Monday, November 11, 2013

Why I Don't Give Money to Homeless People

I've lived in this city for over four years now. Sometimes the needs of others are front and center and obvious and other times they are hidden by the shelters and the soup kitchens and taken care of by the people who have made it their life journey to serve those in need. 

We drive our kids to school every day.

There is a corner along the way that almost always has someone standing there holding a sign saying something like, "anything helps" or "God Bless you." My initial thought is always that I don't have anything to give them. I don't carry cash and so I drive by doing nothing.


Somehow growing up in this culture I have learned that you can't give someone money "because they are just going to go buy things to feed an addiction."

For the past year I have continued to drive by that occupied corner, looking past a person if they were standing there so that I could see if cars are coming to cross through the intersection and get the kids to school on time. But then I started noticing that there is almost always a different person standing on that corner. I couldn't deny the fact that there are so many people in hard situations. I thought of the fact that my children are sitting in the van seeing the same thing that I am.

What am I teaching my kids about helping the homeless? We all say actions speak louder than words:

I am teaching them to do nothing.

Then there was that one morning when I pulled up to that corner and a man was standing there. He caught my eye and I caught his. All I could see was kindness and I was moved with compassion. I didn't have any cash on me. I felt unprepared and wished beyond anything else that I just had something in my purse to give him. I had to literally drive ahead a few feet so that I could look past him to see if cars were coming, literally...look past him.

I drove across the intersection and tears flowed down my face. 

How have I gotten to this point? My husband and I have always wanted to live generous lives, but what about being generous towards those who are homeless right near us? I talked with my husband about all that I had been pondering. He remembered that there was a Subway just down the street from that corner. He said, "What if we buy $5 gift cards to give away?" I was reminded right then that I had married a kind man.

Why I Don't Give Money to Homeless People

I also knew that I couldn't keep driving up to that corner looking past another person teaching my children that the best thing to do in those situations is to do nothing. I don't care what previous conclusions I had made from my culture, I believe that we can do something!

We can look that person directly in the eye, greet them with a smile and say, "Have a wonderful day!" as we pass them a fresh, warm meal packaged in yellow paper where they get to choose the kind of bread that they like. 

I can't even begin to tell you how wonderful it was to walk into that Subway and order those $5 gift cards. 

Last week we had the opportunity to pass out some of those cards. I told my kids about the verses in Matthew 25:37-40 where it says, "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.'"

I told them that we give out gift cards because people are hungry and because we care.

We can do something

In our family we create a budget based on what is most important to us...what we value. We want it to say, we feed our family and others...we care for our family and others. Now I feel like it does...it includes those who are standing on a corner in the middle of a MN winter. Have you ever experienced a MN winter? My heart breaks to see anyone in these situations...it breaks!

I'm not even going to be cliche and write "God Bless" on the card even though I do want God to bless them. There are two other simple words that I think can relay exactly what we feel and I think they echo how God feels too:

Why I Don't Give Money to Homeless People

They say "you can't change the world."

They say "what can one person do?"

"What can one family do?" I say we can feed the hungry, clothe those who need clothescare for orphans, welcome strangers, visit the lonely, and love the marginalized. 

TOGETHER we can change this world! 

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34 comments:

  1. I love this. Such an amazing idea. I may just have to steal it from you. I almost never have cash, this is a great way to be His hand extended. I think I may share this with some of my friends as well. Love it.

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  2. I always wish there was a "like" button on blogs. I *LIKE* this post! One of the greatest byproducts of loving on others in sight of our children is shaping our kids into compassionate, caring, servant-hearted people. No doubt, your example is doing just that. :)

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  3. My mom used to buy extra bus passes to give away to those asking for bus fare. It was a simple thing that didn't take much but it helped people who were really in need. In mpls there are really cold days where homeless folks might simply ride the heated bus just to stay warm. Hard to watch and not do something. Thanks for the reminder -becca

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  4. Great post! May your heart never harden.

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  5. I really liked your post. I haven't given money in years after a stint of living in CA where there was someone asking for money on almost every corner. I never had much, but always gave what I had. I grew jaded once I realized it was just being used on alcohol (or something of the like.) Then a couple months ago my husband and I were leaving a restaurant with left overs. We go for 1/2 price appetizers (because we still don't have much money.) There was this man outside asking for money and asked for our left overs. He was so grateful and devoured them. I feel like I need to teach my daughter better too, as I want her to grow up being caring , kind and compassionate.

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  6. Awesome! I too feel this way......but never have cash on hand. Great idea......... Off I go to get gift cards!

