I’m writing this to hopefully get some honest feedback and discussion on how to treat the homeless. I still can’t figure it out. So many of you have posted thoughtful and intelligent commentary in the past…so please…help me out here.
How many times have you pulled up to a red light at an intersection and seen a man or woman holding a sign asking for money? Well…for me it’s almost everyday. It seems like everywhere I go I am faced with the decision to give…or not to give. Every time I pump gas, come out of the grocery store, or get off at an off ramp…there someone is…with a sign, a story, and a sad face.
I’ve always tried to give to those in need whenever I’m asked…but am I doing the right thing?
Sometimes I get the feeling that I’m being swindled. When a healthy looking guy in his 20’s or 30’s is standing there with a clean shaven face, new sneakers, and a cigarette in his mouth…it’s hard for me to want to give to that guy. For those types of people…it’s an easy decision, but most of the time…the decision is not that easy.
My friend recently told me a story about how him and his wife were coming out of the grocery store when he was approached by a woman and a young child. The woman told them that she had just gotten out of an abusive relationship and had nothing and nowhere to go. They gave her a couple bucks and then watched her make her rounds on the rest of the parking lot. Eventually, she made her way over to an SUV whereupon she emptied her pockets to a man in the car and then continued through the lot. The man in the car followed her around as she made her way from person to person.
My friend, like many of us don’t just have money to burn. We work hard, pay taxes, and struggle to get ahead but we feel a desire to help those that are truly in need.
In 2012 the Huffington post did a writeup about a panhandler by the name of Shane Warren Speegle. Speegle told Oklahoma City police he made $60,000 panhandling in 2011.”Why would I go get a job?” he said to an officer who approached him earlier this month. “I’m lazy and I made $60,000.” Read More
One of the weirdest experiences I’ve had with giving to the poor took place in Downtown Salt Lake. My family and I were walking down the street near temple square and we walked by a man that “looked like Jesus”. He had a robe and a beard and he looked like he could use some help. I kept thinking of the scripture in Hebrews 13:2 that says “be not forgetful to entertain strangers for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” I thought to myself…what if this is a test? I ended up emptying my wallet for him. I had no idea who he was until I saw him show up on the evening news in connection with the finding of Elizabeth Smart.
“Oh my gosh”…I said to my wife! “Thats the guy I gave money to in Salt Lake!”
The only thing that gave me comfort was telling myself that I hopefully contributed to keeping that young girl alive.
How is a person supposed to know when to give and when not to give!
We tend to associate the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah with promiscuity and homosexuality but that was only half of the story. In Ezekiel we learn that the people were “arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.”
One of the greatest sermons in all of scripture and perhaps the best sermon ever delivered on giving to the poor says that,
“ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish. Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just—But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.”
What to do?
This October…I walked down the long street with many thousands of other Latter Day Saints on the way to General conference. Many “beggars” carefully positioned themselves along the streets as so many of us passed them by with our wallets in our back pockets. I could have given money to them…but I didn’t. I would have run out of any money if I had.
Should I have given it all to them?
To make me feel even worse…Jeffrey Holland spoke in the conference at length on the topic. He quoted Proverbs when it says,
…and then made it clear that he is not proposing “global social programs or endorsing panhandling as a growth industry…I reassure you that my reverence for principles of industry, thrift, self-reliance, and ambition is as strong as that of any man or woman alive.”
Maybe the answer is right in front of me…but I feel bad when I turn someone away or pass them by each and every time…and I’m not quite sure what to do.
Tell me your thoughts…