Should You Give Money to a Homeless Person?

by Jason on August 5, 2009


It’s happened to all of us.  We’re walking along, minding our own business or perhaps enjoying a conversation with a friend and out of the corner of our eye we catch sight of him.

There he is wearing layers of disheveled clothes, looking like he hasn’t showered in months and holding out a cup begging for change from every passerby.

“Ridiculous”, you think to yourself, “why doesn’t he just clean himself up and get a job?”   Then the “good” part of your conscience kicks in, “I should really give him something, what if he really is desperate for food?  Ah, he’ll probably just buy drugs or booze anyways.  I wouldn’t want to contribute to his problems”.  And so you walk by feeling justified in your own mind.

Photo by St.Stev

I know I’ve certainly been there.  So what is the right thing to do?  Should we give money to the homeless man or woman begging for help?

I think it’s a fair question because on the one hand we all have an innate sense to help others.

On the other hand a lot of us have that feeling that the homeless person will not use the money to buy food, but rather on something he shouldn’t whether it be lottery tickets, drugs or alcohol.

These are legitimate concerns.

Seek First to Understand

According to a HUD Office of Policy & Development research study done in December 1999, there are various reasons contributing to homelessness and various reasons that keep a person in that lifestyle.  According to the survey, respondents were asked what the single most important thing they needed right now:

  • Help finding a job was the most frequently cited need (42%)
  • Help finding affordable housing (38%)
  • Assistance with paying rent, mortgage, or utilities in relation to securing permanent housing (30%)
  • Job training and medical care (13 % each)

The survey also asked homeless persons what their childhood was like:

Twenty-nine percent of homeless clients also report abuse or neglect in childhood from someone in their household (12 percent neglect, 22 percent physical abuse, and 13 percent sexual abuse). Thirty-three percent ran away from home and 22 percent were forced to leave home for at least 24 hours before they reached age 18. In addition, 21 percent report that their first period of homelessness predated their 18th birthday (this homelessness might have been with their family or on their own).

Does that come as any surprise?  We probably could have guessed there were various forms of abuse and neglect in their childhood.  At the very least, this data gives us a reference point.

The next time we see a homeless person and think, “Just clean yourself up” we might be able to have some compassion instead and think about the rough childhood they had or the abuse they’ve gone through and the people skills and job training they never received from parents who loved them.  Many of them have had a rough life.

Photo by: Steven McDonald

Other Statistics About Homelessness

Food problems experienced by homeless clients included eating one meal a day or less (20 percent); being hungry in the past 30 days but not eating because they could not afford enough food (39 percent); and going a whole day without eating anything at all in the last 30 days (40 percent).

Additionally, thirty-eight percent of homeless persons reported being robbed, while another forty-one percent reported having money or other items stolen from a locker or other place of storage.  Seven percent reported being sexually assaulted or raped and another twenty-two percent were physically assaulted.

The Homeless Will Just Buy Drugs or Alcohol

This is a legitimate concern.  After all, if you are going to help you would like to know that your money is going to buy food or clothing or other items they need and not go towards fueling some addiction.

The NHSACP study reported that over the course of their lifetime, 62 percent of homeless respondents reported problems with alcohol use and 58 percent reported problems with the use of drugs.

We need to remind ourselves, however, that not every homeless person will buy drugs or alcohol.  We shouldn’t generalize and stereotype every homeless person.  To do so would be an insult to their personhood and worth much like you and I feel slighted when someone paints us with a broad brushstroke.

Do not think twice about calling alcohol and drug hotlines if you think a friend or a loved one needs that kind of help.

Photo by: Vincos

What Should Our Attitude Be Towards the Homeless?

I have to admit, I have a lot of growing to do in this area, but what stood out in my mind as I read this study is that in general homeless persons don’t want to be homeless, but as a result of many contributing factors they are many times unsure how or, in some cases, mentally or physically unable to break free from their lifestyle.

The other thing that impacted me in this study is the realization that many, if not all, of the homeless people we see today have had a rough life.  They haven’t had a good childhood or education.  Many of them have been abused and neglected, which means that I need to be more compassionate and understanding rather than judgmental and arrogant.

I was reminded recently from a friend that we shouldn’t be motivated by guilt to help the needy because guilt will eventually burn us out.

Instead, we should be motivated by the fact that we are the needy and the spiritually poor,  and Jesus has come and given us His life so that we can have eternal, abundant life through Him.  Because of what He’s done for us we can be a beacon of light and hope to others.

Photo by: JamesFischer

How Should We Help The Homeless?

