t whether it be lottery tickets, drugs or alcohol.  These are legitimate concerns and questions that I think are ok to ask.

Seek First to Understand

According to a HUD Office of Policy & Development research study done in December 1999, there are various reasons contributing to homelessness and various reasons that keep a person in that lifestyle.  According to the survey, respondents were asked what the single most important thing they needed right now:    

  • Help finding a job was the most frequently cited need (42%)
  • Help finding affordable housing (38%)
  • Assistance with paying rent, mortgage, or utilities in relation to securing permanent housing (30%)
  • Job training and medical care (13 % each)

The survey also asked homeless persons what their childhood was like:

Twenty-nine percent of homeless clients also report abuse or neglect in childhood from someone in their household (12 percent neglect, 22 percent physical abuse, and 13 percent sexual abuse). Thirty-three percent ran away from home and 22 percent were forced to leave home for at least 24 hours before they reached age 18. In addition, 21 percent report that their first period of homelessness predated their 18th birthday (this homelessness might have been with their family or on their own).

Does that come as any surprise?  We probably could have guessed there were various forms of abuse and neglect in their childhood.  At the very least, this data gives us a reference point.  The next time we see a homeless person and think, “Just clean yourself up” we might be able to have some compassion instead and think about the rough childhood they had or the abuse they’ve gone through and the people skills and job training they never received from parents who loved them.  Many of them have had a rough life. 

Photo by: Steven McDonald

Other Statistics

Food problems experienced by homeless clients included eating one meal a day or less (20 percent); being hungry in the past 30 days but not eating because they could not afford enough food (39 percent); and going a whole day without eating anything at all in the last 30 days (40 percent).

Additionally, thirty-eight percent of homeless persons reported being robbed, while another forty-one percent reported having money or other items stolen from a locker or other place of storage.  Seven percent reported being sexually assaulted or raped and another twenty-two percent were physically assaulted. 

They’ll Just Buy Drugs or Alcohol

This is a legitimate concern.  After all, if you are going to help you would like to know that your money is going to buy food or clothing or other items they need and not go towards fueling some addiction.  The NHSACP study reported that over the course of their lifetime, 62 percent of homeless respondents reported problems with alcohol use and 58 percent reported problems with the use of drugs.

We need to remind ourselves, however, that not every homeless person will buy drugs or alcohol.  We shouldn’t generalize and stereotype every homeless person.  To do so would be an insult to their personhood and worth much like you and I feel slighted when someone paints us with a broad brushstroke.  

Photo by: Vincos

What Should Our Attitude Be

I have to admit, I have a lot of growing to do in this area, but what stood out in my mind as I read this study is that in general homeless persons don’t want to be homeless, but as a result of many contributing factors they are many times unsure how or, in some cases, mentally or physically unable to break free from their lifestyle.  The other thing that impacted me in this study is the realization that many, if not all, of the homeless people we see today have had a rough life.  They haven’t had a good childhood or education.  Many of them have been abused and neglected, which means that I need to be more compassionate and understanding rather than judgmental and arrogant. 

I was reminded recently from a friend that we shouldn’t be motivated by guilt to help the needy because guilt will eventually burn us out.  Instead, we should be motivated by the fact that we are the needy and the spiritually poor,  and Jesus has come and given us His life so that we can have eternal, abundant life through Him.  Because of what He’s done for us we can be a beacon of light and hope to others. 

Photo by: JamesFischer

How Should We Help

It’s probably safe to admit that most of us have a desire to help people in need, but we’re just unsure how to go about it.  We want to do something to help them and not hurt them or add to their problems.  I don’t think we should stop giving money to the homeless, but certainly we can be a little discerning when we are giving. 

I remember listening to a sermon some time ago where John Piper asked the question of whether or not God would hold you accountable because you gave the homeless man $20 and he spent it on alcohol or would He say “Thank you for having a heart and compassion for the weak and the poor”. 

There are a number of things we can do to help the homeless.  If you feel uncomfortable with giving money, then why not buy them lunch or dinner.  Give them warmer clothes or buy them a cup of hot coffee on a cold day.  Serve in a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter.  If you work in an area where you see the same homeless person on a regular basis, why not stop and talk to them and listen to their story?  You might find there’s an actual person under those disheveled clothes. 

