“Should We Give Money to Bums on the Street Who Refuse to Work?”

Of course this is a loaded question. When we meet people on the street asking for money, we can’t know whether they are bums who refuse to work. We don’t know their background, what brought them to this condition, whether they are physically or mentally disabled, whether they do work but earn an insufficient amount, or whether their need for assistance is temporary.

Yet many are quite ready to assume right away that people in this situation are lazy and refuse to work. They might also assume they will use whatever money they receive on drugs or alcohol. Perhaps they will assume that they are making quite a living scamming the bleeding hearts who give them money.

Some refuse to give because ‘what’s theirs (money) is theirs’ and if these people need money they should get a job and work like the rest of us. Some refuse because of fear of being robbed or injured by the deceptive ‘beggar’.

Homeless, please help

By Andrew Brown (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

How I Prepare for Encounters

I made a decision some time ago that whenever someone approaches me for money I will help them. In preparation, I try to keep a number of ones and fives in my pocket in case I happen to run into a person in need.

My preference is to buy them food. If I am in a situation where I can, I will offer to take them to a restaurant and buy them a meal. Occasionally they refuse. I was once approached by a family of three who claimed they were hungry. There was a fast-food restaurant in the same strip center where we were, and I offered to take them there and buy them food. They respectfully declined and walked on down the road—with none of my cash. But usually my offer is happily received.

I don’t like being approached on a big parking lot because it is a more suspicious and potentially dangerous situation. Loaded with purchases and the keys to my car, with no one else around, being approached on the parking lot is particularly risky. Usually I decline, and I advise my wife always to decline in this situation because she is at risk of having her purse snatched.

But if I am not encumbered, I might give a couple dollars out of my pocket. They would have better luck with me closer to the store with other people around.

Why I Give Money to Those who Ask

The reason I give money to those who ask is because Jesus taught us to love others as we love ourselves and to treat others as we would like to be treated. If I were in dire need, I would hope someone would be willing to help me.

I know that a person asking for help might misrepresent their situation. I know I might be scammed. But it is not my place to determine whether a person is ‘deserving’ of my help. There is no way for me to determine that in a random encounter, and there is no time to deliberate on it. So I take them at their word and offer my little bit of help. On rare occasions, I have been able to do more by using my network of friends to help find a place for them to stay or to get them a job, but it is usually impractical to do that.

The main point is for me to help people when I can and to be prepared in advance to do so.

This is What Happened to Me Recently

Being approached while stopped at a stop light can be a problem; the traffic might begin to move before I am able to respond. But being prepared with fives and ones makes it easier. A few weeks ago I had such an encounter. A man was walking between two lanes of traffic with a sign. I was able to reach my pocket and give him a five without difficulty.

I knew I might be scammed in some way but in this case he took my $5 and, instead of continuing down the lanes of stopped traffic, he left the road and walked directly to a fast-food restaurant I had not previously noticed. I watched until he went through the door. Apparently he was hungry at that very moment and my $5 was enough for him to help him with his hunger. I made a small difference.

Now I could refuse to give money to those who ask for fear of being taken advantage of, but with that attitude there would definitely be those in genuine need who would be overlooked. If I am going to make a difference to the needy, I cannot base my actions on whether I think they are worthy of it. Jesus didn’t help people he thought were ‘worthy’; he just helped those in need. Hospital staff also attend to patients in need without first determining whether they ‘deserve’ the help.

What does this Mean for You?

I don’t know what this means for you. This is my decision for helping those in need; it is not a template I expect others to follow. But if we are believers, we must consider seriously how the teachings of Jesus for us to love others as ourselves, and to treat others as we wish to be treated, apply. We must decide what Jesus had in mind when he says in Matthew 5, “Give to the one who asks you” and how it should manifest in our individual lives.

I think that after consideration of the pertinent issues a believer can decide how they should act on Jesus’ teaching and example. But only you can decide for you.

*****

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55 Responses to “Should We Give Money to Bums on the Street Who Refuse to Work?”

  1. Ben says:

    I think it’s great to give them money – but let them know who it is that is providing for you!!
    Jesus is the only thing of real value that you have to give anyway 🙂
    Peace and blessings!

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      This is not a bad idea, Ben. I suppose you mean something like, ‘God bless you’ or ‘Jesus cares about you.’ And if this causes them to want to talk about Jesus, then we should be prepared to listen to them and respond rather than grasping it as an opportunity to push Jesus at them on the spot.

      I think it is a wonderful idea if the situation is right, but usually it is not. The good news of Jesus is best shared within a relationship rather than in a random confrontation. I think we should help people because we follow Jesus and his teaching, but we don’t need to tell them that unless the situation arises on its own.

