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.
What you can give:
A friendly chat about the weather
Breakfast bars or energy bars
A gift card to a local coffee shop
A gift card to a grocery store (some stores have gifts cards in which you cannot buy alcohol with them)
A sandwich (Food prepared at home might be refused by some, because they are concerned that someone might harm them)
Foot or hand warmers (you can buy a pack of six for pretty cheap, and they keep you warm for six hours)
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
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).
Be Compassionately Wise