A couple of weeks ago my wife and I were downtown catching a performance by our friend Francesca Battistelli at the Rutledge (also discovered an amazing band called Civil Twilight while we were there). After the show we were walking out to the car to head home when a homeless woman named Shirley quickly tracked us down. I’ve had several encounters with homeless people in downtown Nashville and actually look forward to such instances. However, it had been a while so we were caught off guard and unprepared. Many homeless people have a similar routine. They try to overwhelm you with fast speech and random stories in the hopes that the disorienting effect will cause you to just hand over the cash so you can be left alone. I’ve made it a rule not to give cash anymore to homeless people but to actually take the time to listen to them, find out what they really need, and supply that need to the best of my ability (assuming it isn’t something damaging or illegal). On this occasion, we broke our rule and ended up giving this lady a ride and some money. Looking back on things, we understand that our greatest fault was the fact that we were not prepared for an encounter with Shirley. Though we did get to speak to her about Jesus, we came away from the experience feeling defeated. In the end, we felt like we hurt Shirley more than helping her. So here’s the question of the week:

Should we or should we not give cash to the homeless?

3 Replies to “The Monday Muse: Benevolence

  1. Hi there I am on the fence with this one. My heart is telling me yes..I actually ran into someone that I believe was homeless. I went to the narest McDonalds got him something to eat and gave hime $10 bucks. So I don’t know if that was good. ALl I kmow is that I tried to help, what he did with it is out of my hands…

  2. I’ve pondered this question before too. The Bible clearly instructs us to give to the poor, but something that popped out to me in my quick review of some verses was that the Bible doesn’t instruct us specifically on what to give – it just says to give – and it would seem that we have been given the freedom to determine how to give in order to best help the person in need.

    Like you said Jeff, when the situation arises we are often caught off guard, and this leads to unwise decisions. So I think we need a game plan… here’s some basic things I thought of:

    We need to determine the true need. They always ask for money, but it’s on us to decipher whether they are in need of food, clothing, gas, a bus ticket, or just someone to talk to.

    I’m wary about giving money too, so what if we all kept on hand a stash of gift cards – maybe $5, $10, or $20 each – that could be redeemed at places like Kroger, McDonalds, BP Gas Stations. This would take a lot of the guess work out of whether or not they’re just going to use the money for drugs. By buying the cards ahead of time you take the emotional decision out of the equation of giving ‘money’ away.

    I think it’s also good to be practical. Maybe we need to go stock up on some sweaters and shoes at Goodwill and keep them in the trunk of our cars. Maybe various canned goods too.

    We should also familiarize ourselves with our respective towns. Get to know the area charities – places like Nashville Rescue Mission – and where they are, and how to get there, and various alternatives to send people to when they are in need.

    In answer to your question Jeff, I prefer not to give cash to the homeless. But I do feel compelled to give, and the things I’ve listed above are an outline of how I’d like to go about doing that.

  3. Handing just cash to a homeless person is not the best choice. If the situation is right, take them to where they need to go, buy the gas or food for them. A good idea is to carry a gift card for somewhere like McDonald’s; that way, you’ve spent cash but they have to spend it in a certain way.

    Since I live in Nashville, I made sure I knew the directions to the Rescue Mission.

What Do You Think?