Giving Your Money to Drug Addicts

There are two commandments regarding poverty that I have come to dislike. The first is as follows: “Give a man a fish and you will feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you will feed him for a lifetime.” I do not disagree. I have simply come to the sad conclusion that those most likely to use the phrase are those most likely to neither give, teach, or fish.

The second is my topic: “Never give money to a beggar. They’ll only spend it on drugs.”

The problem with this maxim is its cleverness. I am a man of conflicting desires. On the one hand, I want to keep my money, because I like money. On the other hand, I want to give to the poor, because it is good to give to those in need, and I desire the good. On the other hand, I want to go about my day without the interruption of a beggar, because I am selfish. On the other hand, I — a Christian, and worse, a Catholic — know that Christ wants me to break the pitiful shell of selfishness that petrifies me from reaching out towards my neighbor — to help.

Now the brilliance of the maxim is that it allows me to reconcile these conflicting desires — by doing nothing at all. I may keep my money, and more than that, keep it for the very reason I may have been inspired to give it away — for the benefit of the needy, who are benefited by my not supplying their potential drug addiction. I may walk past a beggar, and do it for the precise reason I may have stopped — I am called to help the poor, and it is no help to give money to a man who will “just spend it on drugs.” Miraculous! I may simulate the whole strength of moral feeling by doing nothing. I may walk past a beggar and say, “Thank you Lord, for helping me to show your love to the poor by aiding them in kicking their drug addictions by way of my generous not-giving.”

See, it is a clever commandment, but I am skeptical of any argument that allows me to do nothing in a spirit of doing something. But let us consider the claim.

It is true that we must give alms wisely. But what wisdom is it to assume a drug addiction of all beggars, and more than that, to assume that your personal act of almsgiving will be used, each time it is given, to that end?

Even if we do not make this assumption of all beggars, only admit the possibility of a beggar using our alms for drugs, our subsequent not-giving still seems based on a false conception of Christian charity. The Christian is not called to give usefully, that is, to give on the basis of the ends of his giving. Who among you buys flowers only on the condition that your gift is used for the ends you have in mind? A gift that is only given on the basis of what will be done with it is not gift, but an investment. As with all investments, it is dependent on the return, the result of giving. Giving on the basis of outcome isn’t necessarily bad, but it is hardly charity. For what is the Christian called to do? To love as God loves. How does God love him? Unconditionally. So, in imitation of our God, we should practice charity without conditions, understanding that a gift is not a philanthropic contribution to known, trusted and worthy cause — a gift that will only have the effects we are satisfied with — but a giving that allows for the possibility of misuse.

To put it as clearly as I can — I believe that the uncertain possibility that our alms will be spent on drugs is not a sufficient reason to withhold almsgiving, which “does deliver from death” and “purges away sins,” (Tobit 12:8-9) for giving on the condition of certainty as to the effectiveness and usefulness of your gift is far from the unconditional love of God, who gives us every good thing while allowing us the possibility of using every good thing to sin and damn ourselves for all eternity.

But what if drug addiction is more than a possibility? What if the track marks swell, the teeth rot, and the eyes are pinpointed or high-off-your-ass rosy red? What if — for whatever reason — we are quite certain that the approaching beggar is the dreaded drug addict, and that all our alms will be consumed, worthless as good-luck pennies thrown down a wishing well, but worse, because they aid a man in his own sin? Surely now the advice stands true? Surely now we may walk on in righteousness, following the modern commandment?

For the man for whom almsgiving is a mere matter of effectively contributing to worthy causes that promote the health and happiness of an individual, yes. For the Christian, called to unconditional love, things get more intense. Yes, it would be an evil to tempt a known drug addict by pressing cash into his hands. But this is because whatever money we have is not revealed to be too much to give the beggar, but woefully too little. Before we knew of a drug addiction, we were approached by a man asking for financial help. Afterwards, we are approached by man who — in sorrow and sin — asks for spiritual and physical help. If we refuse a request for money on the part of a drug addict, it is only because we have been confronted with the infinitely larger request for healing. The Christian may not say “he’ll buy drugs,” and keep walking, only “he’ll buy drugs, and now my obligation to give alms has been infinitely widened into the terrifying obligation to visit the sick, to ransom the captive, to comfort the afflicted, to instruct the ignorant, and to admonish the sinner.”

Yes, we should fear that the beggar begs to fuel his drug addiction, fear and tremble, for our duty to love — and thus to suffer — has been increased. What is my obligation? To pray, to admonish, to enter into a relationship of love, to embrace, to hold, to plead, to offer help, to offer to arrange a detox, an entrance into an effective program, to find what began their addiction and what keeps it killing them, to be patient with their sin, their scams, their schemes — all this and more if I am to make the conscious decision not to give on the basis of a drug addiction.

Now obviously, it is not possible for us to do this for every drug addict we encounter. But it is our duty to try when we can. It is our duty, at the very least, to be honest with ourselves, to ask whether we are saying “they’ll just do drugs” because we don’t want to give, and if not — if we truly want to give alms, but don’t want our help to hurt — to consider whether we are paying any mind to the greater obligations of love the fact of drug addiction presents to us.

  • Monica Pope

    my son is a drug addict. i BEG people to NOT give him money.

    ‘What is my obligation? To pray, to admonish, to enter into a relationship of love, to embrace, to hold, to plead, to offer help, to offer to arrange a detox, an entrance into an effective program, to find what began their addiction and what keeps it killing them, to be patient with their sin, their scams, their schemes — all this and more if I am to make the conscious decision not to give on the basis of a drug addiction.’

    yes. THIS is the obligation. but if the addict refuses these things, please DO NOT give him money. your twenty dollars could be the overdose that kills my son.

  • Catholic in Recovery

    I am a Catholic in recovery, and am grateful to both those who gave me money and those who gave me food (among other things) while I was living on the streets. There is no definitive answer which will satisfy this question. Have faith.

  • Catholic in Recovery

    Overall, not a bad article for any reader who may find themselves in need of this insight when dealing with a prospective addict. (possibly on the streets of Steubenville). If you find yourself in this situation, whatever you do, do not teach them “The Bad Catholic Drinking Game”.

  • Alyssa

    Giving cash directly to the needy isn’t the only way to help them. Organizations like St. Vincent de Paul give food to the hungry and shelter the homeless. If a person has a qualm about giving money to a potential drug addict, they could donate to an organization like that.

  • Kristin Bird

    My mom used to live in Chicago and would always carry $5 and $1 bills wrapped around home made business cards that she had printed with information on local homeless shelters, addiction recovery centers, food pantries, Churches, and a promise to pray for the person. She handed these to each beggar she encountered. She told me that it was on her conscience whether or not she did was Jesus asks of her, and on the beggar’s conscience whether or not he does what Jesus asks of him. Great lessons in true charity, giving up control, and taking the plank out of our own eyes.