What About You?

I’d like to hear from you.  What do you think about giving money to the homeless?  What are other ways we can help the poor and needy?  What has been your experiences in this area?

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42 Comments leave one →
  1. August 5, 2009 9:07 am

    Jason,
    Thanks for introducing this topic. I actually have a post that will go live on Sunday that shares some of my thoughts on the topic.
    The best idea I have is to sit with the poor and listen. Once “the poor” is “a person” you might be willing to get your hands dirty.

    • August 5, 2009 8:07 pm

      Craig, looking forward to your post and thoughts about this question. That’s a great point about helping real people and not just “the poor”.

  2. August 5, 2009 10:48 am

    Great post! I’ll admit to harboring some of these ideas at times – wondering whether money I give will be used for the wrong types of things. A sermon my pastor gave on the topic – similar to the one you mentioned above – asked us whether God would want us to be giving, or whether he would want us to withhold our help because it might be used in the wrong way. The answer as you mentioned was that we should be giving, and that God wants us to have a heart of compassion for others. If you don’t want to give cash, take them to lunch and buy them some food. God will never fault you for helping those who are in need.

  3. August 5, 2009 12:49 pm

    great post – I remember writing about this topic a couple years ago and getting some very interesting responses. I don’t know where Piper went with that mesage you mentioned, but I typically think it is better to give. The Bible has a lot to say about giving to the poor, and very little about us having to figure out what they are going to do with what they are given…

  4. August 5, 2009 1:06 pm

    Years ago, I was in Chicago on business, and had a client with me. As we walked around, I pulled out a dollar to anyone with their hand out, maybe $10 total the whole trip, two cups of Starbucks. The guy asks me “how can you give to every person who asks”? I didn’t think too long and answered, “How can you walk by and never pull out a dollar”?

    Now when Jane 2.0 (my 10 yr old) and I are planning to be in a city, she reminds me to get singles on the way past the bank. She and I take turns reaching into our pockets and for her, it’s her own money. For the $15 we gave out the last we were there, the Big Guy ™ rewarded us with a parking space that saved us a $25 garage fee. One way or another, I always come out ahead.

    • August 6, 2009 9:14 am

      That’s a great way to teach your children about generosity and helping the poor! I like that.

    • August 6, 2009 11:44 am

      LOL…. “The Big Guy”…….. ROTFLOL

  5. August 5, 2009 1:16 pm

    I appreciate the post. However, I do not give out money to those who appear homeless. If asked for money, I will say, “I won’t give you any money but I’ll buy you lunch.” If they respond favorably, we’ll go to the nearest restaurant and I’ll buy what they request. If they respond unfavorably, “No… just need a couple bucks…come on man…” then I think it’s safe to assume they’ll be using the money for something I won’t approve of and I’ll keep walking. As a steward of God’s resources, I just want to be doubly sure I’m not enabling an addiction.

    • August 6, 2009 9:18 am

      I can appreciate your concern. I think taking them out to lunch is also a great way to get to know them as individuals and hear more of their story. Out of curiosity, what happens if you don’t always have the time to sit down for lunch?

      • August 6, 2009 2:34 pm

        I still remember my freshmen year in college coming back from visiting home, I was walking to my dorm at about 8 in the morning. I was next to a McDonald’s and a homeless man asked for some money. I said, “No, but I’ll buy you some breakfast.” He said, “Come on, just a couple bucks.” I replied, “I’m not going to give you any money but I will buy you a meal.” He said, “Well, ok then.” I then asked, “What would you like?” He said, “Spaghetti.” Now remember, this was in the AM and we were right by McDonald’s. I told him I couldn’t help him with that. It was obvious he wanted money for drugs or alcohol.

        A different time a lady came up to me when I was outside waiting for a table at a restaurant with some friends. She too asked for money to help feed her family. I told her I’d go buy her some food at the grocery across the street, but I wouldn’t just give her the money. She said, “Ok.” So we went together and she got some flank steak and something else I can’t recall. I told her the reason I was doing this was because I love Jesus and that Jesus loves her. She said, “I love Jesus too!” and then I saw her off to the public transit.

