Do You Give to the Homeless?

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“If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?”—James 2:15-16

Do you give to the homeless?
Do you give to the homeless?
In theory, most of us easily agree with the need to give to the less fortunate. But there’s often a difference, in our minds at least, between writing a check to a charity or even volunteering to serve in a soup kitchen, and helping a disadvantaged stranger we run across on the street.

Maybe it’s that in our over-sanitized world we can find it clean, easy and convenient to give through a charity. Or perhaps the charity itself is seen as somehow validating the needs of the needy. But when we come across an apparent homeless person on the street, there’s no charity acting as an intermediary—it’s us and them, and we’re left to our own discretion as to whether or not we should give.

This is just my thinking on the subject, but I think that God puts the needy right in front of us precisely to see how we’ll respond.

The reasons NOT to give to the homeless

When it comes to giving to strangers on the street, most of us can usually come up with a laundry list of reasons not to do it. Here are some of the more typical ones I’ve heard—or have used myself—to support not giving:

  1. He’ll just use it for drugs or alcohol
  2. She looks perfectly capable of getting a job to me
  3. He might be dangerous—best to keep a distance
  4. She probably has a BMW parked around the corner and begging is how she pays for it
  5. What did he do that so ticked off his family and friends that now he has nowhere to go?
  6. I saw a news piece that showed this guy who used to be an engineer making six figures just quit his job one day to live on a park bench—I’ll bet most of them are just like him
  7. He looks dirty and he probably has a disease—I don’t want to go near him
  8. There are organizations that help people like her—maybe she’s really not needy
  9. I’ll pray for him, but I won’t give him anything; you never know about these people

Any one of these rationalizations could in fact be true—but does that mean we shouldn’t give to the person we’re hanging these claims on?

The reasons why we SHOULD give to the homeless

Do you want to know something that’s really sad? I didn’t have to think too long to come up with nine reasons not to give; I’ll bet you could add a few more to that list too. When we see a person who’s down and out—and we don’t really want to give anyhow–it’s easy to convince ourselves that doing so is dangerous, hazardous or even misguided. The human being inside of us doesn’t like being around the downtrodden. But you want to know something else? The downtrodden are exactly the people who Jesus directed us to help!

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ “—Matthew 25:37-40

Taken in that light, we should consider giving to the homeless to be a privilege. Giving to the homeless reveals our true heart because it’s a demonstration of what we’ll do when no one else is looking, or when there will be no benefit to us of any kind. When we write a check to a charity we get a tax break, and when we volunteer in a place where others are also volunteering, others can see our generosity. But when we give to the homeless on the street who sees?

God does. And what ever our misgivings might be, He approves when we do.

In the end, it’s between the receiver and God

There’s one more point about giving to the homeless that we need to cover. Even if the person we’re giving to isn’t truly needy, that isn’t our concern. We’re given a directive by God to help the needy. When in doubt, it’s better to give to a person who looks needy and may not actually be, than to refuse to give to someone who truly is.

No matter how suspicious we may be of the homeless person before us, we can never truly know what his or her situation is. It may be even worse than we suspect.

We need to do the right thing, which is to give, then leave the consequences of a bogus situation to be worked out between God and the recipient of our giving. We’re “in the clear” so to speak.

“Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back.”—Luke 6:30

That passage is pretty direct—give to everyone who asks. We can never go wrong with it. There may be times when we aren’t in a position to give, but when we are we need to do it and suspend our judgments about the worthiness of the person we’re giving to. When we do, we’re trusting God with the outcome.

And isn’t trust something else God asks of us?

Do you ever hesitate to give to the homeless? Is there ever a time when not giving might be justified?

 

( Photo from Flickr by Beverly & Pack – There’s an interesting story with this photo, please take the time to read it )

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13 Responses to Do You Give to the Homeless?

  1. I appreciate your last point about giving ultimately being something between me and God. I also agree that we should give sacrificially to those last fortunate. However, I think there is a measure of fiduciary wisdom in going through a charity that works with homeless rather than giving directly to an individual.

    On another note, how do you determine when you are in a position to give or not in a position to give?

  2. Hi Drew–I think we need to be prepared in advance to give directly to the less fortunate. Poverty doesn’t fit neatly into groups or categories within the scope of charitable organizations. I do think that God puts the needy in our paths and we need to be prepared to respond to that without a lot of prequalifying.

    As to how do you determine when you are in a position to give or not, I was thinking of everything from your overall financial situation down to how much cash you have in your wallet. Sometimes we are in a position to give, other times not.