    • TapestryGarden

      I like this suggestion a lot. I admit that the folks on the side of the road or panhandling scare me. It’s not that I mind giving the funds and with a gift you let go of control so whether they use it for your approved purpose isn’t relevant. It’s the encounter that I find so awkward. But this is a more positive approach than handing the person a few dollars, averting your eyes and moving swiftly away which is what I tend to do. By offering prayers and resources as well as a few dollars, I think it brings us to a more human and direct encounter.

      • Caroline Moreschi

        It is scary the first few times, but you get used to it. They are people just like us (though I still am wary of some – use your common sense).

      • Nick Love

        if you are giving them money to help them ruin there lives, you are basically telling them it is okay to do drugs.

        • TapestryGarden

          Although the title of the piece is giving money to drug addicts, my response was in respect to those who are “begging” or at roadside rest stops or on the side of the freeway. I don’t KNOW they are drug addicts. One of my neighbors actually engaged a few of our local “beggers” and found that they were single moms who had few if any skills and unable to support children on the government aid they received. Now we can have a separate discussion about that issue but understand that I don’t think ANYONE suggests giving money to known addicts whom they know are going to use it for drugs.

        • GRIFFIN ELY

          UNDERSTANDABLE……..AMEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Barfly_Kokhba

      Shemp Howard walked around with a pair of briefs in his pocket in case anyone asked for spare change.

    • K C Sunbeam

      Those are nice gestures. But why not just give them the card to the homeless shelter? There, people trained in knowing how to deal with people can determine who actually needs assistance, what type of assistance they need, and if they are truly working towards their own betterment.
      Also, wouldn’t the police already be monitoring them, and already have been telling them where to get assistance?
      Although Scripture is silent about the means of help (homeless shelters and halfway houses staffed by professionals), they didn’t exist then. Neither did hard drugs.
      “K. C. Sunbeam”
      my website: http://shockedbytruth.jimdo.com

      • James Zahler

        I agree the circumstances of our culture are very different than in the time of Jesus. My preference is to stop and talk with people who beg for money. They need to be treated as human beings more than they need money.

      • Kristin Bird

        It sounds to me like you are making a lot of assumptions – that they know about homeless shelters and other services, that they have the mental capacity to find and access these services, that someone else (the police) is taking care of them.

        Scripture is silent on homeless shelters, but not about our individual responsibilities. We are called to see each individual we encounter as created in the image and likeness of God – this includes the beggar…even the one you think you know is a drug addict.

    • GRIFFIN ELY

      On a sabbath Jesus went to dine
      at the home of one of the leading Pharisees.
      He said to the host who invited him,
      “When you hold a lunch or a dinner,
      do not invite your friends or your brothers or sisters
      or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors,
      in case they may invite you back and you have repayment.
      Rather, when you hold a banquet,
      invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind;
      blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you.
      For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” – Luke 14:12-14
      THIS READING IS PROBALBLY HARD TO UNDERSTAND NOW IN THE 21ST CENTURY BECAUSE SO MUCH HAS CHANGED FROM 2000 YEARS AGO BUT MAYBE NOW INSTEAD OF GIVING MONEY TO THE DRUGGYS THEMSELVES WE SHOULD GIVE IT TO A OFFICIAL PLACE LIKE THE HOSPITAL OR A REHABILITATION PLACE WHERE THAT MONEY IS USED WISELY TO HELP THE DRUGGYS . AMEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      • Kristin Bird

        I don’t think the reading is hard to understand at all – it seems pretty clear that Christ is (once again) asking us to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, and clothe the naked. Giving money to charitable organizations who help those individuals is one way we can do that – directly serving those in need is another.

        Notice Jesus doesn’t say that we should invite them “so long as you know that they will not turn back to sin.” The corporal work of mercy is to Feed the Hungry not Feed the Hungry only if they promise to live on the straight and narrow.

  • Jess DuBois

    I HIGHLY disagree. Don’t get me wrong–I do not adhere to the “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” mentality that many hold regarding the poor. But giving money to an addict is enabling behavior, period. Trust me–I’ve had close relationships with many addicts. You just can’t know peoples’ backgrounds when you pass them for a brief few seconds on the street. There’s no way to tell who’s an addict and who’s not. Giving someone money who will spend it on drugs is not helping them flourish as a human, it’s alleviating your own conscience. You can pray for them as you pass by, smile and say hello (without expecting a positive response), and maybe buy food. Donate to good shelters, volunteer your time there, advocate on their behalf, call legislators, etc…those are all infinitely better ways to serve the poor then handing them a few dollars that might go towards something potentially lethal and definitely harmful.

    • Tom

      I think you’re falling into what Marc was talking about: You’re assuming and generalizing that every homeless person on the street is an addict. Is that really the case? And even more importantly, from a Catholic-Christian perspective, is it right to automatically assume that of every poor beggar?

      • ChevalierdeJohnstone

        Unfortunately, while Marc’s advice makes a lot of sense in spirit materially it will not work because it is not possible for you, through unilateral charity, to “help” someone else overcome an addiction. You can certainly help and support them along the way, but if you look at every successful case of overcoming addiction, the drive to do so comes from the addict. It must be they who seek and persevere in overcoming the addiction, with of course the help of Christ. Thus for you to approach and befriend an addict, in the midst of their addiction, and try to “help” them overcome the addiction is enabling and therefore damaging to them. I know you are telling yourself that you are approaching them as a fellow human being whom you want to help, but in actuality you are only approaching them because they are an addict.

        You may think differently, but to the addict it is obvious that if they were not an addict you would not be trying to help them. This confirms, for them, the vital importance of the addictive substance. When an addict approaches you and asks for help and friendship because they want to be free of their addiction, the focus is on help and friendship and freedom from addiction and then, if you help them, your help is truly charitable. But when you approach an addict and offer to help them, the only possible focus is on the addiction itself, which is the sole reason you approached them, from their point of view. Why would they ever give it up?

        It is easy, in principle, to figure out how to navigate such relationships. Are you giving to the beggar because he is a beggar, or because he is your acquaintance, who has a name? Are you approaching the beggar to make his acquaintance because you are genuinely interested in him, or because he looks poor and homeless? Don’t like about this, there are 50 other people on the street each one of whom desperately needs help in some way. We are all poor in one way or another. Why are you approaching this man out of all the others, offering to help him? Can you honestly say that it is not because of his shabby clothes and unkempt appearance? Because if that is the reason then you are not treating him as a man.

        The simple truth is that giving alms to someone because they are poor, or addicted, or both, is demeaning to them, because you are not treating them like a holistic person, you are treating them like a poor person or an addict. And whether you are giving money, or food, or friendship, if the reason you do so is because the other person is poor – which can be the only reason you choose to give to a beggar you don’t know – then you are treating them not as a human being but as a representation of their poverty. This is not Christian charity. If you really were giving alms simply because they are your fellow human being, to be loved and cherished, then there is no reason you would give alms to the beggar instead of the man in the business suit. Do you think the well-dressed man couldn’t use a little more money? There’s a good chance the well-dressed businessman owes more money than beggar hopes to make. There is a good chance the man in the suit struggles each month to pay his baby daughter’s medical bills. Why do you choose to give alms only to he who appears “poor”? Again I say, the reason is that you don’t see a person, you see “the poor”. You do not see a person, you see “the addict”. And again I say this is not Christian charity.

