It is a familiar scene. You are walking along a busy sidewalk when suddenly a shabbily dressed man or woman approaches and asks for any loose change. What do you do? We have all been told that any money we give goes for drugs or alcohol. We are also told that giving them money only encourages their begging behaviors ensuring they will never seek honest work.
On the other hand, Jesus said to give freely to those who ask help from us. We are not responsible for how the homeless use our money. We are only responsible for practicing charity.
Ever wonder what it might look like from the other side? Imagine you are a hungry homeless person. You stand on a busy corner and watch as nicely dressed people make their way down the street around you. You are aware that they make an effort not to see you, not to make eye contact with you.
You are not really sure what you are looking for–maybe a flash of kindness or simply an acknowledgement of your presence. Maybe it’s just a feeling you get about some people, that maybe they won’t mind if you ask for their change. You are not often right, but sometimes you get lucky.
Of course begging is not your only recourse. Sometimes there are day jobs available through temporary labor companies. If you can get there early enough, they will give you a number. If your luck holds out, and your number is called, you will have the chance to pick up garbage or unload trucks for the rest of the day at minimum wage.
Unfortunately there are expenses that are deducted from your hourly rate. The temp company may furnish you some paltry lunch for which they deduct five dollars. You may have to pay a transportation fee. Even if you don’t use their transportation, it is still deducted. If there are any tools or equipment you need, the temp company rents them to you and deducts the fee from your check. It’s amazing at the end of the day just how little is left.
Of course, working for nothing is not your only option. You can always sell your blood plasma. You don’t know this, but if it weren’t for the homeless, our nation’s blood supply would be in critical short supply. But you don’t know this. You just know you are hungry. Has it been two weeks since you last sold blood?
On your way to the clinic you pass two men, nicely dressed. You ask, “Could you spare some change for food.” One of the men reaches into his pocket and gives you his change. The other does not. As they walk away you hear one of the men say, “You know giving them money like that just encourages them to keep begging.”
Funny, as you stare at the coins in your hands, you don’t feel encouraged.
After you sell your blood, you go back to the public park where you sleep at night. As you arrive you discover that the blanket given to you by a local church has been picked up by the civilian action patrol and thrown away.
You sit on the ground as night falls and wonder why people hate you so much. And you wonder about God as well.
James L. Evans, a syndicated columnist, also serves as pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.