      I would like to hear your expanded thoughts on the issue if you wish.

      Liked by 2 people

      • God’s original message to Abraham and his family was you are blessed to be a blessing. Jesus certainly was blessed and became our biggest blessing. Somewhere over the ages we’ve stopped being the blessings we were meant to be and started insisting on conversion. I agree: “God bless you” or “Jesus loves you” works just fine.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Ben says:

        I agree it is very subjective to the situation – where you have influence in relationships to share Jesus with others I think yes, it is more powerful. However, I also believe that sometimes we are there to plant seeds – not saying, here’s some money, convert because… but rather here’s some money, I give it to you because you are loved and because Jesus loves me. One idea I like is giving out a little card, almost like a business card.. with on one side a link to a page with more details and contact points and on the other side, a short note about Jesus. Just my 2c 🙂 Sow seeds where-ever and how-ever God directs you!! God bless you brother.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Lana says:

    I like this. I always have taken the attitude that if people are going to take advantage of someone, they can take advantage of God’s money. I personally am more hesitant because I am female and it’s often a creepy situation, so I have to be careful. It also helps when I know the dynamics of a town. When I see the same faces, I know they are out of work. Giving cash to children in SE Asia is almost always a bad idea, both because cash collectors are often trafficked children, and if they are birth children, it’s still encouraging the parents not to send them to school. But I still don’t like to ignore those children – buy rice and chicken off the street shops for them; they are genuinely hungry.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Lana, with your general attitude and your background I have no doubt that you help the poor when you are able.

      My brother describes what it is like to get off a cruise ship in some Caribbean ports and to be swamped by children wanting money. It seems that it is a regular economic opportunity for them rather than an urgent need. And, as you say, perhaps they are organized by adults for no good.

      You are right that it is sometimes more risky for women; that is why I advise my wife to use more caution than I might use. It depends on the situation; I think we should use good sense, but I disagree with those who dismiss the poor and needy as bums who refuse to work.

      Like

      • Lana says:

        agree. With today’s economy, I don’t blame anyone for being out of work. I have more education than most people and still am somewhat unemployable; I’d need to lie on paper to get a walmart job.

        Liked by 1 person

        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Hopefully, your situation is not so bad as that. Once you complete your degree and are more flexible things will be better.

          Like

  3. Chas says:

    Having a generous welfare state here in UK, the situation is usually more clear, since anyone who is in real need can approach the local authority to be given a temporary place to stay or food, but there are still people begging on the street, even though that is illegal. I have been asked for cash twice to help the person asking to return to their home some distance away. On both occasions, I told them that I would go with them to the station and buy them a ticket home. The first accepted, but the second declined, showing that he was scamming.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Unfortunately, the United States is not consistent in helping the poor as you describe. I like your story about the folks wanting money to go home. One accepted your offer; the other rejected. They chose for themselves and the one was likely exposed as a fraud.

      Like

  4. sheila0405 says:

    I agree with the statement that it is not our place to judge if someone is deserving of our money or not. You are fortunate that you have enough of an income to carry money around on your person. I am not. When I do find that I have some extra cash in the bank, I tend to give it to a charity that has been rated well by Charity Navigator. We all do what we can.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Sheila, I don’t carry much! I think your plan is an excellent one; charities are good. My main point, of course, is the attitude some people have toward the poor; many of them would not donate to charities for the poor either.

      Like

    • Chas says:

      Sheila, You are wise to give to a charity that has been assessed as good. It is becoming clear that there a number of charities, some that are well known, that are very inefficient at what they are supposed to be achieving. Many UK charities now have chief executives who earn more than the Prime Minister, so many contributions are needed merely to pay their salaries. It is easy to see whom the gods of these executives are.

      Like

  5. Debi says:

    I like your attitude and your response to those who ask for help. What are your thoughts on keeping bags in the car full of items that might help (small food items, bottle of water, toothbrush, comb, etc.)? One of the churches I’ve attended makes up these bags and includes a note saying something like “Jesus cares about you” and the address and phone number of the church.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Patty Stone says:

    This really helped me with the dilemma of homeless asking for money. Thanks

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Sayre says:

    If I have money on me, I will give it. My son asked me about this once and I told him that I knew some of these people are just looking for money, but how am I supposed to know who those people are as opposed to those in real need? I don’t give much, I give to all I can. And I listen. Sometimes, I will see someone on the street and be overcome with the urge to give them something – something big like a $20 bill. I always do – I feel it is a prompt from God, and He always makes sure there’s a $20 in my wallet to give.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. bjohnmasters says:

    I was once walking into a inexpensive Pizza Buffet restaurant near my home. A couple and two sons were standing back from the register a bit, and the husband was going through his wallet. This restaurant had recently raised their price a small amount. I overheard the husband say quietly to his wife, you and the boys can eat, and I’ll just skip eating. Obviously he had promised the boys a night out for pizza, and because of the price increase, had come up a little short. The wife also decided to not eat. These folks were likely not destitute, but certainly living on the edge.