        Throughout most of Christian (and Jewish) history alms were never given to strangers. The beggar, the poor person, the drunkard were never strangers defined by their poverty or addiction; they were members of your community, with names and kin and histories you knew, who happened to suffer these afflictions. You did not give alms to “the beggar, whose name is John”, you gave alms to John, whose legs were crushed in a mill accident and who thus has unfortunately felt forced to beg for food.

        In modern times we have unfortunately mostly lost this sense of community, but that does not mean you should go out and give alms to a beggar you don’t know and it does not mean that you should go out and “befriend” a drug addict when your reason for befriending him (as opposed to anyone else) can only be that he is an addict, as that’s all you ever knew about him before “befriending” him. What it means, in our modern world, is that unless you already know and understand and value the poor beggar prior and exogenous to his poverty or addiction, what you ought instead to do is give alms to an organization that provides help and resources if and when he comes and seeks them. This is true, selfless, charitable love, that doesn’t seek to enslave him by pretending that your charity must be tied to a mutual relationship. This is charity that selflessly sacrifices your material well-being for him, even though he may never know that the bowl of soup or the bed or the methadone does was purchased by you. Happily the Church runs many such charitable organizations. You might even volunteer to work with one of these organizations. Then when you meet John, it will not be because he is an addict, but because he has, independently of your direct influence, chosen to begin the process of overcoming his addiction. And this is a far better basis for a real human relationship than giving money to a nameless man who looks desperate and unkempt and approaches you on the street.

        Giving alms to beggars is not charity, it is slavery. Don’t give to beggars: give charitably instead.

        This entire post of Marc’s is the subject of a false dichotomy: the implicit assumption is that your choices are i) give money to the beggar, or ii) don’t give money. But of course given the wonders of modern technology it will take you seconds to look up the nearest mission to the poor, go on their website, and iii) donate to them, which is the only good option. Marc presents us with a choice between 2 evils without specifying that a good alternative exists.

      • Guest

        I understand not wanting to judge out neighbor, but the fact is you cannot possibly know whether someone is a drug addict or not, and to give a drug addict money is incredibly more harmful than to pass someone by. If you ask people who work with those who are on the streets, they’ll tell you that these people do know where the help and soup kitchens and agencies. I know these things aren’t a magical cure to homelessness–it is an intensely complex question that needs a lot more attention from all parts of society. But unless you can be ABSOLUTELY SURE that the person does not suffer from addiction, you run the risk of doing them harm by enabling them. For many addicts, especially those without money, money is a trigger; the reaction in the brain automatically induces a craving more intense than we without addictions could ever imagine. They need the next bottle or drug like they need air. I don’t want to put someone through that.

        • Jess DuBois

          I do know that not all people who are homeless are addicts, and I should have made that clearer. I understand not wanting to judge neighbor, but the fact is you cannot possibly know whether someone is a drug addict or not, and to give a drug addict money is incredibly more harmful than to pass someone by. If you ask people who work with those who are on the streets, they’ll tell you that these people do know where the help and soup kitchens and agencies. I know these things aren’t a magical cure to homelessness–it is an intensely complex question that needs a lot more attention from all parts of society. But unless you can be ABSOLUTELY SURE that the person does not suffer from addiction, you run the risk of doing them harm by enabling them. For many addicts, especially those without money, money is a trigger; the reaction in the brain automatically induces a craving more intense than we without addictions could ever imagine. They need the next bottle or drug like they need air. I don’t want to put someone through that.

      • Mike M

        But, a large share of the homeless are addicts. There ahs been ridiculously wide variation in different studies on the matter, but it’s not a small share. If there’s a 25% chance that a homeless person is an addict (based on the studies, it’s probably at least that high for single men who aren’t caring for children, which is most likely who you’re talking about if you’re talking about panhandlers, can you just brush off that possibility?

        I don’t have an answer for that, or a strong opinion about what you should do when you confront a beggar… I’ve given cash to some homeless people, invited others to come along to get some food, and just kept walking past others… but, I don’t think it’s an easy thing to make moral rules about. In the end, we’re each called to do the best we can to love the people around us and to put that into action, but we all see things differently, have different considerations, different restraints, different alternate opportunities. We have to do what we think is best, and I don’t see the use in assuming that anyone isn’t.

  • Cal-J

    I think a major problem here is that we’re working with a negative rule, i.e. it starts with a “Don’t”. We need more positive rules.

    Buy him food. Buy him clothes. See if you can arrange a connection with a shelter somewhere.

    Also: Get to know them. They have names, learn them. They have stories, learn those, too. Getting to really know them also is a major help in doing away with whether or not they have an addiction to worry about as well.

  • http://platytera.blogspot.com/ kkollwitz

    Nothing has done my indolent son more harm than the well-intended giving him money and other goods.

  • Catholic Bushi

    A friend of mine who lived in D.C. always carried gift cards to local restaurants to hand out to the rather large population of homeless. According to him, there actually are a lot of “professional” homeless people who do it for a living. He even got cussed out several times when he offered help! I do agree that we need to help the poor, but I think the best way is to carry gift cards like my friend and show support for Salvation Army, St Vincent de Paul ect. Living out our Faith is a lot more than simply handing out a few dollars on a street corner.

    • TapestryGarden

      I like this as well. My church used to put together little baggies with a few durable snacks like granola bars and a meal ticket to a local cafe that focused on street folks. If they didn’t have funds they could work at the cafe bussing tables or sweeping or something for about 30 minutes as I recall. I always felt better about giving out the little bags than tossing a couple of dollars their way.

    • msmischief

      There are a good number of beggars who aren’t homeless. You can get a nice place for $30,000 a year, especially when you pay no taxes.

  • http://imperfectfornow.blogspot.com/ Mackman

    Awesome post.

    God sends rain on the just and unjust alike, even if they’re just going to use that rain to buy drugs. Can you imagine if God subscribed to the theory that we ought not to give to those who might misuse it?

    We would not exist. We would not have the gospel. We would not have grace at all, because we all misuse those gifts.

    And to those disagreeing: Do you know who “the Homeless” are? People. Not some faceless, nameless mass that we can explain away with statistics, that we can try and sentence in absentia as drunkards and addicts and wickedly lazy parasites. People.People with names, people with stories, people that had jobs but lost them, people who are disabled, or confused, or lost… people that are known and precious to God.

    There’s a reason we never see Jesus refuse sight to a man because he’d only use it to lust. There’s a reason we never see Jesus turn anyone away, period.

    On another note: Isn’t it cool when someone you admire and respect covers a topic that you’ve previously written about as well? http://imperfectfornow.blogspot.com/2013/06/theyre-just-going-to-use-that-rain-to.html

    • Jess DuBois

      Yes, as a social work student, I am highly aware that people experiencing homelessness are people. They are highly vulnerable people. Sometimes that vulnerability is caused by a terrible disease known as addiction that makes them not themselves, that changes who they are (never, of course, what they are, which are children of God). Before you assume that we who disagree are all heartless blind judgmental people, ask relatives of addicts if you should give an addict money. Ask the nuns and priests and missionaries who work with people who are homeless if you should give money. Whenever I’ve asked, they’ve said no. They said buy food, give gift cards, but never money. It’s not out of judging the person’s character, because to be an addict or to be homeless is not a sign of moral failure, EVER. It’s out of an intense desire to do right by all, including not enabling when you have no idea who would be enabled.

