When Should You Give Money to Homeless People?

I’m not sure what makes me look like a good candidate to ask for money, but apparently I am. Perhaps it is my designer Wal-mart clothes, my amazing hair cut, or my rugged good looks. Or maybe that guy I gave $40 to in Houston all those years ago marked me with a piece of chalk or something so that I would stand out to other homeless people.

I used to feel bad and apologize and say I wish I could. One of the first guys that asked me for money, after I moved to Denver a few years back, wanted 41 cents and I gave him 50 cents (man, am I generous), but after getting asked nine or ten times in a day you start leaving your money at home and cutting people off before they deliver their whole memorized speech.

It would probably be more accurate to call them beggars instead of homeless because I really don’t know which of them is homeless and which of them just does this on the weekends for some extra cash, but I don’t really like the word “beggar” and so for some illogical reason “homeless” sounds nicer.

There are basically three ways to go about begging. The first and most common is to stand on the corner of busy intersections with a cardboard sign that says “Anything Helps”, “God Bless”, or my favorite “Need money for Hooker” (I almost gave money to the guy with the last sign just because I figured I would be benefiting two people financially).

This method is the least intrusive because they let the sign do most of the work as they slowly walk past each waiting car. Crutches or a limp helps as well. It is real easy to just keep your window rolled up and your door locked and look straight ahead, but I’ve found that it doesn’t hurt to acknowledge their existence with a smile, a nod, or light conversation. One day, in Denver, I pulled up to a light with my window down and my radio turned up. I was tapping my foot on the brake petal to “Black Horse and a Cherry Tree” (it’s a real toe tapper) when I was interrupted by a loud white lady who I hadn’t yet noticed, pointing at my license plate.

“Do you live in Salt Lake?”
“Do you live in Salt Lake?”
“No, I live here”
“I was in Salt Lake in ‘07. I couldn’t find me a scratch ticket though. I guess they don’t have a lottery because there is too many Mormons there.”
“I guess so.”

The second method is to stand outside popular stores and restaurants and ask people as they go in for money. Seeing as how I visited 5 or 6 McDonalds (and several other places) in a day for my Redbox job, I got this a lot. I have learned to either use the less popular door (on the drive thru side) or to throw off the guy by asking him questions first – such as “How is business going for you today?” or “Can you spare a dollar?”. That is really not very nice of me I know, but it gets me past so I can do my work.

The third and most disturbing method is the parking lot approach. People just go from person to person and sometimes car to car. And these are usually the most bold and often don’t even appear homeless. I’ve had people dressed nicer than me follow me all the way across the parking lot to ask for a buck, others have come up and knocked on my window while I’ve been on the phone, and one guy even drove up to me in his SUV and asked me from his window.

Should I just be walking down the street pulling money out of my pockets and throwing it every few feet? I guess I feel guilty because the scriptures say we should give to the beggar. But what if you don’t have money yourself? What if you are living out of state so your own children can eat and you can pay the bills? Doesn’t it also say we need to provide for our own families? And how do we know who really is in need? I wouldn’t mind occasionally helping someone but I can’t give to everyone that asks me.

I recently heard a scripture explained in a way I hadn’t thought of before.

“I would that ye should remember, and always retain in remembrance, the greatness of God, and your own nothingness, and his goodness and long-suffering towards you, unworthy creatures, and humble yourselves even in the depths of humility, calling on the name of the Lord daily, and standing steadfastly in the faith of that which is to come…And behold, I say unto you that if ye do this …”

So if we repent and remember God, then through His grace we will naturally do certain things…such as…

“ye will not suffer your children that they go hungry, or naked …. And also, ye yourselves will … administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.” (Mosiah 4)

It hit me that my responsibility is to keep myself spiritually clean and in close contact with God. And if I was then he would let me know when and how to help others.

That has helped a lot. No longer do I feel angry or guilty. The responsibility to judge is placed back on God’s shoulders. My responsibility is to listen and then act accordingly.

And that isn’t always the easiest thing.

But at least right now, trying to provide for my own family is what I know I am supposed to be doing.

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