on homelessness

Today I want to talk about giving to the homeless. In particular, giving to those who ask for money on the street, which is a prevailing issue in towns and cities across America.

In my travels I’ve come in contact with 3 different types of people in regards to their reactions to homeless and/or people asking for money:

  1. They say no in some manner of speaking:
    - Sorry, no.
    - I don’t have any change!
    - Get a job ya bum! etc
  2. They give, but a very small amount
    - Whatever change is in my pocket
    - A small amount, essentially enough to ‘escape’ the situation
  3. People who give often and generously

I have been all three of these people at different times in my life. Even though today, as I’m writing this, I would hope to find myself mostly in category 3, I still find myself a 1 or 2 person from time to time. For the rest of this article I want to go into the reasons why I feel people choose not to help the homeless, and how I can hopefully change your attitude towards them.

The Homeless are homeless

This should be the most obvious reason to help those living on the street, but for many it’s the reason why they are a ‘nuisance’. These poor souls are homeless. Meaning without a home. While many leave their stressful jobs, head home to meditate, have a drink, or just snuggle into watching Netflix to unwind, these people have nothing to go home to — because they have no home. Their home is a cardboard box behind a dumpster, the concrete steps of a church, or a bus stop bench. Many cannot even find rest in the more peaceful parts of a society, such as under a shady tree or in the soft grass of a park, for these places are private property.

They have no beds in which to sleep, there are no warm showers, and often there certainly is no ‘Netflix & Chill’ present in their lives. Imagine even for a day that you have no place to call your own. Where would you spend your time? What would you do when you needed to use the bathroom, or cook food, or sit down for a rest? What would you do at the end of the day when you needed to sleep? How might you find comfort in living exposed on the street? Many of us are frightened to even be out after dark these days — there are many which sleep in that darkness.

Homelessness is not always a choice

There seems to be a large amount of people who view homelessness as something that is a choice. As in these people consciously decided one day to give up their possessions (for whatever reason) and live out on the street. This is a ridiculous and misguided sentiment.

I can understand where it developed — young folks who essentially don’t want to work and discover they can survive on the ‘donations’ of others. In my own city I’ve heard these sorts of people often referred to as ‘Traveler Kids’. I know of many who make more a day on handouts from passerby’s than I make in an entire work shift. It’s understandably frustrating to feel like you are working your butt off while other people are just begging their way through life… but these people are few and far between, and the large majority of homeless people are homeless not by choice. This is such an important fact to understand.

Real Reasons for Real Homelessness:
- Foreclosure of Home
- Poverty
- Mental Illness / Disabilities / Preventive Condition
- Eroding Work Opportunities
- Decline in Public Assistance
- Lack of Affordable Housing
- Lack of Affordable Health Care
- Domestic Violence
- Addiction

One of many Tent-Towns in the United States

Homeless people are people too

Some look at the Homeless as less than. As in they are almost subhuman in their place on the status ladder and should be treated as such. They are a blight upon the cities and towns and we should be doing everything in our power to remove them from our view, lest we might feel guilty or annoyed. We can’t possibly live out our day without having to be reminded that there are people suffering around us. How terrible it must be to have to be accosted by this vermin EVERY SINGLE DAY and having to tell them you don’t have any change to spare. HOW ANNOYING, right?

Put yourselves in their shoes. You have no home. You probably haven’t brushed your teeth in who knows how long. A shower is a total luxury and you are most likely hungry. Not the kind of hunger in which you ate 3 hours ago and you feel as if you ‘might want a snack’. I’m talking the hunger where you realize you haven’t eaten since yesterday morning, and all you had was bread that they threw out at a bakery. You wish you could be working, but you are either disabled, lack a phone, lack clean clothes, or discriminated against because you are homeless. You might be feeling sick or have an ache in your side that hasn’t gone away in a few days but you can’t afford to go see a doctor and you certainly can’t afford to go to a pharmacy and buy medicine. It’s getting dark and you don’t know where you are sleeping tonight and your biggest fear is someone is going to steal your cardboard box that is your main bed on which to lay. Best case scenario, there’s room at the shelter and they let you in.

So your dirty, tired, hungry, possibly sick, and sleeping on the ground and/or a shelter. Someone walks by who looks like they do and you have to actually ask the question ‘Can you please give me something / anything?’ — You have to ask for a handout, money for nothing, literally begging someone to help you. When was the last time you actually had to beg for money? How did it feel?

Homeless Families

Let’s not forget either that a large portion of the homeless are families, almost half. That means they have children in which to feed, or a significant other who need support of their own. All the problems which plagued you above now plague your children. You have to find them someplace to sleep at night, something to eat — you have to find them medicine when their sick, and soothe their anxiety when they are scared and frightened. They don’t possess the world-is-tough attitude and they have no understanding of why some have much and they have little. Consider what you would do to protect your children and provide for them to keep them happy and healthy. What would you give up? What would you do?

On alcohol, drugs, or other inappropriate uses for money

One of the main reasons I hear for not giving to the homeless is that they are going to spend the money on something they don’t need. Alcohol, drugs, fast food, entertainment, luxuries. People place negative intent on someone before even giving them a chance. This thought process is a cancer that is eating away at our society and must stop. It is not up to you to dictate how people spend their money. If you care so much about where your money is going, then offer to buy them food rather than give them cash. Buy them a hot cup of coffee, a sandwich, lunch, whatever you can give. If it’s so important that you know what they spend their money on, buy it for them.

Another argument I hear in opposition to giving is that these homeless people make hundreds a day panhandling! They receive checks from the government to subsidize their incomes. Why should they make so much for doing nothing! If you would like to give up your job and residence, live on the street, and make begging for money your main source of income then by all means be my guest and prove me wrong in assuming that many people would choose a job and a place to live over that sort of life. Stop being so greedy and stop assuming that homeless people deserve next to nothing.

Consider this:

When you put good into the world, your good deed isn’t made bad due to their conditions in which in is exploited. If you give someone money on the street because they are asking for it, congratulations you’ve done something to help. You looked upon someone whose need is greater than yours and acknowledged their suffering. You’ve given. That’s all you should concern yourself with. If you care any greater than this to where the money is going, volunteer at a homeless shelter and help these people receive the care and guidance they need.

Further more, many of us (myself included) are most likely going to spend that money on alcohol, drugs, or entertainment anyways! So who are we to preach? Who are we to deny the same comforts we enjoy to those who have no means in which to enjoy them? The hypocrisy is incredible!

Why giving generously is so important

It’s so, so, so important we give often and generously. Individually we cannot hope to solve the homeless problem. It’s a far bigger problem than giving a few dollars here and there can solve. We can, however, try to help those who are homeless not have terrible lives. We can invest in our fellow man, buying the homeless food, or helping them with a few dollars here and there.

As an experiment, just try this -once- and see what the result is:

The next person that asks you for money, give them $5. See what the reaction is. Want to feel even more humbled? Give $20 — see their reaction. See how it affects them, look into their eyes, and know how much of a difference you’ve made. I challenge everyone to do this. Give more than expected.

Be overwhelmingly generous in giving — whatever you have, they have less. Whatever you treasure, they treasure more. Be humbled by your giving and align yourself with a more altruistic life.

Click Here for Ways to Help

Sources:
http://www.nationalhomeless.org/factsheets/why.html
http://www.greendoors.org/facts/general-data.php
http://www.endhomelessness.org/library/entry/the-state-of-homelessness-in-america-2015