If you work in a city and walk the streets each morning on your commute, it’s likely you’re going to see at least one cardboard sign scribbled with Sharpie, an old coffee cup to collect spare change or a hopeless blank stare asking you for help.
Perhaps you’ve been taught to ignore these people because they’re allegedly only going to use your hard-earned cash to fuel their drug and alcohol addictions. Maybe you feel that giving money would just be perpetuating a hopeless cycle.
But the hard truth is that you don’t know what this person needs money for. While, yes, they may misuse your cash for alcohol or drugs, they may also use that cash to purchase a hot meal or something as simple as a toothbrush.
It’s easy to view all homeless people as con artists. We blame homelessness on the person when their situation could be caused by any number of things. For example, a large portion of the homeless population are war veterans, some dealing with crippling PTSD. A lot of times, these people who walk the same streets we do on our commute each morning are people suffering not from bad decisions, but bad situations outside of their control. Without taking the time to get to know them, any assumption you make about what got them into their current state is just that: an assumption.
Belinda Bassene, development lead at brightpeak, shared a story of a man that she met in Boston, who had moved to the States to pursue higher education. He rented an apartment he found on Craigslist, and when he returned home from work one day, all of his belongings were gone, including his savings. The renters had double-crossed him. He was left with only the clothes on his back and, with no money and no way to return to his home country, he became homeless.
Jesus makes it clear in Scripture that, as Christians, we are to exert generosity and act as His hands and feet. In fact, it goes all the way back to the Old Testament, where Jesus literally commands us to give to the poor in Deuteronomy 15:11— “For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’”
“We can assume their needs, but we have no idea what their real story is because we’re driving or walking by,” says Bassene. “They’re there because there’s a need. They’ve been put in our path, so how do we support them in that?”
A lot of Christians practice ministering to the homeless in a variety of different ways: having dinner with them at a shelter on a weekly basis, offering them snacks, handing out care packages. But nothing demonstrates true generosity quite like giving them exactly what they are asking for.
On the other end of the spectrum, some Christians take this commandment to heart by completely emptying their pockets.
Bassene and her husband, Janvier, have always been a generous couple. They are always more than willing to go the extra mile when they see someone in need, especially one without a home. But Belinda had to put her foot down, in a sense, when it came to giving away money.
“I consider myself a very generous person, so I’m all about giving to whoever we can, whenever we have it,” Bassene says. “I thought I was a generous person until I met my husband. At one point I thought, ‘You are so generous, we are going to have no money.’ He can’t even keep cash on him because I know he’ll return home without it. Whether it’s $5 or $75, it will be gone by the end of the week. Not because he will spend it, but because he will give it all away.”
Bassene and her husband came up with a solution. “I had to put us on a generosity budget. We have multiple savings accounts, and we have one called ‘generosity,’ where every month we have x amount of dollars that we can just give it to whoever, whatever, however. And that is how we had to budget generosity in our lives.”
Having a generosity budget may sound extreme, until you realize that the people it helps have extreme needs. The easy thing to do is to dismiss all homeless people as lazy which is, of course, itself a lazy way of thinking. God Himself is generous with His grace, and He gives it freely to all of us—regardless of whether or not we’ll be responsible with how we use it. Can we be as generous with our money as God is with forgiveness?
A generosity budget is a good first step.
If you’re not sure about how much you should be giving, consider putting yourself on a generosity budget like Belinda and her husband. Even if it’s only a small amount, challenge yourself to give away a certain amount per month.
“Love your neighbor is a pretty bold commandment,” says Bassene. “It’s not about you. It’s about Him and honoring His kingdom in the best way we can.”