        So if I don’t have time to sit with them, I will pay for their meal, and tell them that I did this because I love Jesus and that Jesus loves them too.

        I think buying their meal is a simple way of getting to the heart of their need.

  6. August 5, 2009 1:48 pm

    “If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother.” Deuteronomy 15:7

    Whenever I can, I give whatever is in my change purse to the homeless. Sometimes it’s $1, sometimes it’s $10 or more. I’ve never looked down on someone living in the streets because I know what it’s like to be down on your luck. It’s not my place to judge their lifestyle.

  7. August 5, 2009 4:26 pm

    This topic has always been one that tugged at my heart. I sometimes give money, but usually help in other ways. My college town had a large homeless population. I’d keep extra water in my car during summers to pass out and extra warm clothing and blankets I no longer needed for the winters. There aren’t a lot of visible homeless people in the area I’m currently in, but donating time to programs that help the underprivileged learn life skills they may not have learned early in life is a great help.

    Volunteermatch.org is a great site to find organizations that need assistance. Over the years I’ve found opportunities to help with literacy, job training, food bank, coats for kids, and many other programs. Also, you can go directly to your local homeless shelter and ask what areas they need help in. It’s easy to take being blessed for granted, but helping others is an awesome feeling that nothing else can replace.

    • August 6, 2009 9:24 am

      Ashley, I agree, our help doesn’t always have to be money. I like your ideas for volunteering. Thanks for sharing that website as well.

  8. August 5, 2009 5:59 pm

    I just don’t believe that money is the proper handout to a beggar – mainly because I can’t know for sure if the money is going to be used for a drug habit or alcohol, and I do not want to be an enabler. When I see somebody I judge to be truly in need (as opposed to the professional beggar), I always offer to get them something to eat.

    My $0.02 (after taxes)

    Len
    Len Penzo dot Com

    • August 6, 2009 9:29 am

      As mentioned above, taking them out to eat or buying them lunch gives a greater chance of getting to know them and finding out their true needs.

  9. August 6, 2009 10:31 am

    This is an interesting conversation that I think is often overlooked by most Christians. Most of us think that our FIRST inclination, which is to have a tight fist around our money, is a righteous claim and then we find ways to justify it. I would be curious to have someone supply a Scripture that states that we ought not give money to the poor out of fear that they will misuse that money (or anything loosely associated with this idea). What is more I would challenge each person who says this by asking a similar question that Jason asked above, (what if you don’t have time to eat lunch”)… “what if they just ate lunch using money that was previously given them (are they supposed to eat again or are you exempt from having to give to them in this moment)?” “What if they are embarrassed by their dress and smell to enter a restaurant and SIT DOWN to eat (which having worked with the homeless is often a concern of theirs)?”

    The point is, we are not obligated to always give to every person who asks for money but by the Spirit’s leading we have to have a heart that IS WILLING and trust the Spirit’s leading as the ultimate discernment. We cannot trust OUR subjective judgments as the final authority as to who DESERVES to have grace and mercy bestowed upon them, if that were the case, we would all be in serious trouble before God, none of us would stand.

    I agree that buying food, or clothing is great (actually what I like to do, and what you can do to resolve this whole question is to buy giftcards to McDonalds or the local gas station, with several dollars on them, this way they can eat when they NEED to, you are being obedient to God and you are keeping them from potentially misusing the funds). But regardless of the tactics you use, the main thing we need to remember is that it is not our job to judge them, it is our job to have a giving heart.

    I fear often times we try to justify our not giving by appealing to a habit which (1. we don’t know they have. 2. We cannot ascertain in a short amount of time. 3. Is not our responsibility to judge in the first place). We need to be concerned with our heart and let God convict them of any sin in theirs. For instance, what if they DO have a habit but because of the mercy shown them by YOU they check out the local church and get clean…does this have more of an impact that denying them money because they were perceived to have a habit? How many times does God show you grace and you pervert it by your sin, is God ever going to stop being gracious towards you because of your perversion? Of course the answer is “no”, because he is “patient and longsuffering” with you, “NOT TREATING YOUR SINS AS YOU DESERVE” (Psalm 103:10).

