I love doling out advice, and the people who consistently ask me for directions no matter where I am think I am pretty good at it, so where better to do it than on the internet? Periodically, I’ll present a plea for help and my measured response. The solicited question may or may not be fictional, but I promise that my response will never be :).
QUESTION: I live in a major city and have noticed with the warmer weather, an increasing number of homeless individuals sleeping outside, riding public transportation, and soliciting help. I sometimes don’t know what to do, especially since the money I give could go towards things that perpetuate their homelessness. How can I do the most good in such a situation?
ANSWER: Homelessness is multifaceted problem and requires the combined efforts of a variety of parties, but I think the points below are a good place to start.
1. Acknowledge the Humanity in Others: You may tense up when someone walks past and greets you as he or she pushes a shopping cart while wearing oversized clothes, but it cost you (and me) very little to look that someone in the eye and give a heartfelt hello. As easy as it is to walk past cups with clinking coins or tune out the quiet requests for assistance, taking time to stop and talk to someone can prove just as impactful as a few dollar bills. This video addresses this issue well.
2. Food, etc.!: Who doesn’t need food? When working in Baltimore, I often kept energy bars in my car so that when individuals approached me on street medians with requests for help, I could easily give something tangible and immediately useful (FYI: food that can be easily consumed by someone with few or no of teeth is always appreciated!). If you see a need, why not grab a group of friends and meet it? Blankets and warm clothing are always needed in the winter, a cold bottle of water on a hot summer day can do wonders, and local shelters are always short on funds and volunteers.
3. Trust your gut (or in christianese- Discernment): Giving money to someone asking for it can often present a dilemma about what an individual will do with it. You nor I know where every cent of what we donate to non-profits or our favorite retail chain goes either. Give in situations in which you feel an unction to do so- true gifts are given without stipulation. You cannot control the actions of others, but you can always choose to be generous.
4. A Gift that Keeps on Giving: I am not referring to communicable diseases but rather approaching homelessness in a more global way. If this happens to be an issue you feel especially passionate about, there are a variety of ways to continue to help. Want more direct contact with homeless individuals- why not volunteer in a local shelter? Gifted in finance- a local outreaches would likely appreciate you giving a few hours to helping them maximize the funds they have.
Homelessness, like many other issues, is complex, but that does not mean that you cannot tangibly impact individuals. As you said- opportunity is all around you, and you might be surprised to find how much others can impact you as well.
The Soloist starring Jamie Foxx & Robert Downey Jr.
Same Kind of Different as Me by Denver Moore and Ron Hall
Homelessness in the US: http://nationalhomeless.org/
Have a question for You Asked? Leave it in the comments below!