      • http://imperfectfornow.blogspot.com/ Mackman

        But surely it seems wrong to assume that all the homeless are drug addicts, simply on the basis of being homeless? You may never know who you’re enabling, true, but you will also never know who you are turning away.

        As Marc said, the question shifts when the addiction is obvious. But even when it is not so obvious, my duty is clear. God saw fit to give me a job capable of supporting me and my wife, when I had no prospects for getting one. He gave me everything that I have, though I misuse it. And I am to turn someone away who is just asking for enough to buy a meal, because they MIGHT misuse it?

        No.

        When Jesus healed all the sick and demon-possessed in Capernaum, are we to assume that all of them were paragons of virtue, and that none of them used their new-found health to sin? When Jesus healed those that were blind, did none of them use their eyesight to lust? When God gives us grace, do none of us misuse it?

        The gift is a choice. It is an opportunity, both for the giver and receiver, to do what’s right, whether it’s $5 on a street-corner, or supernatural healing in ancient Jerusalem.

        • Jess DuBois

          Correct, it is inaccurate to assume every person experiencing homelessness is an addict. The main disagreement, it seems, is whether you do more harm by enabling or by not giving. It WOULD be more harmful to not give IF there weren’t countless agencies who provide clothing, food, shelter, and life skills to the homeless population. Those places have flaws and they need to be established in many more places, but they have a much better job at helping someone escape homelessness. Five dollars won’t do that. Work for service and justic, like Christ

          • Jessica

            My phone won’t let me type anymore…anyway, like Christ asks us to do. Ask to buy them food, let them choose what they want. By all means, feed the hungry. But notnin a way that could harm them. Marc seems to be sking us to love radically, and I can tell you from experience it is mucg more radical to walk into a McDonald’s with a beggar than stopping to gjve him some change. Donate to shelters, support them so they can brtter support others. Our choices are not limited to give change or donothing.

    • paxdonnaverde

      We give to the “unjust” everyday as we purchase our McDonalds meals, buy our Exxon gas and pay our Citbank mortgages and buy our Apple computers. The majority of the profits go to the corporate executives poverty wages are paid to the folks working the factory floors and sales counters. Walk, ride a bike, shop at farmers markets, pay your gardener and housekeeper more than minimum wage for their efforts. Bring down your credit card balances so you are not supporting the acquisitive habits of corporate executives.

  • Bria Fries

    I try to have $1 on me as much as I can. To be sure, many of the panhandlers I’ve come across probably have substance abuse problems, and it is not my aim in enable them. However, on a busy street corner, what I do have is a small amount of money and a desire to show them something tangible. I give them a dollar and they thank me, and I offer a prayer as they drive away. It’s not just to alleviate my own conscience – I would like to at least think there is some *good* in the action. Jesus told us that He is there in the least among us, and I pray that maybe He understands I want to do good.

    But basically, I don’t feel qualified to judge that that man or woman on the street is not worthy of a few dollars because of what he *might* do with it. He will bear that responsibility.

    I also try to keep this up as much as possible as my sons grow, because I want them to see me giving without judgement or questioning, and to be ready to give something off the cuff, as it were (we do give in other ways as well, by donating our goods and money to services like St Vincent de Paul).

    I know other’s disagree, and that is their place to do so. I just know what *I* feel is the best thing for me to do in that situation.

  • ForsythiaTheMariner

    I think there are some great points to be made, but I also think that there’s more to be said and think about.

    I live in a very poor country, and I’ve personally noticed that the people who really do seem to be the most in need of financial support are often the ones who do not ever beg or ask for money. I do think there’s something very real to be said about professional beggars, verses those who are literally nearly breaking their back in hard labor for pennies per day. I’m not saying that such people asking for money don’t require sympathy, and that it would be wrong to give them money–and I often do give some money, and I also carry small bags of snacks I can give–but I do think it’s a real issue that deserves discussion about what the Christian can and should do.

    I can also attest to being confronted with, beyond a shadow of a doubt, drug addicts, where I don’t believe in such cases money is ever a good thing to give. In such cases, I would highly recommend, if possible, giving food or directing them to a treatment center and, as Marc said, getting to know their name at least.

  • Carol Womick

    If you look at it from a 12 step point of view….
    What are YOU trying to control? The addict. YOU are being controlling. The addict/alcoholic is gonna do what they are going to do and you have no control over it. What if in seeing the Christ in him/her, the addict is led to seeing the Christ in you? Just my two cents.

  • Ron

    Find out what they need, and give them that. Nobody needs money. We need food, or shelter, or transportation, etc.

    If it’s food that’s needed, go with them to a restaurant and get them food. If it’s gas for the car, go with them to the gas station and put gas in the car.

  • Kent Veazey

    I just don’t agree with some of the points the author made. First, Christian charity is precisely determined by the outcomes. Second, God gives to all precisely to effect outcomes for their good. Third, it isn’t a all or nothing proposition; you can act based on probabilities also- if it is more probable that more harm than good will come of your action, you can decline too act. Finally, I don’t think it is right to judge a person who doesn’t go all out to help an addict in the ways we think proper.
    Also, I noticed that it wasn’t addressed that one might buy some food for the beggar rather than giving him money.

  • Renee

    As someone who lives in a city/neighborhood with a drug/gang problem, as a matter of public safety for yours and the residents do NOT give money to the homeless. What you can do is give 5 dollar gift cards to Dunkin Donuts/McDonalds.

  • Sarah M

    This is something I’m not entirely sure about. For instance, there was a homeless man named John who slept on our backporch. He asked us, and said he preferred it to the shelter at least in the summer (this was a summer living situation for us, we left in the fall). He was an alcoholic. We gave him food all the time, and money occasionally. One of the girls gave him her watch because he tended to miss meals at the various food pantries because he didn’t know what time it was. He kept it for as long as we knew him and didn’t sell it. I’m sure he used the money we and others occasionally gave him to buy alcohol, but I would rather him buy the alcohol than die of DTs. His story was long and sad and he was self medicating. We tried helping him to better his situation, but the combination of a long addiction with possible mental illness and a certain resignation to his life, I doubt he has left the streets. I can’t judge him, his situation, or even whether we should have been feeding his addiction (directly or indirectly, I mean even by giving him food, we were ‘enabling’ him to keep more money to buy alcohol). We can’t fix everyone, and everyone is different. There are people I will not give money to because I know their situation, others I will.

    The point I think is the one that Marc makes, what is our motivation? If we really truly care, we will not use it as an excuse to not give and we will hopefully learn to not be emotionally blackmailed into giving the wrong way. There is a learning curve with dealing with issues like addiction, but you have to start somewhere. Loving people is hard, which is why we should do it.