  3. I have been scammed before by a professional beggar and I stopped giving directly, unless a person really seemed immediately needy. I believe a lot of the people out begging right now should be getting jobs and helping themselves. Others have mental or addiction problems and really could use some help.

    I have also been scammed by a questionable charity that pretended to help others, but gave very little to the cause. They kept almost all of the contrinutions for themselves. I found this out when the authorities came and shut them down.

    Both of these incidents left me discouraged from giving and I really do like to help. I am now much more careful who I contribute to. There are some good organizations doing great things for others. But, there are way too many people and organizations with their hands out, simply to satisfy their own needs.

  4. Hi Bret–Like everything else in life, there’s ALWAYS a chance of getting scammed. But we can’t let single negative experience taint us for the rest of our lives either. For the most part we’re really not in a position to judge the neediness (is that a word?) of a person, and I’d rather err on their side. Like I wrote in the post, once I give them the money, it’s between them and God whether or not they truly need it. But I will have done what I’ve been told to do.

    Personally, I think that some of the most needy people right now don’t look it. There are people who have been unemployed for over a year but because they still dress in decent clothing–the product of purchases from their previous lives or even from thrift stores–we won’t see the signs. I think that’s the greater risk.

  5. It’s a nice idea to give to those less fortunate individuals a help.
    Money or a job but the problem is, they are totally a stranger to us so we really cannot give them direct help unless we know them.
    If you can’t give them money or a job a prayer might help them. Right?

  6. Hi Nicholle–Yes, always pray for them, but if you have some cash why not give it to them. Similar to my response to Bret I think the bigger risk is that there are more needy people than we realize, and I’d rather assume their telling the truth. Also, there are times when I have cash on me and can help, but others when my wallet is empty. If I give when I have cash, it’ll balance out with the times I have no money.

  7. I don’t live in a city where there are homeless, so my encounters are when I either go into town (Boston) or visit NY. I give to those with their hand out. And elsewhere, I’ve read remarks that for this fact I’m not being a good steward of God’s money. Strange to me that people can pull whatever lines they will and still be on both sides.

    I was in Boston for a dentist appointment, and going to an area where parking at meters is tough, the meters are two hours and there’s little turnover. As I came down the street, I looked up and said “give me a meter and I’ll pay you back, quickly.” The meter spot was right in front of the building, and as I got out of my car, a woman walled up to me and asked “could you buy me lunch?” With a look of ‘I was expecting you’, I handed her a $5 bill and she thanked me, and walked into the Subway sandwich shop. The Big Guy(tm) saved me a $20 parking lot bill. No, I’m not particularly religious, but either way, I can’t make this stuff up, I’m not that clever. Coincidence? Maybe. Meters open up now and then. But I’ve never been solicited on that street before, it’s not where I’d expect to find people asking for money.

  8. Hi Joe, Maybe Someone is trying to tell you something. There’s too much coincidence going on there.

  9. I loved this article. I think in that moment of truth when there is no where to run what does our heart lead us to do? We might give our tithe, pray for the less fortunate and work for a charity over Christmas but how pure are our intentions? I think we all need to ask ourselves as Christians and not arm chair quarterbacks when we have the time to reflect on an article what would we do. How deep does the love of our brother go? Are there limits or do we give without reservation? This is a great topic!

  10. Hi Jeff – I think this is a topic we all struggle with. But I also think that you’re on the right path even if you’re giving and it doesn’t necessarily “feel right”. There’s always some tension in giving what we believe to be rightfully ours, and maybe – just maybe – that’s what makes it sacrificial.

