One of the most important commands given to us Christians is to look after the poor.
From Genesis and beyond, our hearts are spoken to as we hear Scripture tell us to care for the meek, the oppressed and those who have no choice but to only rely on God.
We stick our favorite Bible quotes on our fridges, on our cars and anywhere we hope others will see. To show we are compassionate, we care about the afflictions of the poor.
Sadly, the world has developed a form of helping and giving to others that has been shaped and influenced over time. Helping the weak, but only on our terms. What I’m comfortable with, what suits me and not what suits those in need.
This is perfectly shown when it comes to the issue of helping the homeless.
I grew up in Africa where homelessness is on a different scale and magnitude to what we are used to in the West. Where children, deformed and paralyzed, lie on the streets to beg for food. Adults, who have been dealt an unfortunate hand in life, wonder what they ever did to deserve it.
I remember when I would sit in the backseat of my dad’s comfortable, air-conditioned Mercedes as hands that had been baking in the sun would claw at the windows, hoping that this time maybe, just maybe, I would be the one to pity them—I would be the one to give them a helping hand so they could hang on for one more day.
No one ever did. And I, like the rest of the world, was offended that they dared to ask for money, and would wish they’d leave us alone because it was upsetting to see that—it’s depressing, and it forces us to think about something I’m not comfortable with and is beyond my control.
Then one day, I found myself homeless—when you are put in that situation, your perspective changes.
When it comes to giving money to the homeless, our perspectives mostly the same around the world, whether it’s the beggar who lost his leg in India or the man who screams “the end is nigh” on the backstreets of New York. Our perspective is this, what works for us, what I am comfortable with.
Whenever I see a homeless person sitting in the street with a collection tin in hand hoping to make eye contact with the people who have deemed him invisible, shaking the tin hoping somebody will notice that the button and three coins in there won’t buy him dinner tonight, I see the same uncomfortable looks on individual passersby wondering whether to give or not. And I also see those who do make an effort to give a meal; maybe a half-eaten sandwich they didn’t want, and be offended when the homeless person isn’t as enthusiastic as they would have hoped.
You see, we struggle with this question because we think almost every homeless person is an addict. Addicted to drugs, alcohol, money or issues. And they are homeless because they have an inability to look after themselves; they have lost their house and therefore have lost our respect.
That is not the truth. The truth is this: yes, there are addicts who happen to be homeless, and, yes, there are those who would use it for drugs—but do they all deserve to be punished because of our prejudice?
Contrary to the popular belief, no one ever “chooses” to be homeless. If you ask anyone who lives on the street if they want a job, they would say yes.
Homeless people want to be a part of society, but society and life have not been fair to them.
If you are struggling with this question and can’t decide to give because you are worried they are going to spend it on drugs or alcohol, then don’t give. Simple as that.
No one has forced you to give, and if you can still decide to judge somebody without knowing who they are or the circumstances that led to their situation, then don’t waste your time.
I decided that whenever I give money to a homeless person or anybody who asks, it is a gift. So when I give it to them, it is no longer mine—it’s theirs. When I give a gift to my friends for Christmas or birthdays, I don’t tell them what to do with it or what to buy with it because it is no longer mine.
So when I give to the homeless, I am not their parent or guardian to make that judgment and assume they are going to use it for something else. Even if they do, so what? If you are concerned about them not doing drugs or consuming alcohol, then why not pay for their rehabilitation or take them to counseling, say a prayer with them and be the first to tell them: “There is more for them out there. There is a God who loves you.” Speak to them about their situation rather than ignoring their presence and forgetting they are human beings, like me and you.
Remember this next time you see someone who asks you for money. You have no obligation to give, but if you do give you have no right to judge.
Homeless girl is the pseudonym of an anonymous blogger living in England. She writes for the blog The Adventures of Homeless Girl