    I really hate that every time giving comes up, the first thing out of people’s mouths is either about whether the poor deserve it, or about enabling. That is not the starting point of loving the poor (or anyone) even though it may be a consideration for people who actually give.

    • Agnes

      “The point I think is the one that Marc makes, what is our motivation? If we really truly care, we will not use it as an excuse to not give and we will hopefully learn to not be emotionally blackmailed into giving the wrong way.”

      Marc doesn’t seem to be above emotionally blackmailing people, though. If you consider one externally evident action to have many possible internal motivations, some good and some bad (but focus on the bad), what are people going to do? They’re probably going give money. This is how many charities work nowadays – Marc’s approach is in fact a very old one.

      • Sarah M

        Calling out a fault is not emotional blackmail. That’s just addressing an issue of morality. If it makes us feel bad, we should move forward thoughtfully. I started out caring about the poor on a superficial emotional level. Then I met actual poor people, learned more about charities…the ones that are helping and the ones that just have good marketing. Sure I bought Toms shoes and gave money to unsustainable charities, but I’ve learned a lot since then. There is a learning curve to loving. Having a heart for the individual is important, otherwise you get (or just stay) cynical which is far worse.

        • Agnes

          “Calling out a fault is not emotional blackmail.”

          If “calling out a fault” was the only thing he was doing. perhaps. But he has managed to load more into his post than simple fault-finding.

          “If it makes us feel bad, we should move forward thoughtfully.”

          You give a great deal of benefit for doubt – sometimes there’s only one conclusion from what someone has written. If people share his views, they don’t read what he’s written as fully (a cognitive bias).

          “Having a heart for the individual is important, otherwise you get (or just stay) cynical which is far worse.”

          A false dichotomy.

        • Mike M

          Yes, but, having a heart for the individual seems to entail having a concern that what you’re giving him could help him kill himself. I would gladly give a set of knives to a poor person looking to rebuild their skills to get a job in a kitchen. I probably wouldn’t give a set of knives to someone who’s suicidal and has a history of cutting themselves. The same rationale could be applied to cash.

  • Neal

    God will judge us on how much we love, not on how much we don’t allow ourselves to be scammed/give to drug addicts/etc.

    • GoodCatholicGirl

      That is a good point. I was in a relationship with a functioning heroin addict who scammed me out of a good deal of money and self-respect. It got to a point where I literally told him to find a street corner and call it home. I still pray for him although I seriously doubt he is still alive (I think he may have contracted AIDS). A childhood friend is now homeless and out of a sense of duty, I have given her money until another friend enlightened me to the fact that the woman is a self-medicating addict and told me to not give her so much as another dime. She still claims she needs the money for groceries but now that I know better, I always have a ready excuse. Trying to help by sending her to the pastor of our church (he offered to help) has fallen on deaf ears. So, I pray for her, too.

    • Donna

      But is it love of others to give money you are pretty sure will be used to feed an addiction or love of yourself to feel good because you were charitable, even though the end result is not to help, but hurt, the other?

  • Emily

    Give a man money and he MAY spend it on drugs or corrupt things. Give a man a sandwich, and he will probably eat the sandwich. I don’t carry money with me, but I have been one to pop by a restaurant and grab a quick bite to give away. I’ve also shared leftovers before and while some people were balking at me giving my boxed half sandwich to someone, I have never walked away before they are taking a bite. I don’t encounter the homeless and hungry enough in my suburban neighborhood, but your post makes me want to pack some lunches and head downtown. Well done, Marc.

    • Agnes

      Yes, buying lunch for someone is a better idea, though they still can use it to barter with (you’d be surprised at the kind of systems that are set up in major cities).

  • Liz

    I was born, raised and currently live in one of the poorest parts of the country. It is an everyday occurrence to be asked by an intoxicated homeless person for money. As a child my mother would carry several boxes of granola bars and other non perishables in her car so that when we were asked we could give the people some food or a ride or some water ect. All people whether they be homeless, or drunk, or addicts, really just want to be acknowledge as people rather than avoided or disdained.

    • Caroline Moreschi

      Water is good, especially in summer. Dehydration is often a greater risk than starvation.

  • ESG

    What a load of crap.

    No, I’m sorry, it’s *not* true that we are morally obligated to *indiscriminately* hand out charity in the form of *money* to every unfortunate soul we come across. The Gospel does call us to take risks, but never to do what is patently irrational.

    There is absolutely no Gospel precept that says that we should not spend our charitable time, talent, and treasure *prudently*; indeed, to advocate imprudence would be to violate the natural law, which is itself a reflection of God’s rational nature.

    There are all sorts of ways one can charitably assist the poor; it’s not an “all” (in the sense of: give money directly to all men on the street, without distinction) or nothing.

    God loves all men unconditionally; but God does not give all men money to do with as they please. What a thoughtless, shallow article.

    • Cal-J

      ESG, you’re not being fair. At all.

      Marc is *not* saying anything remotely close to indiscriminately throwing money at the poor.

      Allow me to redirect you to the penultimate paragraph, which you seem to have missed entirely:

      “Yes, we should fear that the beggar begs to fuel his drug addiction, fear and tremble, for our duty to love — and thus to suffer — has been increased. What is my obligation? To pray, to admonish, to enter into a relationship of love, to embrace, to hold, to plead, to offer help, to offer to arrange a detox, an entrance into an effective program, to find what began their addiction and what keeps it killing them, to be patient with their sin, their scams, their schemes — all this and more if I am to make the conscious decision not to give on the basis of a drug addiction.”

      Marc’s actual criticism here (as is obvious to those of us who read it) is that the well-meaning acknowledgment of potential drug abuse too readily serves as an excuse to avoid almsgiving in the first place. He instead points out that such an idea should lead us to do even more for that person.

      You do not get to come here and accuse Marc of a thoughtless, shallow article when you cannot take the time to read it.

      • http://doverbeach.blogspot.com Bob

        Your attempt to correct ESG would have been stronger if you had left out the personal attack on him — the accusation that he had not read the post. You don’t know that You gained nothing by giving him snark for snark.

        • Cal-J

          Thank you for responding, and I understand where you’re coming from, Bob, but I’d like to point something out.

          You acknowledge below that ESG makes some good points, and he does — it’s just those points are presented as counter-points to an argument that Marc did not make.

          That he begins his rant with calling Marc’s work crap is a demonstration of bad faith — whatever he perceived the article’s message to be is in actual contrast with the content of the article itself.

          His main argument misrepresents Marc’s article and even accuses him of something else entirely (definitionally, it’s a straw-man fallacy), and the foundation of his argument crumbles before the actual content of the article. On top of that, Marc and ESG both agree on how to treat the poor, Marc simply takes an issue with the some of the fallout of assuming potential drug addiction.

          And, yes, I snark. Verbal irony is a rhetorical tool, and it’s main purpose is as a kind of weapon. I understand you think it doesn’t help, but ESG stuffed two different insults and a Straw-Man into the same comment attacking the work of someone I respect and at the same time demonstrated he lacks a full comprehension of the work. In my opinion, that calls for a little more than a “Now, now, you know better”.