It’s probably safe to admit that most of us have a desire to help people in need, but we’re just unsure how to go about it.  We want to do something to help them and not hurt them or add to their problems.

I don’t think we should stop giving money to the homeless, but certainly we can be a little discerning when we are giving.

I remember listening to a sermon some time ago where John Piper asked the question of whether or not God would hold you accountable because you gave the homeless man $20 and he spent it on alcohol or would He say “Thank you for having a heart and compassion for the weak and the poor”.

There are a number of things we can do to help the homeless.  If you feel uncomfortable with giving money, then why not buy them lunch or dinner.

You could always give them warmer clothes or buy them a cup of hot coffee on a cold day.

What about serving in a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter.  If you work in an area where you see the same homeless person on a regular basis, why not stop and talk to them and listen to their story?

You might find there’s an actual person under those disheveled clothes.

What About You?

I’d like to hear from you.

  • What do you think about giving money to the homeless?
  • What are other ways we can help the poor and needy?
  • What has been your experiences in this area?

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{ 80 comments… read them below or add one }

Jason March 19, 2010 at 2:40 pm

Moses, thanks for checkin’ out the blog and for your insightful comment. I really like what you said:

Once we see how high and lifted up Jesus is, and how low and vile we are – the fact that He associates with us… how can we not do the same to others?

So true – When we recognize that we were the ones that needed a “neighbor”, and what greater neighbor could there be than one who laid down his life for his friends, then that frees us to go and be a neighbor to others!

Dollar Limits On Fha Loans September 4, 2010 at 4:46 am

Credit score of 696 but still receive 2-300 dollar limits?
I need some insight as to why I recently applied for a lowes credit card and received a meesly 300 dollar limit? I have 4 cards in total with limits as follows> card 1- $300.00 opened for 12 months, card 2-$400.00 opened for 10 months, card 3- $750.00 opened for 4 months and card 4- $2000.00 opened for 3 months. My current fico score as of April 30th, 2007 is 696. my longest account has been opened for 12 months, I have 0 late payments on all my cards. I have 1 public record showing on trans union and equifax that i paid off 4 weeeks ago. I bought a house 3 weeks ago, will this help or hurt my score? Should i close the 2 cards with low limits, leaving my $750 and $2000 accounts open? Will this increase my chances of receiving a larger credit limit from places like lowes or home depot? Your advice is appreciated!

Anonymous September 8, 2010 at 3:08 pm

Not sure. Sounds like you need to contact Trans Union or Equifax regarding this. It sounds like you’ve opened a lot of credit within a short period of time so that may affect it as well.

Crystal Marie September 9, 2010 at 3:32 pm

I sincerely enjoyed reading this article. As a Christian, it’s something I struggle with. I believe you should follow your heart but also remember that there are no examples of Jesus giving cash to the homeless. If we are modeling His behavior, then why should we?

I’m a fan of giving food, information, or well-wishes when that’s all I can. The worst thing you can do is ignore a homeless person. Give them at least the respect of “I can’t help you but God bless you.”

Paul Michael November 16, 2010 at 8:45 am

I think we should see first, if the person we give money really can`t do anything about the situation is in, maybe a child or an old person, but I wouldn`t give any money to a drunk person or maybe drugged, for sure, for the others, I still give

christian mom November 25, 2010 at 12:30 am

What do you think about the fact that may homeless are alcoholics and without alcohol they will go into withdrawl, which can be a life threatening condition?

Maybe it is not for us to judge what these people do with the money.

RW December 1, 2010 at 6:25 pm

If you truly want to help the homeless, the best thing to do is to donate to programs that assist the homeless. These programs feed and work with homeless people to find housing, jobs, skill training, rehab, etc.

Giving money directly to a homeless person may help them in the short-term, but does nothing for the long-term goal to get off the street. If anything, you are just enabling them to maintain their lifestyle.

I have a friend that is now homeless (Bi Polar and an alcoholic). The majority of the money he gets from begging goes to booze and cigarettes.

Anonymous December 10, 2010 at 6:32 pm

Ryan, I think there needs to be a balance between relief and development. Relief is just giving money, development is helping them participate in their own uplift.