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  7. I love this!!
    I have a section of my website called "Pay it Forward"and I collect money from advertising, tshirt sales and donations to help one family out every month. I have just started so I don't have much money accumulated but I did start a Feed America campaign for Thanksgiving.Would you read it and participate?

    http://www.kgstyleblogs.com/2013/11/forward-fridays.html

    Keep it Touched,
    KG
    www.kgstyleinc.com

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  8. Love this idea. I think most of us dread that awkward moment when we pull up next to someone with a sign asking for money. I often don't know what to do but I can't stand not doing anything. Love your idea of the Subway gift cards. My sweet husband used to go home and make sandwiches and take them to the people who are asking for help.

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  9. Sarah, thank you for a great and thoughtful idea. There are also people with signs just off the freeway near my home. I have become very skeptical of them but think what you are doing is awesome! Thanks for sharing.

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  10. What a great idea! The past few years we've been in the habit of buying extra boxes of granola bars or something similar to keep in the car for times like that. I like your idea a lot, though...gift cards can't be stomped on and crumbled or thrown in the trunk making them difficult to access when needed! Thanks for this post!

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  11. Great idea! Very thoughtful! I hope it spreads!

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  12. Such a great idea. My family used to give out McDonald's gift cards when we were kids. I'd love to get back into doing that now. I pass homeless people all the time and really struggle with what to do because I don't give cash to them. Subway is a great idea because there are good, healthy and cheap options!

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  13. I love this conversation. We always say a prayer for them and lift them up to God.

    My 7 year old even asks us all to pray which is what I was hoping would happen. We also give water bottles when I can remember to carry extra in the summer. Once in a while I will drive to a Subway and pick up a sandwich for them. I have had a bad experience once--just something to be mindful of. I had some young 20 something men asking for money and I didn't roll down my window because my discernment alarm bells were going off and they threw nails under my tire and yes, I got a flat tire.

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  14. My heart breaks when I see homeless people. It tends to remind me how blessed I am. I too, don't like to give cash because, I feel like they would buy booze or whatever drug they are wanting. I love the idea of getting gift cards to food places instead. Thanks so much for sharing this idea and for linking up to Thrifty Thursday.

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  15. I love this heartfelt idea! I pass by a lot of homeless and doing something about it in front of the kids is a really powerful way to show Jesus's love in a real way. I've really struggled with giving money away for fear of feeding the addictions, like you said. But buying a meal or gift card is an awesome idea! Pinning this now and I'm so glad I hopped over from Thrifty Thursday!

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  16. I have tears in my eyes now. What a great idea!

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  17. Tears were rolling down my cheeks as I read this. Sometimes I an so pained by the callousness and lack of compassion that I see toward the least of these. It's a wonderful thng to teach your children to be compassionate. My mother used to tell us judge ye not, there but for the grace of God go I. I passed that philosphy on to my own children. Not everyone is homelss because of substance abuse. Some are mentally ill, with no place to go and some are pepole just like you and me who had one devasting event change there lives.God Bless you for what you are doing, I wish the world had more like you.

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  18. Good for you! I usually have some snacks in the car for my Son and I've given those out when I've come across homeless people in the streets. It's not much, but it shows the person that they are seen and you aren't ignoring their existence.

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  19. You are very inspiring. Your story made me decide that I needed to follow a blog like this, I need more compassion in my life. God bless your family.

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  20. I am proud that my Mom raised us to have compassion. I can say honestly I have NEVER turned away from a homeless person. I have always carried $20.00 bills, water and or small items in my car for them. I stop and talk with them, give them a 20 and some water, or some food. If I see one going through trash, I go buy food, go talk to them, give them money and food. The stories I have heard make my heartbreak. It could be you and me! I have been working with the homeless for over 30 years and have heard their stories, and worked in this soup kitchens and shelters. I know firsthand what it is like to lose everything and have no one to depend on. I have been alone in life for over 30 years on my own with no one to depend on. So I know that life can change on a dime and we can lose everything in a span of 24 hours. I have gone hungry and stood in food lines. I have gone to work barely hanging on from lack of food. I have walked 4 miles a day to work because I had no car. Yes I know hard times, but to be homeless is such a terrible way to have to live. To someone like you that lives in a glass house it is unimaginable. But its a reality for millions in this country. They are like us and fell on hard times. That does not make them unworthy in my eyes, So I always vowed to God that I would help and give what I can. I am so glad I never turn away from them. No one that does that can call themselves a Christian person.

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  21. I live in a small town where we don't have homeless seeking money however we do donate extra school supplies to a family who can't afford them. We do participate in buying items for thanksgiving baskets. Every year at Christmas we send money with the kids for the penny drive. They take new toys with them for the toy drive. We make gift baskets every summer for the homeless shelter where my sister used to work for the families who live there. Little things like that always seem so small but in a town with maybe 1500 people ahomeless person iisn't out begging often.

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  22. Better to connect them to a ministry that provides comprehensive and long term support. The drug users I work with every day will simply sell that Subway card for the chemical of their choice. Our folks sell their food stamp cards for heroin rather than buy food for their kids.