    • Caroline Moreschi

      Actually, many of the Gospel’s commands may look irrational to us – or at the very least, we may not get anything out of it. And I don’t think you’re actually looking at what Marc says here. He doesn’t say giving $ is your only (or even your best) option.

    • http://doverbeach.blogspot.com Bob

      I’d agree with Cal-J that your final sentence was too strong — but otherwise, I think you’ve brought in some good points to consider. I’d say that if it took the author until the penultimate paragraph of a 1,200-word post to clearly state the behavior that he wants to encourage, there’s a problem. CalJ’s own penultimate paragraph demonstrated how easily and concisely the author could have put it.

  • John Barba

    Selfish people will always find an excuse to remain so. Jesus touched and healed the filthiest people, the untouchables. Generous people give from the heart. Helping someone on the street with a buck or two isn’t going to change the world whether its used for food, drugs, whatever. If we “cannot do great things, let’s do small things with great love”. Maybe the person asking for a buck will find comfort in small way.

  • finishstrongdoc

    “Be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.”
    I stood outside abortion mills for ten years, five days a week, offering life-affirming alternatives to women taking their children to be selected out of life. In those ten years, I learned a lot about how the Enemy does things. One thing that Planned Parenthood does is encourage their followers to contribute ten dollars to Planned Parenthood whenever they see someone picketing an abortmill. That was one of the cleverest things I ever heard of, and it still amazes me how elegantly simple that tactic of the Enemy was and probably still is.

    Most PP followers probably don’t follow through and donate the tenner, but some will because everyone has a conscience and some will be more deceived than others on the value of abortion in their lives and how much it will affect the lives of others and themselves to continue killing one generation after another. For the Planned Parenthood True Believer, those who consistently contribute their time, talent and tenners to “The Cause,” it may happen that at some point in their lives those ten-spots they were contributing faithfully will come to be seen by them as a curse that they have laid on themselves and others.

    I suggest that every time a True Believer in the True God sees someone with a drug or alcohol problem needing help that they contribute ten dollars, or whatever they can afford, to an effective drug and alcohol rehabilitation program nearby. If they are panhandled by someone who looks like an addict, have a granola bar and a business card for the rehab program handy to give to them. And, a wise person would also be ready to defend his life if that offer of charity is looked at by the panhandler as an insult.

    Or do nothing and let your conscience become dulled.

    • Agnes

      This is a much more sensible recommendation. One study found that 43% of panhandlers beg “for fun” (Bose, Rohit, and Stephen W. Hwang. “Income and spending patterns among panhandlers.” Canadian Medical Association Journal 167.5 (2002): 477-479.)

      Not only do you avoid giving money to potential drug addicts for it to be misused, but you also avoid giving it to people who don’t actually need it (i.e. who panhandle as a “hobby”). I think Marc needs to consider other alternatives before writing these pieces.

  • Abraham

    Just give them the option of lunch or dinner. I have personally worked with the addicted, and this is the best solution I have found. Get to know the people you give to, and you will be blessed.

  • Kirsten Michelle Petermann

    I agree in principle, but I also agree with several other commenters that there are other (and maybe better ways) to do extend charity to the poor and homeless besides handing out cash (to be clear, it’s obvious to me in this post that you’re not suggesting that cash handouts are the only way to be of service to the poor). My husband and I never offer cash handouts, but we do offer help to the poor in alternative ways when we are able.

    For example: we have taken a pair of young hitch hikers to dinner, and a homeless man always waiting outside our church to lunch. We’ve filled people’s gas tanks, and bought some Pull Ups for a woman who needed them for her daughter. We’ve given baby wipes right out of our diaper bag for a man who needed them for his infant son. These were opportunities not only to meet a material need, but to hear people’s hearts and meet them in some very broken places. These are times where the worst stereotypes of the homeless crumbled to pieces, and the humanity of individuals facing desperate times shone through.

    It’s not always like that, though.

    Once, a man came up to our car after church, asking for help. He launched in to a speech about being a vet, telling us how he needed some more money to buy a bus ticket to a shelter in a town 2 hours away. My husband told the man we wouldn’t give him cash, but … and the guy bolted, gone before my husband got the “t” at the end of the word “but.” Had the man stuck around, he would have heard, “But … we’ll go with you to the bus station and pay the balance of what you need for your bus ticket.”

    Sadly, this is not an isolated incident.

    My husband learned in years of ministry with the homeless that cash handouts often don’t help in the way that we hope they will. While we may not be directly responsible for the outcome of our donations, I would hope that we seek to do more than hand out money simply because that is what the beggar is asking for. I think fulfilling Christ’s command to care for the poor requires more of us: to really see the other person, to engage on an authentic and human level, to hear their stories, and in so doing, affirm their inherent dignity as a child of God. I’ve seen that happen when we’ve done something as simple as buy pizza for someone, or filling someone’s gas tank.

    I understand that this costs time and personal comfort, and sometimes it just isn’t possible (especially if you’ve got a toddler in tow). But when we have taken the time, we’ve been incredibly rewarded to be of service to people who really do need help.

    We avoid giving cash not because “Hey, s/he is probably just going to use it for drugs,” but because handing out money often precludes the opportunity to engage another person, and to extend love to the one who so needs it.

  • Bill Alan

    What we need is a good one handed blogger…:) Thanks, Marc. Excellent points. Blessings~

  • Jacob Suggs

    I’m not sure I disagree with what you say regarding refraining from giving alms because the person “might be a drug addict,” but we must admit that just handing out cash is a serious risk. Of course, a risk does not excuse lack of help, but I think there is an option besides giving money or not giving money – giving what is requested (if possible, be it food, a coat, whatever) or directing the person towards an organization that can if you can not and donating money to this organization. It may not be as personal at times, but I think it may occasionally be a wiser use of our alms.

    Which isn’t to say that I think direct giving is somehow always bad, just that I don’t think it true that anyone who refrains from giving in that way at that time because of the risk of the money being worse than wasted must necessarily really be refusing to give money at all under the guise of helping. It is quiet possible to direct the person to help, then donate some money to that help.

  • Donna

    I work in a downtown area and am approached by homeless/beggars when I go out at lunch. I offer to take them into one of restaurants to buy them a sandwich and a drink. Not one has taken me up on it. They ask for money because they’re hungry, I make the offer to buy them food, then the story evolves as to why buying food at a cafe across the street won’t help them. It’s obvious at that point that hunger isn’t the problem. Because of these experiences I’ve concluded it’s better to regularly donate to a mission which provides a shelter, detox, job training, counseling, bible study and more than to indiscriminately hand out cash here and there.

  • Dan

    Try keeping 4 or 5 protein bars (the good kind…the ones you’d eat yourself) in a coat pocket or purse where they’re handy to give out as you pass by. They’re a treat, but a nourishing one that can’t easily be used to fund a drug habit. You’ll often find you’re giving them to the same people, and voilà, there’s an opening in that shell that you just might fit Christ through.

  • Rodney Burton

    A good idea I think is to carry a few gift cards to chain sandwich shops, and you can give them those.