    I couldn’t get that out of my mind, so I went to owner and told him that I’d pay for the couple, but he was to just give them plates, and tell them it was “on the house.” I explained I thought the father was a little short. The owner said, “I’m sorry I didn’t pick up on that, and if you’ll pay for one, I’ll pay for the other.”

    This restaurant was in a strip center with a grocery store which had a movie rental area (yes, back when they still had the movies on shelves). After eating I was stopping in the grocery store, and I suppose because the family hadn’t had to pay for two adults at the restaurant, they did have enough left over to let the boys pick out a movie, and those boys could not have been more excited. What had the makings of a tough evening had turned into a great Friday night.

    I don’t tell this story to try to make myself sound like some great philanthropist, I tell it because the joy and excitement on the faces of those two young boys was well worth the six dollars or so extra I spent in that restaurant. My experience is that, at the end of the day, we usually wind up receiving more than what we give.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Chas says:

      bj, your experience reminded me of the time I had to ask for money, and received it. This happened in Germany. I had been to a meeting; on the train back to Frankfurt, I was told that the airport train left Frankfurt station from platform 16, so I took this train, but after a while realized that it was the wrong train. In an attempt to reach the airport in time for my flight I got off the train and took a taxi, but before reaching the airport, the fare exceeded my available money. On reaching the airport, I left my bags with the driver of the taxi, as security, and went into the terminal, expecting to be able to get money from a bank, but the banks at that terminal were closed. In desperation, I went to the British Airways desk and asked a lady member of staff if she could help me. She asked how much I needed. I told her (it was about $100) and she gave it to me. The taxi driver almost snatched it out of my hand and drove off, leaving me to make my way to the other terminal to get money from a bank to repay the lady and give her my heartfelt thanks. (I had already missed my flight!)

      Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Bjohn, this is such a wonderful story! We can make so much difference if we are observant, sensitive to people’s needs, and open to help as you were. Thanks for sharing this story with us.

      Like

  9. Phyllis says:

    The article was interesting, but I was offended by the title “Bums on the street” Also surprised that it would be used.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Kurt Hill says:

    I always carry around a few dollars in my pocket so I will not have to grab for my billfold. I agree with folks who say that giving alms is a Christian obligation. If the person is lying or whatever, that is on them. My responsibility is to see Christ in them and to help.

    Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Kurt, I do the same thing; I carry a little money so that it is easy to get to and does not involve larger bills. I agree with you that giving is a consistent expression for us who follow Jesus, though it is not a legalistic requirement. It rises up in my heart to help others as I embrace the words and actions of Jesus.

      Like

  11. I don’t judge someone who appears to be able-bodied because I know what it’s like to suffer from an “invisible illness”…depression and anxiety. Very real, and often debilitating. And ponder this, even if the panhandler IS physically able to work, think about how low someone must feel about themself in order to suffer the degradation of begin on the street. They are worthy of God’s love and my compassion!

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Agreed, Mamav! We can’t know a person’s situation just be looking at them. There will always be a few scammers in the mix, but most who ask for money are in genuine need.

      Like

    • Chas says:

      Depression and anxiety seem to be the main reasons for people being unable to work. It might be that a change in job to something less mentally taxing would help the sufferers.

      Like

  12. Vee says:

    So…once as I was leaving the highway I noticed someone begging with a sign at the end of the off-ramp. Traffic stopped leaving me about 3 cars back from the intersection. I watched the person aproach the first car and to my dismay, it was MY DAUGHTER! I slammed my car in park, jumped out, and ran up yelling for none of them to give her ANYthing! She had a home to go to, plenty of food etc. but preferred living in a car with her drug dealer…sure enough, he was sitting in that car around the corner, waiting on her to get money for her next hit or whatever. She was an adult so I couldn’t force her to come home, but I would not enable her and eventually she got clean and we have a close relationship again, thank GOD! It’s true, we don’t always know if a person is “deserving” (I say we all are) or not, but handing money out is not the answer…if they say they’re hungry, offer food; need gas, ask to see the car or gas can they plan to use; need to buy medicine…make inquiries and tell them you’ll pick it up for them and bring it back…stuff like that. Handing out cash, even just a little, is imho, just a way to soothe our own conscience, not actually help the person.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Oh Vee! This must have been such a terrible experience! I am glad that things worked out better later on.

