Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Funding homeless people?

A friend of mine sent me the video that follows.  

Watch the video, read the commentary and then check in below for my reactions.

To give money to the homeless or to not give money to the homeless? It's an age-old quandary that an Oregon nonprofit may have solved.
Sanctity of Hope, a Portland organization, has invented a new currency for homeless people. Donors buy tokens from the nonprofit, dole them out to people living on the streets and they can then be exchanged at stores for food and other goods they might need, according to KATU.
This innovative system allows do-gooders the opportunity to give to the homeless, without worrying how they will spend the cash, and it also pushes panhandlers to spend their money wisely.
It's a model that would let donors breathe easy, especially considering stories we've seen lately about some less-than-honest panhandlers.
The people of Lexington, Ky., for example, were horrified last month when they learned that Gary Thompson, a beggar who had been getting around in a wheelchair and speaking with a slurred speech, was neither homeless, nor disabled, LEX18 reported. The story became even more disturbing when Thompson revealed to reporters that he earns about $100,000 a year.
Sanctity of Hope's token system could potentially reduce such scams.
We choose to donate money based on the level of perceived need, Derek Thompson wrote in the Atlantic in 2011. Beggars known this, so there is an incentive on their part to exaggerate their need, by either lying about their circumstances or letting their appearance visibly deteriorate rather than seek help.

So, short of a "token" system like this one in Portland, what is one to do when a person on the street asks for money?  (BTW--I don't think many Dallas merchants would want to entertain more of the homeless in their places of business.  I hope I am wrong, but my experience tells me that I'm probably not.)

Here are my random observations:

1)  The question is really hard to answer in just one way.  Not every homeless person is the same, nor are their circumstances.  And, it takes time to learn, to discover the reality the person asking for help is facing.  

2)  If I have a relationship with a person, if I know the person, if we have some "history," I am more inclined to help out.  Or, for the same reasons, I may be less inclined.  The person I know, like Penny for example, may be really needing a few bucks for food, a bus pass or toiletries.  If so, I'll help out.  But, for a guy like Buck, I know he's headed for another night of drunken stupor.  Why invest in that?  Who does that help?  But in either case I have some basis for deciding what's best.  That all takes time.

3) I often surprise homeless persons by initiating the conversation myself.  To approach a homeless person and begin a conversation changes the dynamics of the entire interchange.  It's as if the surprise factor drives all of "the game" out of the encounter.  Honesty can pave the way for some really helpful decisions and discussions. 

4)  Honestly, sometimes my emotions dictate my decision.  That's probably not a good thing, but it is true and real.  The fact is I often don't know what to do.  

5) Above all, I try to pay attention to my heart and to how these encounters affect my inner life.  I find it hard spiritually to turn away from another person.  That means I need to do something with every request.  The worst thing for me is to ignore the person who asks.  I've done it, but it never feels right.  So in almost every case, I have to give the person who asks me my attention, as well as my honest answer.  

What are your ideas?


Greg said...

I agree 100%, Larry. Local business owners wouldn't cooperate with a token system, and there is no blanket right or wrong answer to the question of whether to hand out money to those begging.
I discourage folks who have limited experience from handing out money. We specifically prohibit it among our volunteers while working at PATH, but I know it happens from time to time, anyway.
At our church-sponsored soup kitchen type gatherings, I encourage the volunteers who are uncomfortable to refer all requests for money to me or my wife.
My personal perspective is that I only carry a few dollars with me, and I'm happy to give that to anyone who asks. For more than that, it depends on our relationship; if I know them well, I'll "move mountains" to get them the help they need, but I will probably not just hand them any significant amount of cash. For those I meet for the first time, I will be unlikely to make any financial commitment. I don't know if that's the "right or wrong" response, but that's where I'm currently at.
Peace to all!

Anonymous said...

Larry, where in the Bible to you find God commanding government to take money from anyone and giving it to another? In Romans 13, money is given to government to keep the peace, period. In Acts , money is given as a free will offering. Ms. Thatcher is on solid ground when she says there is no such thing as society, only individuals.

Larry James said...

The Hebrew Bible was law code for a nation. Taxes, tithes, offerings and economic practice and policy did exactly what you insist is not the role of government. And anyone who thinks Rome used taxes only keep the peace needs to consider that empire's history and policy. Sorry, but God is not a Libertarian!