    But if nothing else, even just taking a few seconds and stopping, looking them in the eye, and saying “I’m sorry, God bless you” is giving them so much more than you might realize. So few people actually look them in the eye.

  • Caroline Moreschi

    Thank you so much for this! God doesn’t withhold His great gifts from us because we will misuse them (and we will). Love demands so much more. Love demands getting to know them, shaking their hands, asking how they got where they are. Everyone wants to be listened to. Think to yourself: what if I were in their shoes? What would I want people to do for me?

    • Rodney Burton

      I disagree; of course God does not withhold all His good gifts to us when he knows we will misuse them, but remember the parable of the talents. The one with the most was given the most in return.
      Also, Christ often limited the number of miracles he performed and performs due to lack of faith.
      There are many amazing gifts that God keeps from us out of mercy. If anyone other than Our Blessed Mother had borne Christ, I think the sheer Glory of it would have killed them.
      But yes, when you’re homeless, a handshake means so much more than a dollar.

  • Greg Mockeridge

    I actually would find it easier to give to a beggar. But in conscience I do not believe that it helps him, but only hurts him. The idea that Jesus calls us to give without regard to what effect it may have on the recipient is non sense and not Christian. We called to LOVE uncoditionally yes. This does not mean give money to someone who is going use it to harm himself and possibly others.

    The call to give alms can be answered by giving money to apostolates that serve the poor in ways that lift them up and not use chump change to keep him down. Also, voltunteering our time with such an apostolate can go a long way in helping us love unconditionally by getting to know these people as men and women like ourselves and not mere objects of our pity.

  • JoeThePimpernel

    Government entitlements completely overwhelm any meager “charity” that you might hand out to a street person.

    That beggar on the street already spent his government checks on drugs, and you’re going to give him more.

  • Rodney Burton

    I do disagree with the false logic of “something must be done, this is something therefore we must do it.”
    Yes, the greedy homeless-phobe and the caring person who doesn’t want to enable an addict will both result in the same action; giving no money. But, if we allow the desire to avoid the mere appearance of sin to cause us to do someone actual harm, then we’re hypocrites.
    Give them your time, your attention, give them food, but don’t give them money. Give money to the homeless shelters, food banks, and soup kitchens. If “giving at the office” alms is too cold for you then volunteer or just stop to talk to them, but …
    Do not give them money.

  • Quittin’ time at Tara!

    This is a first world problem. Every dollar you give to someone in the first world trying to get high is a dollar not spent on food and medicine for the truly poor. It’s not just prayer that helps the drug addict.. It’s hitting the rock bottom and the profound motivation it provides.

  • Harold Benghazi Koenig

    It is not a “judgement” if one determines that someone is an addict. It’s a diagnosis. Whether it’s right or not, the decision to withhold money from a malnourished person with his liver bulging out to here is not necessarily a condemnation. As another poster said, your $20 might be the one that buys him his last and fatal fix. You feel good; he feels dead — or doesn’t.

    We’re in a pickle. We have commitments, parents, children, those who need us. On the other hand, before us is Jesus himself begging. Chances are there’s not going to be a cookbook answer.

    But if you can’t rightly stop and talk him into a trip to a detox or a shelter, I like the idea of the baggies with a little nutrition and directions to a shelter or treatment facility.

  • RPTMS

    Hey, Marc! I’ve been down on my luck for a while. I could really use some money. If I give you my address, would you please send me $100? I’ll pay you back as soon as I can. I promise! And God bless you!

  • Blake Helgoth

    In Sacred Scripture alms = money. It also commands us to give alms as a penance for our sin. Therefore, when I meet a begar on the street I ask myself, ‘Am I a sinner, have I sinned?” The answer is yes, so I give alms. I might also mention that according to the CCC, giving to the poor is not an exercise in charity, but rather justice!
    It has little to do with consequentialism and everything to do with my own conversion of heart.

  • daisy

    For me giving has nothing to do with pious mumblings. It’s a survival necessity in the city. If you want to make it home alive sometimes you have to give a drunk or drug addict a dollar so he’ll go away instead of hurting you. When you give to the homeless you walk away feeling all warm and gooey inside leaving a potentially deadly situation for the lone woman or slow moving elderly person walking down the quiet street a few minutes after you’re safely on your way.

  • Mike M

    I think I accidentally deleted my earlier comment. My general issue with this is that we all have limited resources (as does the world, as a whole), and we have to try to make effective use of them. Everyone should absolutely try to help those around them as much as possible, but there’s no easy way to determine the best way to do that. Breaking the situation down to what you do when you walk past one homeless man already distorts things. I walk through some poor urban areas pretty regularly and I couldn’t possibly give money to every beggar who asks me for it, whether that would be a good thing or not. I have to prioritize things in life, and if, in my best judgement, giving him cash isn’t the best thing that I can do with my time and money, then I won’t do it… And I don’t see any reason to feel guilty about that.

    I think it’s much more useful for us to ask ourselves what we do do, rather than going on the offensive about what some people don’t do.

    • Lynn

      How about putting a limit on it? Two dollars a day. That’s it, two dollars. Whoever is the first to ask you that day, gets the two dollars. My strategy when in the city.

  • mephis

    A thought I got from my father: No matter what the money is used for (or is intended to be used for), giving a little to a beggar can make a big difference. Every day hundreds of people pass them without a glance, and some sneer at them, shout at them or even kick their stuff. I’d be lucky to last a week before becoming hardened and bitter. To give something is to acknowledge their existence and worth, to show at least a little mercy and faith in them. It may be a long shot, but it’s a shot worth taking I think. God can work through the tiniest of kindnesses. As mentioned in other comments, what you give doesn’t need to be money, it could be food or drink.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for this blog post.

    We have no idea what problems the person who is asking us for alms is facing. He (or she) may have a serious drug addiction, they may be schizophrenic, they could be agoraphobic. There are people who panhandle because they are lazy and don’t want to work, but they are probably in a minority. Not many people wish to live life on the street unless they have no other choice.

    You denying them money will not magically turn their lives around and help them beat addiction.

    Sad to say, many addicts have to buy drugs rather than a meal, because that is the nature of addiction. They are usually chronically malnourished, which leads to other health problems, and usually chronic pain from other illnesses. That doesn’t mean they are not hungry, and if you give them some money, they may be able to buy a warm meal in addition to a fix. That may keep them alive longer, and give them a greater chance at recovery. It may mean they have enough money at the end of the night that they don’t have to commit a crime to feed their need.

    The schizophrenic (who may also be trying to self-medicate) faces many of the same problems. Refusing to give them alms won’t cause them to seek treatment and become a CEO. Giving them money may help them buy a cheeseburger to stave off hunger for the night.

    There are some legitimate reasons not to give money to poor people – to encourage self-reliance, to prevent aggressive panhandling, but all that is overridden by the orders from our Boss: Give to the one who begs from you.