    Finally, you don’t have to sit down and have a heart to heart to share the love of God with them (of course this would be the preferred model of evangelism) but we can definitely have an impact for the Kingdom by letting them know the love Jesus has for them by making known the reason you are giving them money. Never let that opportunity go to waste, always give glory to Him in these moments and tell them He is the reason you are doing what you are doing.

    • August 10, 2009 9:07 pm

      Thanks MB for your thought provoking comments. I think the gift cards idea is a great one. I had never thought of that before.

    • OFWGKTA permalink
      March 22, 2012 12:50 am

      I agree with everything. I get so upset when “Christians” try to justify their selfishness. All we can do is live for others and hope we get rewarded at some point. If not I think I would just be happy that I was able to help someone. Fuck Bill O’Reilly.

  10. Hate the Homeless permalink
    August 6, 2009 12:54 pm

    Homeless people are the scum of our society and I have absolutely no sympathy whatsoever for them. They are the ones that made the wrong decisions in their life. They are the ones who chose to not get an education. They are the ones who chose to not learn a marketable skill. A solid education and a marketable skill does not always guarantee success in life, of course. But, not having an education or skill almost always guarantees failure.

    These losers got exactly what they deserve in life and they certainly do not deserve any of our money, sympathy or respect. Please do not promote their careless and disgusting lifestyle.

    Remember what I tell my children… All of us were created equal, but that does not mean that all of us are equal. Life is all about making the right decisions. Homeless scum chose to make the wrong decisions. They deserve absolutely nothing.

    • August 6, 2009 1:05 pm

      Jesus Christ died for you too brother. You can have everlasting joy and peace by trusting in Him. You are spiritually bankrupt, just as you charge the homeless to be materially, but God has purchased your soul through Jesus Christ! Not merely so that you can go to heaven but so that you can live life here on earth with confidence, abundant joy, exuberance and peace, looking past yourself with eyes of compassion and love.

      “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9-10).

    • August 10, 2009 11:42 am

      Wow! How sad is that you generalize and assume that all homeless people deserve what they have! Fortunately for you, you had parents that HELP YOU make the right decisions and that provided for your needs. Most homeless people have not had that blessing. Even when the opportunities have presented in their lives they have not been able to take hold of them because of lack of basic resources. I admit that sometimes I do, like most of us, think “Hopefully he/she will use these few dollars to buy food”, but you know what, then I think, my duty is to help, not to make assumptions and most importantly, pray for that person as you drive away. My children see me giving and it’s a life lesson, I do talk about personal responsibility with them but also stress the fact that if not for the grace of God, we all too could be homeless “scum” as you refer to these individuals.

    • August 10, 2009 12:13 pm

      Sir, you have a well of bitterness springing up in your soul and spewing out of your mouth. I would like for you to explain what the 200,000+ Texans who lost their jobs last month could have done to counteract that.
      Also, in the early 2000’s, I know personally of engineers (people with degrees and marketable skills) who contacted the President of my company asking, ‘ do you know of anyone who is hiring and, if not, if you hear of anything, will you PLEASE let me know’?

      I don’t know if you believe the Bible or not, but I’m reminded of a verse that says, “judge not that ye be not judged”…….(paraphrasing now….. but how we judge is how we will be judged. In my opinion, you dished out some pretty harsh judgment and it may come back to haunt you some day. Also, you never know how those little children you are raising will grow up to be.

      God bless you and soften you heart.

    • OFWGKTA permalink
      March 22, 2012 12:55 am

      I feel so bad for your children, having a heartless parent. Do them a favor and kill yourself. Or maybe they could run away, become homeless and have a better life without having to talk to you. You’re the apitimy of a hypocrite Christian.

  11. August 6, 2009 5:54 pm

    Great article. My wife and I have had this conversation many times. We absolutely believe in helping others, especially those who have fallen on hard times. We’ve adopted several simple policies to help us. First, I am happy to buy a homeless person lunch or other necessities instead of giving them money. Second, we research and select charities that align with our beliefs and where at least 85% of the donation goes to the program costs.

  12. kim permalink
    August 8, 2009 9:05 pm

    I do not think we should give money to a homeless person. I have bought them a meal, fed their dog, bought them a cold drink on a hot day or on more than one occasion gave them my lunch.

