Helping the Homeless – Give or Don’t Give?

          A recent article on Christianity Today Online provides three responses to giving money to street people. In isolation each position appears reasonable with appropriate scriptural and evidentiary support sprinkled with anecdotes. Although many argue a position theoretically and have little or no real engagement with the homeless, this does not appear to the case with these writers. If I have to take sides – from Scripture, experience, and anecdotes – I would lean toward Ron Sider's position as most closely articulating a wise and biblical approach – "Don’t give money to the homeless!" It might be the response which resonates the most with many Christians until you understand the implications. There's something about sacrificial giving and simplicity in lifestyle that goes counter to I've-earned-it Christianized materialism. And many have no time for dribble about confronting injustice.

          In my world here in Philly we almost never give money to the homeless because we can guess where it usually goes. I know a homeless man who's not really homeless who makes $100 a day at the train station. For some people in their busy lives on their way to work it’s hard to resist giving something to a disheveled man with a sign stating he’s homeless, hungry, and a veteran. He is a veteran and drug addict. There is a sandwich shop across from our ministry center where we buy sandwiches for the homeless and keep food items at he center. Some really don't want food after all and it's hard to know that if you have a onetime contact. I have given money in the past. I mostly regret it afterwards.

          The response might be different for suburbanites who take the train into the city and try to avoid the homeless or give loose change and the city resident who sees the same people often. We regularly have homeless people visit our services and some who have left the streets. They are in and out and we seek to minister to them as we can. They know they are welcome to worship with us and share a meal with us. As we get to know them we may be able to help them or get them help in other ways than mere handouts. They need the gospel yet you might be surprised how many do know the Lord and yet are trapped in a downward spiral. They still need the gospel, daily like we all do, and transformation for which we should pray.



3 Responses to “Helping the Homeless – Give or Don’t Give?”

  1. I think alot of Christians would be surprised how many people who are homeless happen to be Christians! They've heard the gospel many many times at rescue missions or as a child and several have responded with repentance and faith in Jesus.   
    Also, there is a segment of the homeless population that will accept Christ to either get you off their back or because they may be able to hustle the well-meaning Christian of some resources that they need.
    Years ago when I managed a small faith-based homeless shelter in Grand Rapids I encountered many street people that were "getting saved" over and over again so that they could get access to different resources from well-meaning Christians because if they said a sinner's prayer there's a good chance that they could get some money later on.  Also, I knew of a mentally ill street person that "got saved" and baptized in 4 different churches for the thrill of it.  That is why it is so essential to build the relationship with the person in order to evaluate the type of help necessary to give them.  

  2. I think Ron Sider's position is spot-on. However, I think it needs to be emphasized that "don't give money to the homeless" doesn't mean just walking past the person and ignoring them.  To many affluent residents, what's more costly than money is time, which is what it will take to build relationships and help root out the causes of poverty (or identify cons).  One urban pastor I know has a rule that he will allow himself to be taken for up to $20 a month.  Even though he agrees giving money is not always the wisest strategy, he does that much to make sure he doesn't develop a callousness to poverty (just ignoring people).  I liked that when I heard him explain it, and so I try to do the same thing.

  3. Good point Scott. Don't give money doesn't mean don't do anything. Do more than give money.

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