    • twf

      In two short years my daughter went from beautiful university student to heroin addict. During that time she became sort of what I’d call a “street person”. During these two years she has not asked me for anything more than a pack of cigarettes (she did not smoke before all this). She bascially just wandered for a year before finding a boyfriend who sells the drugs she needs. All the things that people think “you can change it” “get her into rehab” “they have to hit rock bottom”… it’s all BS until it happens. There is no changing this. It is what it is.

      It is hard to know what kind of gift to give an addict. Many of them can’t or don’t think about the things you and I do, and could never use any of the things others find useful. So this Christmas I am giving my daughter some clothing and a gift card that can be used for cash. If she sells it for drugs, so be it. I will never know. But I feel that, at least for few days she will have money to buy food or something else she needs, even if it’s in addition to drugs.

      You just never know what life is going to give you. I would not have expected this in a million years. Someone once told me that her Priest would give alcoholics liquor if they asked. He did this because “it was what they needed at that time”. I had a problem with that idea at the time, but now I understand a little more. What we’re giving these people is just a minute of compassion… a minute of thinking of them as human beings rather than “screw-ups”. So despite what people say about giving gifts of money to addicts, I am doing it anyway, just for Christmas.

      For a number of years I have given money to the local homeless missions — because, well, “there but for the grace of god go I”. Ne’er did I think it would come to pass that my own might one day use these services. It is your choice of what to do in this situation. It does not matter if you are Catholic — just do what your heart tells you. (I am not Catholic but my Grandma was…)

      Thank you for your considerate post. I really appreciate it. All this makes me very tired and it’s such a relief to see that someone else understands the depths of these problems. Thank you so much.

      Have a Merry Christmas!

  • sg

    True story. I was stopped at a light on a freeway feeder road. There was a guy on the corner with a sign. The driver of the SUV just ahead of me rolled down his window and gave the guy a 12 pack of beer, and gave the guy a wave. My sister-in-law and I were stunned. We cracked up laughing all the way home.

  • http://www.projectmanager.com/ Ericka

    Drug addicts are humans who needs money too. Unfortunately it does not go for their needs such as food or clothing. They’re just wasting their money for these prohibited drugs. So, in some circumstances I would give my money to help them escape the consequences of drug addiction. That is if they’re determined to do renew their lives.

  • Lynn

    Coming late to the post, so apologies if it’s already been said: for the people who are yet opposed to giving cash directly, what about using your encounter with someone on the streets as a prompt to make a donation to a social services program that does homeless outreach or provides residential, counseling, or food services to people with drug and alcohol addictions or mental health challenges? What about smiling at the person and asking them what’s going on with them and having a conversation? What about bringing them a meal? Offering a hug?
    There are lots of ways to shine a light for people. Some require time, some money, some a combination if you like. Some significant time, some a little bit. Lots and lots of ways to show love to people.

  • Zac Davis

    “The poor will be judged on the use they have made of their alms, and you will be judged on the very alms that you could have given but haven’t.”

    St. John Vianney

  • Mike Kennedy

    good article

  • meunke

    ” “Never give money to a beggar. They’ll only spend it on drugs.””
    - I work in C and D class real estate in the not so great parts of my town. I see quite a few people like this. I’m on a first name basis with quite a few.

    I would quibble with this statement in the following way: They don’t usually spend it on drugs. It’s usually spent on the cheapest type of liquor they can find. Bottom shelf, rot gut booze causes almost as many problems drugs do in the inner city.

    No, it can’t be used as an excuse to avoid our obligation as Catholics. Take that money instead and donate it to an organization that works for the underclass in your area. In my area there are two excellent ones, one Catholic and one Methodist.

    *GASP* You give some money to a Methodist charity instead of all to the Catholic one??? Yes, because their focus is different. The Catholic charity near our apartments focuses mainly on those needing food, basic shelter, etc. The Methodist house is more of a training center that gives free classes on GED prep, job placement, rent assistance, drug rehab and offers babysitting for those going through these courses.

    The one problem I’ve noticed with American Catholics in general is a failure to discern between types of poverty. Ask to be given an example and they will describe a scene that wouldn’t be out of place from a news report on crop failure and starvation in central Africa. This is not the type of poverty we have. According to the CDC, one of the main health problems the American poor face is… obesity. This should make people understand that poverty in this country is of a totally different nature than say, Africa and South America.

    The best thing would be to totally DESTROY the poor assistance programs the government runs now and either push hard for a system based on local groups and churches or, if really necessary, a combo of that plus some government assistance. The problem with the government’s system now is that it fosters rampant dependency and casual bastardy, both doing little more than exacerbate the problem.

    Give locally to your charities. Do NOT give CASH to beggars, though giving them items they may need (foodstuffs, clothes, etc. is good too). BTW, I personally think it is your OBLIGATION as a good steward of the money God gave you to properly vet, at least as much as possible, whatever organization you choose to support.

  • msmischief

    One can also take the money one would have giving to the beggar and instead donate it to a charity that can make necessary distinctions. After all, not all have the gifts necessary to be of aid to a drug addict.

  • BrunoB

    In Sao Paulo, and Brazil at large, crack has become a serious problem in the last 10 years. When I was living there barely a day went by without being approached by more than one beggar with the tip of the fingers burned, which is an evident sign of the use of crack.

    At first I didn’t give, then it ocurred me just that, that God does not discriminate, and thus neither should I. If the beggar is using that money to buy drugs, that is his choice, and I did my part to help his poverty. In the best case scenario, I’m keeping him from stealing from someone (crack addiction is very strong).

  • Nick Love

    Never give money to drug addicts. if there are poor and of in need of it for use such as food and water, that is one thing, but don’t help others ruin there lives.

  • Griffin Ely

    Howdy, I’m Griffin and this is my opinion and I am catholic, I think the money that we earned from the job we work at or for even just cutting a neighbors lawn should not go to a person that chose to live his/her life as a druggy, they could choose to make money to live a better life some how. God gave us a choice when he made us and we are to chose the bad road or the good road of our lives. the people that chose the bad road can always chose to be forgiven by God because God always forgives us no matter how bad something is in our life. AMEN!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Rendle

    I like this article, really I do. But it seems to be trying to argue the logic of having hope. Hope, to me, ought to be the most natural thing to a Christian.
    Self-righteousness on the other hand…

  • Beth Ann Vosskuhler-Waleski

    For what it is worth, whenever I see a beggar, I ask if he/she would like something to eat. They almost always take me up on buying them an inexpensive meal. This way I know there is no way they can buy drugs or alcohol, and they now have some food in their stomachs.

  • newenglandsun

    I’m a college student (aka, in a state of poverty) and I need money. Please?
    When I become a professor and I can earn more money, then I’ll give more of it. But I can only give what I got cause I’m broke so I’m going to wear ratty clothes this weekend and go to Habitat for Humanity. The least I can give for now. Not much.

  • Ann

    I don’t know why it has got to be money, I carry a loaf of bread and a can of tuna in the back of my car when I know I will be driving by a place where homeless persons beg. I give them that. They might sell the bread and tuna for money for drugs, but it won’t get them more than a buck or two, probably not worth their time. I often see them go to put their trophy bread and tuna in a large sack hidden out of sight…I know I’m not the only person who has thought of this!


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