Majorshadow December 31, 2010 at 12:35 pm

Song Title: Blood is thicker than water is about estranged loved ones who may or may not be homeless. Hear it at URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wuYXasJgv3A
I saw an attractive young lady singing on an abandoned street corner under the influence of of a controlled substance, a teenage girl dressed in a soft pink jogging suit with a baby, a man walking aimlessly talking to himself,a woman trying to raise herself from a cold wet sidewalk to a battered wheelchair,an elderly woman wearing clothing stained with urine as she pushed a loaded shopping cart down sidewalk, checking in a personal backpack containing a security guard uniform for a young man who after receiving services would check it back out to go to a job later on. They were all homeless. Before casting judgement, remember that life is unpredictable and everyone who is in a wheelchair was not born that way. I thought and would like to hope we all think, she’s somebody’s daughter; he’s somebody’s son.

Anonymous January 7, 2011 at 3:59 am

Very interesting – thanks Major!

Gloria January 24, 2011 at 7:54 pm

Thru out the year I prepare “care packages for the homeless men and women. The items are purchased at dollar and discount stores thru out the year.The items differ generally in the winter and summer months, however. let me explain.

WINTER MONTHS: skull cap, winter gloves, toothbrush, toothpaste, shaving kit, clean underwear, a pair of heavy socks, pocket Bible, Gospel Tract, non perishable snack foods. Sometimes when I can, I include a notecard of encouragement with a scripture reference on top of the Gospel Tract and Pocket Bible.

SUMMER MONTHS: Clean T-Shirt, Socks, shaving kit, non-perishable snack foods, clean underwear, comb, brush, plastic mirror. The bags cost me approximately 6.00 per person. The ladies receive pretty pink bags I get from the dollar store and the gentlemen receive nicely wrapper black plastic bags with a ribbon.

I also go to areas where many of the homeless congregate with boxes of the Little Ceasars $5.00 large Pizzas. 10 pizzas cost 50.00 and I can readily feed 30 plus with Juice boxes I get from the wholesale stores and 2 slices of pizza each.

Anonymous January 27, 2011 at 10:18 pm

Gloria, these are great ideas! This would also give you time to chat and correspond with them to hear more of their stories.

Anonymous January 27, 2011 at 10:18 pm

Gloria, these are great ideas! This would also give you time to chat and correspond with them to hear more of their stories.

Scott Sellers June 14, 2011 at 6:08 am

Alcohol withdrawl is not life threatening. Other drugs( main just heroin) may be, but even then its rare. I think buying food for them is one of the best things. Someone who is warm and fed can make better descions for how to improve their own life easier

Scott Sellers June 14, 2011 at 6:10 am

Jesus is not documented doing a lot of things. One of them is being judgmental to others problems. Can you say that any of the people he turned water into wine for were not homeless alcoholics?

Leesa July 12, 2011 at 8:28 pm

I volunteer at a local church-affiliated ministry that provides food, clothing and financial assistance for housing and utilities for the needy.  What I enjoy the most is listening to their stories and praying for their needs.  I believe most of them walk away with more than they came for…hope for the future in Jesus Christ!  I can’t fix them or their situations, but I can share the love of Him who died and rose again in order to give them eternal life.  The opportunity to pray specifically for the Lord’s intervention in their circumstances is many times all they need to move to the next step, whatever that may need to be.

All of your statistics are true for our population of homeless people we encounter and I continue to have the same questions as you in regards to giving them money.  However, I’ve learned that homelessness can be a lucrative means of getting items that can be sold for money and then turned into alcohol/drugs/cigarettes/transportation.  Many know where and when to get food and other essential daily living items and where to find shelter in times of extreme weather. They are frequently victims of organized crime.  They cannot live at the local homeless shelter because they refuse to leave the addiction behind and/or have an unstable mental condition due to non-compliance in taking their prescribed medications.  But, there are always exceptions.  What I would love to see implemented in our city is a crisis team that is trained in intervention for physical, mental and spiritual needs.  It could be a group of believers who are vocationally equipped to help or simply those who are willing to be trained to handle people in crisis.  The mission of our ministry is to give the needy a hand-up instead of a hand-out.  This kind of intervention can literally save a life…for eternity.

Anonymous July 18, 2011 at 4:38 pm

Leesa, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts! I appreciate your ministry and your desire to help others. May God use you as a catalyst to begin a crisis response team in your community by bringing together churches and other believers who have a similar passion as you!

Bonetta July 21, 2011 at 4:23 pm

This has given me encouragement and insightful wisdom and discernment on helping the homeless who are “stationed” in several areas of a city I attend church. For a while I would help some of them, and then a certain man with a sign for help every Sunday I attended church in the same place, and would also invite him each time to visit the church. Well, one day recently I read a news article on the internet of how this has become for some a “part-time” job for a lot of the homeless and to stop this, stop giving money to them. I have since stopped giving that same man who is at the same spot every day/Sundays, and then started feeling guilty about it. I have prayed about this, and asked God to “touch” my heart when I need to help someone. Your article is a good message for me to read and re-read, because I’ve worked in homeless shelters since 2003, since receiving Jesus Christ myself, but have always loved helping other less fortunate people because I was once there. This message has helped me so much. God bless you.