  11. Kevin, as a previously homeless person (I speak things into existence as this is a daily worry if I don’t let God handle it for me) – it is best to try to help the person to get a source of income so they can get off the street. While staying in a homeless shelter for the first time in my 50’s, I had an uphill battle with the following. (1) no counseling was provided (2) we had to be out of the house 7 days a week from 9am to 4pm (3) had to search for a job Monday thru Saturday keeping in mind the location had none (4) unsafe conditions – was on a floor with men and had one bathroom. A lot of people, myself including, do not realize what a homeless person has to deal with. Jobs are the answer to some of the homeless issues while others may have mental or physical issues that need to be addressed. For people like myself who have worked hard all their life and never dreamed they would be in this situation, we need individuals to realize that a lot of programs just do not meet our needs or have a budget. Donating food, clothes and time is fine – but each person should find out what each homeless person needs. My challenge has been the lack of transportation and steady income, but now that I have gone back to trusting God, I firmly believe he has my destiny figured out and I just need to continue to do my part. What is that? Work at the part time job he gave me – will tell you about that in a minute. Work my online business and watch my budget while continuing to tithe. I tithed for the first time last Sunday for years and talk about stepping out on faith. Will be doing the same tomorrow (Sunday). Now to work on not worrying about next week if I will have my room rent. Now to my story about my job from God. I had gone into this retail store to purchase a pair of steel toed boots to work for a same day labor company. I do like talking to people and had asked this employee for help as I had no idea about these boots. Lol, never realized he was the manager (did not check out his name badge). Anyway, we chatted as he helped me find the boots in my size. Come to find out he had a roommate while in college that was from Jamaica like I am!!!! Now I have been in the USA since age 16 in spite of being born in Jamaica (West Indies, not New York/lol) but my father was born in the USA. Anyway, he offered me a job. Now I have not been able to get a permanent job since being laid off for the 3rd time in 2008 in my 50’s and ran out of unemployment benefits by 2010. The other 2 times I got jobs before my benefits ran out. Now no one can tell me this was not from God. So every day when I encounter challenges on the job along with my feeling it is not enough hours each week, I remind myself of this miracle. I would like to suggest an article about tithing if you are still accepting suggestions for the Faith Forum. I know I struggled with the decision to tithe this week as technically (in the natural) I don’t see my rent which is due on the 10th of this month, but trusting God will show me ways to generate more income. I have 3 jobs/lol and looking for more….. Blessings everyone 🙂

  12. Hi Angela – Thank you for your description of life as a homeless/near homeless person. I thank God that I’ve never been homeless, but there have been times in my life when I contemplated the possibility – with my wife and two kids in tow! Most of us don’t appreciate that being homeless is something that can happen to any of us. All it will take is the right (or wrong) combination of circumstances and even the once mighty could fall. I try to keep that in mind when I run across homeless people on the street. I’m also well aware that homelessness is a vicious cycle – no job leads to no home, leads to no internet connection, leads to no hope of finding a job. Then there is the risk of serious injury or illness, in combination with no health insurance, or money to pay for services. It’s a hole that just keeps getting deeper.

    Over the years, I’ve been very impressed with your constant efforts to recover Angela. In fact, your recent article on Linked In Pulse was top notch. By the grace of God, I’ve overcome my own mid-life career crisis, with my life as a blogger, but I’m well aware of what a struggle it is. At the same time, when I look at the Linked In profiles of others (men in particular) who were going through a career crisis at about the same time as me I realize that many of them have never recovered. And these are college educated men who once held very respectable positions in corporate America. No one is safe, and that’s what we need to understand when we see homeless people and are in a position to help.

    On my own journey I’ve also learned about the virtues of leaning on God. Each of us have talents, and God can lead us to where we can put those talents to work to make a living. He did that for me. My motto these days is “go forward in faith”. God becomes much bigger and more real when you’re facing a genuine crisis. Even now, I lean on Him all the time, realizing that I don’t always have either the strength or ability to handle everything myself. I’ve been stunned again and again at how praying for help produces solutions I never imagined. Tithing is a form of trusting God with your money, and while I don’t think he multiplies it in the sense that many prosperity gospel advocates claim, it is a marker of faith that He will reward in different ways. But even if you can’t tithe, regular fervent prayer can and does move mountains in life.

  13. Kevin, bottom line – God is in control! I am sorry I wasted so much time in anger and trying to do it on my own. Lol, as I look back and see how HE has moved on my behalf – I have to smile. Now the job he gave me at a retail store in receiving does challenge my “flesh” and I ask HIM every day to help me keep my big mouth shut. Not an easy feat as I was born with it!!!! I tell my only child now 28 that we go through various boot camps and if we jump ship and do not finish a particular boot camp – guess what – we get to repeat it again. So it is best to finish up and graduate. I really believe my relocation with my daughter was Godsend and I thank him every day. Here no one knows my history and I can once again hold up my head with dignity. Now if HE leads me to share my history as a ministry, I will. Until then, it feels great to once again have a “steady” job. Now to work on my faith and not worry about the future. Kevin, this Faith Forum is needed and as more families are faced with the possibility of homelessness – faith is what is going to help them. As you already know, miracles exist. Technically I should be dead today, but I now know God has some plans for me. Until he shows me them, I have to trust each day in spite of what I am seeing – I am his precious child just like the rest of his children. So let us continue to pray for the homeless and spread the word. Trusting God gives you hope when there is none. I know this for a fact when I once again lost mine about 2 weeks ago. Thank goodness I knew where to run to – into his arms and at age 57 plan on staying there this time. Lol, getting too old to keep running…. Blessings, A

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