    I feel that they are homeless for a reason and like all of the things in life we say we would never be or do, we do not know what that reason is and should not judge. You never know you could be that person someday.

    Especially right now we are all living paycheck to paycheck and a sudden illness or job loss could put us right there on the street next to them.

    I think that if we give them money we could just be contributing to an existing drug or alcohol problem and in reality we are not helping them but in fact adding to their particular problem.

    I often remind myself when i see a homeless person, whether they are panhandling or just walking down the road, that they are someones mother,father,sister,brother aunt or uncle and they just want to be loved and respected like the rest of us.

    • Judi permalink
      December 25, 2011 10:35 pm

      Thank you, Kim. Your last paragraph mirrors my feelings/opinions/ideals on this topic. If not for the grace of God, that would be me. God has blessed all of us so richly with his precious gift for which we celebrate today, Christmas Day 2011…even to the man who has posted his negative view of homelessness. How very sad I feel for him.

  13. August 10, 2009 9:35 am

    If you have it to give, I believe God would want you to-what they do with it is between God and them in my opinion. If you are like me, and finances are limited a smile and a warm hello can go a long way. See my article Random Acts of Kindness at http://www.hubpages.com/profile/rsmallory . Blessings!

  14. Mecha permalink
    August 10, 2009 1:03 pm

    I was wondering about the idea of $5 gift cards to grocery or gas stations. Most won’t allow you to redeem them for alcohol or cigarettes but you can buy food or drink. My husband and I were thinking of doing this because I am worried about carrying over a few dollars at a time with me when I am alone.

  15. Korwin permalink
    August 10, 2009 4:32 pm

    A had spent a year volunteering every week at a homeless shelter a few years ago and had the opportunity to see into the life of a previously homeless person who lived on the streets for 15 years. As a addict to a list of drugs/alcohols, he impressed upon me never to give money directly to a homeless person as he said it would only feed the habits. But strongly sugguested to take the homeless to the nearest fastfood and buy them a meal as it would show how much you care. He also said the homeless shelters do the best job at providing and understanding how to care for the homeless such that donations to the shelter where the best way to help the homeless.

  16. doubt fire permalink
    October 28, 2009 11:14 pm

    “Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it. Proverbs 3:27
    Envy thou not the oppressor and choose none of his ways” Proverbs 3:31

  17. ellen permalink
    August 23, 2014 11:43 am

    I have lot of compassion for the homeless people as I nearly ended up being homeless myself with three. Children. It was a hard time. I has to get myself sorted and find a home for us to live. I do get very upset and hurt when people walk past a homeless person as that could be you or I. How can people just ignore them when they are standing there begging. Our money and homes are all from God so who denies the homeless people. It makes my heart hurt when I witness people passing by a homeless person. Just remember, that person could be you or I. And your money is God’s money. Not your money.

  18. bobby harris permalink
    August 29, 2014 6:35 am

    hi everyone I am in a bad situation myself at home I read the posts and I found that so many organizations claim to help and they don’t now they said they have no funds they are lying because they got funds stashed somewhere for their business to run and a little to help that’s it I called churches to help me with my rent for august 2014 since I lost money in my pocket I think it got pulled out and fell on the ground somewhere and I owe my landlord rent of $465 for my apartment now he wants to kick me out of here and said pack your bags and get out of here….. I am in a lot of trouble and the churches don’t care about the bible anymore they say with excuses there nothing in the bible saying to help the poor I said Christ said to help poor with money or whatever to give from the heart they said that’s not true they are ignorant to the bible they don’t listen to it anymore. they moved on and now I cant get any rent money from any church or anywhere I am scared of losing my home nobody is helping at all NONE this is getting worse by the day and that now is awful I was trying to say hey you can you send the rent to my landlord I have his address and his name and send him a check but got ignored they hung up on phones on anyone that ask for assistance they said sorry you cannot ask a church go ask a bank or something they are cold phony like Christians now there is no Christians out there hardly now anymore they are getting colder with people if there is someone who is willing to help me please let me know asap by email I will provide my landlords name and his address god bless you all and from a warm heart thank you

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