Anonymous July 22, 2011 at 12:59 am

Bonetta, I’m so glad to hear that. Thanks for checking in. Sometimes giving gift cards or food is better than straight money. I’m encouraged by your heart for justice! Keep serving Him!

Gdemers August 14, 2011 at 12:44 pm

I see what appear to be homeless men (usually) standing on the corner every day as I am driving to work.  They seem to be organized and “work” in shifts, taking their turn standing on the corner, holding the sign asking for help and more often than not the plea wraps up with a “God Bless”.  I actually watched a veteran beggar “coach” a new sign holder at his corner.  Then he ran across the street to take up his post as supervisor, I think. 

I don’t know what to think of this “organized” begging.  These guys look perfectly healthy; enough to be able to stand for hours on a corner, walk around the city every day looking for a handout and sitting on the park benches sharing a bottle and smoking and laughing and appearing to have a good time.  Most of the time they are wearing shoes and or boots that I can’t afford, but I realize they probably get them at the local Salvation Army or other shelter in town.  The same for coats in winter, and they look like they sleep somewhere and have access to showers. 

Is this unusual or does this same thing go on everywhere?  I won’t give money to these guys; they are sketchy looking faces to be sure, but more so because I think they choose this lifestyle (one old guy who worked his life for the railroad actually told me that he preferred to live under the bridge). 

While I pray to God to look after these individuals, I don’t trust them enough to stop and talk to them or hand them money.

I would like to hear other thoughts on this.

Peace.

anonymous August 15, 2011 at 6:20 pm

Actually, alcohol withdrawal can most definitely be life threatening.

Phyllis August 22, 2011 at 3:54 pm

First some information, you should realize the homeless people who are ‘abusing’ drugs and or alcohol often due it because they are self medicating. They either have mental, learning, physical or emotional disabilities that go undiagnosed or untreated. A lot of homeless people are Vets that are suffering from brain injuries, due to concussions being improperly treated and being sent back into battle to soon or PTSD.  There are a lot of reasons. I’ve also heard people complain about homeless people smoking, well smoking is a mood elevator and a hunger suppressant so it makes sense to me.  If you give anything to anyone it is theirs to do what they want with it. I personally don’t care if they spend the dollar I give them to buy booze, pot, cigarettes or whatever. Imagine yourself in their shoes who says you wouldn’t be doing the same thing? It’s easy to preach when you haven’t lived that way.

LISAWIENS September 29, 2011 at 6:23 pm

Im a 28 yr old mother of four and recently my fiance lost his job. It has spiruled into us being homeless and living out of our car.If anyone can help us, or even give some advice Id greatly appreciate it. My daughters are 1,2,6,9 and its been almost 2 months and we cant even find a shelter with enough beds for us. 

Dave January 25, 2012 at 12:51 am

Put it this way–if you believe the old saying what comes around goes around, you will not be forgotten if something should happen that you to end up in a situation wearing the shoes of a homeless person. You’re worried about what they will do with the money? Didn’t Jesus say if someone asks for your shirt to give them your coat also? What is it these days when people call themselves “Christian” but refuse to do as the Bible instructs? Is that not the definition of a hypocrite? You’re to good for these people. Keep in mind the story Jesus told about Lazerous and the beggar. You can have your reward now or you can have it later–the beggar in the story got the reward we should all desire. Turn your back to these people and you will get what Lazerous got!!!

Courtney January 25, 2012 at 9:53 pm

I am giving all of my money away to that poor man! God bless him!

Courtney January 25, 2012 at 9:55 pm

Leesa, God bless you! You are a girl or a boy with the Holy Spirit inside you! We say together, we can help!

Courtney January 25, 2012 at 9:56 pm

Amen? we can help the needy and homeless! agree? yes or no?

Catelyn February 16, 2012 at 8:59 pm

I really appreciated your thoughts. I wish everyone could read and understand this. You spoke about the issue so well, and I enjoyed reading what you had to say. You are right on target with everything you stated. We can and should help!
Luke 14:13-14
“But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”

Princess Dubrough June 11, 2012 at 6:36 pm

I give a nickel and a dollar to the homeless

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