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  23. When I worked in the city I was usually confronted face to face walking down the sidewalk. A friend taught me to carry and extra snack. I tried to carry an extra package of nuts or trail mix. I never gave money but would give a package of nuts. Most everyone was grateful.

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  24. That is such a great idea. McDonalds has gift cards as well if that is in the area. And, thanks for teaching the younger generation. Have a great weekend.

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  25. Such a great idea! I'm not sure where you are in MN, but I think I should do something like this every time I exit off 694 to White Bear Ave - toward the Maplewood Mall - there is always someone there. I think about those news stories and how panhandlers make hundreds each day and I don't know what to believe. I've thought about making blessing bags, because you are giving something that should be of some value. I really do love your gift card solution!

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    1. I've been at that stoplight many times. I usually give money if I can. I saw an idea that you can do with your kids.(teaching moment) fill a small bag with essentials. hand sanitizer, toothbrush/paste band-aides,kleenex. cough-drops, etc. Have them in your car and toss them out to the homeless when you drive by.

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  26. I am excited about the water and snack ideas. As for the negative comments about people trading the gift cards in for drug/alcohol or that they make hundreds of dollars...this is probably true for so
    me, but not for all. In every situation we face we find so many now who take advantage and we stop believing in the good of those who actually aren't taking advantage and they suffer b/c of it. Someone once told me it was more about my heart than theirs when it came to giving to the homeless. That has always resonated with me.

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  27. While I don't disapprove of giving someone gift cards, I think you make a lot of assumptions when you do it. You assume the person feels comfortable going into that restaurant, that they won't be harassed by store owners, that they speak English, and that they are physically able to eat the food (generally, the homeless don't have great dental care!).

    I think it's great that so many people posting here are willing to give to a stranger. But I don't believe it's right to make decisions about how they spend their money. Panhandling is the way the homeless make their income. No one tells you how to spend your money, you shouldn't tell them how to spend theirs. Yes, some will use it to buy drugs, but they're going to use drugs whether you gave them money in the form of cash or a gift card. Part of being compassionate is accepting people as they are and respecting the decisions they make in their own life, whether you agree with them or not.

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  28. I honestly think it is ridiculous to criticize someone for doing SOMETHING, while 90% of the population does NOTHING. If the homeless person does not want the giftcard, they can give it to someone else. At least she is trying to help. I think in most cases - probably about 99.9%, the homeless person will stop at Subway and get something to eat. I don't think any gift can be the perfect gift - There is always going to be that 1% who can't or won't use it, that is just impossible to know. Seriously, check yourself before criticizing someone for giving to the homeless.

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  29. Amy, I was certainly not criticizing for someone giving to another person nor do I want to fill this comments section with negative comments. Like I initially said, I think it's wonderful that so many people posting here love giving to others. You are also right in suggesting that no gift can be perfect and that some people will appreciate the gift card. I just think that when we, as a society, talk about giving to the homeless, we often make some assumptions because we don't truly understand how they live (me included!). One such example, some people have been mentioning that they give granola bars or nuts. Great - it's healthy and some will appreciate it BUT a lot of homeless people don't have great teeth, which means it's potentially useless to them. Handing out peanut butter and jam sandwiches is a great alternative or something else equally soft. I've also been told that people sitting on the sidewalk with a pile of stuff may not want to move (i.e. to go into subway) because it would mean leaving all of their possessions unattended.

    If people are still unsure of how to give back because the don't want to 'fuel addictions' my suggestion is to get involved with local politics, press government to fund social services and donate to organizations in your community that provide support to the homeless.

    Anyways, the point of my comment was to suggest that we need to constantly reflect on what is best for those receiving our kindness rather than making assumptions about what they need. I wasn't trying to be negative but rather show another side of the story that we can all learn from.

    Full disclosure: I am hardly an expert on this issue but I do work for an organization that serves some of the most marginalized people in my community (homeless, drug users, mentally ill, etc.) and I have also been involved in these issues as an extension of my education. I am just relaying some of things that I have learned.

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  30. You're post gave me hope. Thank you from someone about to be homeless. I've been told I am too qualified even for McDonalds, they don't need people that have doctorates and at my age.
    God speed and thank you for being you.

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  31. What a lovely article. I would also reccdmend looking up your local PADS minstry and including the info. (A lot of local churches band together and give the homeless a place to sleep, clothing allowance, gas money, food, sack lunches, dinner and breakfast)

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  32. I am disgusted by this world that we live in there are fake religions and jealous gods that people are creating and not to say people are forgetting the power of love. at least 50000 people see a homeless person everyday only 20 of those people give them money... that is just messed up I'm thinking about going door to door asking for people if they have any spare change. If this idea works out i can hoppefully get some homeless people a hotel, a suit for job interviews and a haircut, also food/water if i could give one homeless person that then maybe they will do the same for others. like gandhi said " Be the change that you want to see in this world" i might be only 13 and many people may doubt me but no matter what happens i will always help others. - Andrii

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