      I agree with you that addressing the specific need, such as food, gas, or medicine is better than giving cash. This is my preferred, but sometimes it is impractical in the situation. The issue I was dealing with for myself is what to do in those cases where I am unable to do so. And everyone must decide that for themselves. Your decision is good for you.

      Like

  13. Hymnsinger says:

    It’s not important what the recipient does with your gift, the important thing is that you gave.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Well said, Singer. While we should show discretion if it seems required, I cannot ignore those in need just because there are a few scammers out there. That’s on them–not me.

      Like

    • Chas says:

      What the recipient does with your gift would be important if they use it to buy narcotics. If they do that, it is putting another nail in their coffin.

      Liked by 1 person

      • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

        Yes, Chas. But I can’t know in advance or monitor them to see how they use the money. My conclusion for me (not for anyone else) is that I cannot ignore the needy, even though some of the ‘needy’ are taking inappropriate advantage.

        Like

        • Chas says:

          Tim, I think this is where we should try to give according to the specific requests made by the one asking. If they ask for food, give food. If they ask for clothes, buy them clothes. If they say they somewhere to stay, buy them a hotel room for the night, but if they just ask for money ask them what they want it for then and give that. If they refuse specifics, then refuse to give them money.

          Like

          • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

            Helping with food, gas, or other specific need is my preference, but that is not practical in brief encounters.

            Like

  14. Ginny says:

    I agree that we do not know people’s circumstances. In our hearts we want to help those who ask. Most look under nourished and poorly groomed. My first instinct is to offer food and water. I drive a lot and when I stop for a fast food meal I’ll often see a “beggar” near the off ramp or on a corner as I pull in. The easiest thing for me, a single woman, is to buy a meal-to-go in a bag and give it to him, or her, through my car window as I drive past the person on the street. This is the safest way for me to help.
    I’m trying to have extra water and snack bars handy in my car so I can give them out.
    What bothers me about some folks asking for assistance is when they are talking on a cell phone, smoking, or are wearing pricy sports shoes.
    Some cities still allow peddlers to sell newspapers at the intersections and medians. This was the case in St Petersburg, Florida a few years ago. I know those folks are pretty needy and they are working for some wages which give them a feeling of self worth. My help to them was to purchase the paper, rather than to buy it at the gas station, and then add a few extra dollars as a tip.
    One last comment in this rather lengthy response: at a restaurant I ask the waitperson to wrap up half of the sandwich, before it is served to me, and I hand it out to the first homeless person I drive by. One time I gave my 1/2 sandwich to a very thin man on the street and he ate it so fast in about three bites I was overcome with tears.
    So, my best way to help comes back to trying to give the basic needs for survival, food and water. The Salvation Army, missions, churches and food banks are all outreach to the needy and they need our support. This is where I feel I can give money and know it will go in ways that I cannot help.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. JoshWay says:

    This is a good conversation to have. I’ve undergone a 180 degree change on this in my life. There was a time when I was suspicious and closed off to anyone asking for handouts. As my faith transformed and I began to discover the true heart of Jesus, I realized I was just using suspicion and pessimism as an excuse to look the other way. Now I try to give as I’m able to anyone who asks, regardless of their appearance or story. I live in a semi-urban area with large immigrant populations, so there are many opportunities.

    Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Josh, sometimes it takes something to wake us up and change our minds. Of course, this is true of any issue. I don’t judge those who don’t give to the needy, but I am glad when they do!

      Like

  16. Kristie Kittok says:

    I mostly agree with this blog.
    I would add that a gift card to a nearby fast food restaurant is handy to keep with me and has been useful to give out.
    Also, I have given out cash to a needy person with the comment, “Now you are responsible to God for how you use this”.
    Another thing to consider is giving out a card or info written out about a local ministry that daily helps pepole in all kinds of situations and can be a more long term help.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Pingback: Giving money to the homeless | Laced up Lutheran

  18. Agent X says:

    I really appreciate how thoughtful this post is. Thank you. I write about this stuff all the time. It is important to me. I don’t need you to be in perfect agreement with me and my ideals, but you have shown to be quite thoughtful and careful – even biblical.

    If you care to see some of my posts, check out these two for a taste of my offerings:

    https://fatbeggars.wordpress.com/2016/04/02/why-all-the-worry-about-giving-a-few-dollars/

    &

    https://fatbeggars.wordpress.com/2016/04/07/this-just-in-jesus-ate-lunch-at-popeyes-today/

    Yeah… Thanks again.

    I am blessed…

    Agent X
    Fat Beggars School of Prophets
    Lubbock, Texas (USA)

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Pingback: Your Top 10 Favorite ‘Jesus Without Baggage’ Articles of 2016 | Jesus Without Baggage

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