Monday, December 17, 2007


It can be a struggle to know what to do for folks who approach us for money, or who are holding a sign asking for support. We want to help, but we often don’t know how. If we give them money, will they use it for drugs or alcohol? By giving them something, are we perpetuating their cycle of poverty? Is it better to give to an organization?

As the debate rages on, and we give neither to the beggar nor an organization that helps them, the one flying the sign is there on the street, in need. The rumors are not true—beggars do not make an excellent salary. A really good day might gain them thirty dollars. But normally, they might get ten or less.

As for alcohol and drugs, yes, some will spend the money they receive to get drunk. Others are hoping to get a place to sleep for the night. Others are just wanting to get a decent meal.

One thing we need to keep in mind, however, that a person begging is desperate for something. No one stands with a sign or approaches people for money unless they are desperate. It isn’t exactly the best employment opportunity—one only takes it if other options are lacking. To beg is to face being ignored, disrespected and openly insulted. No one would take this as their job unless they are at the bottom of their options.

So what do we do? The choice that I have made is to carry around with me items that would assist the beggars, but would not be used to destroy themselves. Below, I have listed a few items that would be used to help a beggar, without any detriment. Some of these items we might have in our cupboards or closets. I just carry these items near my driver’s seat, so I am ready to pass them out to anyone holding a sign as I’m passing by.

In this way, I am able to show Christ’s mercy and love without any harm.

By the way, if you would like to hand out tracts to folks, or a list of meals in the area, they are only appreciated if a practical gift accompanies the paper. If you just give paper, that’s a good way to encourage littering. But if you display Christ’s love, they might assume that your offer of the gospel is sincere and not just someone else disrespecting them.

A friendly chat about the weather
Breakfast bars or energy bars
A hamburger
A coffee
A sandwich (Food prepared at home might be refused by some, because they are concerned that someone might harm them)
A small blanket (not too hard to carry with them)
A kind word (Very rare in their business, and VERY welcome)
An individual juice
A bagged lunch
Individual chips

Besides this, the other thing I attempt to do is to talk to the person to find out who they are and what their specific needs are. Some folks are taken aback by this, but others really appreciate being treated as a human being and not just a post holding a sign (or a monster).

Some of the best signs I’ve seen

Tired of eating pigeon
Betcha can’t hit me with a quarter
My family got killed by ninjas—Trying to pay for kung fu lessons
Throw change at me


Steve Kimes said...

Response by Tim N:
Thanks for this very practical analysis of how to respond to people asking for
money. This is a question I've never really known what to do with, but one that
I've had to face more often now that I'm living and working in Chicago. I
confess that I have often used the drug or wealthy beggar rumor as an excuse to
ignore people asking for money.

I appreciate that you quickly move past the debate to offer some practical ways
to connect with our fellow human beings forced to beg. I've haphazardly tried
similar things in the past, but your list reminds me how simple it would be to
offer a consistent response to the human being on the other side of the sign.
I'll do my best to take your challenge to heart.

Steve Kimes said...

Response from Sharon K:

I have recently been fed up with the internal voices in my head when I pass a person without a home on the street, or a person asking for money. Do they really need the money? Am I hurting or helping? My own voice always told me to do something, but all these other "Christian" voices told me not to. I was fed up with not doing anything. So I began to give money but what I really wanted to do was to sit down and have a chat with them. I've done that on a few occasions now and just the other day had a fantastic conversation with a fellow sitting in the tube asking for money. I try to ask them what they need. I've also made sure they have a place to sleep at night; although I don't know exactly what I'd do if they said they didn't. I need to discover some houses of hospitality. But I've also decided to begin carrying a scarf around with me. At this time of year it's quite cold and I figure someone might appreciate a scarf. There's not much I can carry when my primary transport is foot, but I'm trying to figure out more healthy ways of showing love than giving - or not giving - money. I'm pleased to hear of your experience, and that perhaps my desires aren't that far askew. You've given me more inspiration to keep talking and giving in more honest ways.