One of life’s eternal questions popped up in my life last week: “Should you give money to a beggar?”
I don’t have to answer that question often unless I go into Philly or travel to another city. When I’m confronted with someone begging for money, my answer is usually a quick “No.” And I keep on moving.
I don’t like striding past someone who is begging, avoiding eye-contact. Here is a person asking me for help. I could afford to give away a few dollars. But I suspect my money will just go toward drugs or alcohol. And sometimes I’m afraid because the person looks dangerous.
How do you find the balance between compassion and caution, between wanting to help and worrying that you are only making a problem, like addiction, worse or are putting yourself in danger (If I pull out my wallet will I be robbed)?
I’m thinking about this because last week my son texted me that he had given money to a beggar and later regretted it. As he said, “Afterwards, I realized she’s probably not going to use it for what she said she would.”
He’s a compassionate soul, and this isn’t the first time this has happened to him. I want him to retain that compassion, but I also want him to be wise about money and to stay safe.
Being a modern parent, I searched the Internet for help, typing “Should you give money to a beggar or homeless person?” into Google’s search box. (Because, as everyone knows, the Internet is the source of all wisdom.) I had hoped to find answers from organizations that work with the homeless or provide services to the poor, but at first all I came up with were links to Yahoo Answers (the armpit of web answer sites).
Finally, I found three articles that approached the subject with intelligence:
From The Atlantic: “The short answer is no. The long answer is yes, but only if you work for an organization that can ensure the money is spent wisely.”
From The University of Oxford: Practical Ethics Blog: “ If you give money to beggars, you almost certainly spend your welfare budget helping the wrong people.”
And, finally, from a woman who used to be homeless, came this admonition: “If you are struggling with the question of whether to give money to a homeless person because you’re worried they will spend it on drugs … then don’t give. It is as simple as that. No one has forced you to give money, but if you do decide to give you have no right to judge.”
My son has to decide for himself what he’ll do the next time a beggar approaches him.
If he lived in Ottawa, he could put his money in a Kindness Meter, but I have hard time imagining those popping up on the streets of Philadelphia.
What do you think? What do you do when a stranger begs you for money?