More Thoughts on Giving Alms to Homeless Beggars on the Street

More Thoughts on Giving Alms to Homeless Beggars on the Street November 23, 2013

Photo by Adrian Miles, 8 October 2010 [Flickr / CC BY 2.0 license]




See an earlier related post.


Many times such giving (money on the street) is enabling substance abuse. What is best to do is to personally take the person out to eat and preach the gospel and Catholicism. Then you know he or she is gettin’ both physical and spiritual food.

Our parish — the priest — used to tell us not to give to anyone who asks near the church door, for this reason. But the parish distributes food. So there are various ways to assist those who may be squandering resources irresponsibly and to fulfill our obligation to be charitable. In other words there are more choices than:

1) Give to anyone without question.

2) Don’t give at all.

Those ain’t the only two choices. To care about the giving being most “efficacious” and not squandered is part of charity, too: desiring the best for the person: not that they do things that don’t help their sad situation.

Of course you can give the money and not think anything else about it. No one can call that “bad” in and of itself. But I think we can take it further in order to assure that it is put to the best use: which is a charitable thing, not uncharitable.

Homeless shelters operate, of course, on a similar principle. They don’t just hand out money: the homeless go there: get a bed, roof over their heads, warmth on a cold night, and food. Thus, nothing is possibly wasted in that arrangement.

Just giving to a guy with a cardboard sign on the side of the road: not so. We wouldn’t give someone drugs or a drink if they have those problems. So we shouldn’t give them money if there is a plausible likelihood that the money will be traded for same. We can make sure that the person is receiving good things rather than possibly bad ones. And again, that’s charity, not lack of same.

Someone asked: “playing devil’s advocate here, where in the Gospels does Christ say to get verification before giving alms?”

That’s no disproof of anything I’m saying. We can and should use wisdom and prudence in intelligently applying the principle of giving with a cheerful heart and being our brother’s keeper. The Bible teaches that we give to those who have need: it doesn’t spell out in exhaustive detail how we go about that. As always in Scripture (especially with Jesus) it goes back to our heart’s disposition and attitude. I’m not disagreeing with giving itself: only talking about the best way to go about it.

So I appeal back to my example: everything the homeless shelter does is verified to be good, with no bad result from it, which is clearly not the case (in whatever percentage) in handing out money to someone on the street. Also, there are passages in the Bible having to do with wise use of resources, such as the parable of the talents.

The article about John Stossel’s opinions doesn’t indicate whether he advocates giving in other ways than money on the street (perhaps he does). That’s the difference between his analysis and mine. I’m saying, “by all means give, but try to make sure the resources are not abused in the enabling sense.”

The article seems to presuppose the false dichotomy I noted above: either give cash to the beggar without question or don’t give at all. There are many other choices in addition to those two, to help people in need (homeless shelters being one example of what I am advocating).

Substance abuse is very prevalent among the homeless.  See these three articles (one / two / three).

Obviously, it’s imperative, if we really want to help these people, to get them into drug rehab, too. It’s the equivalent of teaching a man to fish rather than giving him a fish. We have to attack the root of the problem (if it is substance abuse), rather than continually putting temporary Band-Aids on it without resolving underlying root causes.

Someone else said: “ if I were that poor fellow, down on his luck, I could probably use the occasional stiff drink.”

If not an alcoholic, sure. If an alcoholic, this is the worst thing for the person. Many homeless have substance abuse problems, which is precisely the point. Giving someone like that cash on the street is thus often enabling behavior. 



"Dave - have you ever seen the movie “Calvary”? It takes place in post-sex abuse ..."

Do I “Hate” Atheists (or, Anyone)? ..."
"I have replied:Do I “Hate” Atheists (or, Anyone)? Here’s the Record . . ."

“Angry Atheist” Ring-Around-the-Rosey Example #763
"Never mind the Atheists Dave , the Bahai's love to claim that their founder ( ..."

Isaiah Foretells the Gospel & the ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • It's also worth noting, as one of my Facebook friends recently pointed out, that in some cases the "homeless beggars" are neither homeless nor poor. She said she personally witnessed such a "faker" hiding an expensive car, then going out to beg.

  • The authority of Scripture trumps the reasoning above. Jesus himself says, "Give to every one who begs from you (παντὶ αἰτοῦντί σε δίδου); and of him who takes away your goods do not ask them again (Lk 6:30).

    St. John Chrysostom expounds:
    "Herein however we do not lightly err, when not only we give not to those who seek, but also blame them? Why (you say) does he not work, why is the idle man fed? Tell me, dost thou then possess by labour? but still if thou workest, dost thou work for this, that thou shouldest blame another? For a single loaf and coat dost thou call a man covetous? Thou givest nothing, make then no reproaches. Why dost thou neither take pity thyself, and dissuadest those who would? If we spend upon all indifferently, we shall always have compassion: for because Abraham entertains all, he also entertains angels. For if a man is a homicide and a robber, does he not, thinkest thou, deserve to have bread? Let us not then be severe censors of others, lest we too be strictly judged."

  • Exactly. I totally agree. Give! Give a lot! It's a command. How we give, however, opens up a wide range of possibilities. It's a fact that many homeless people abuse substances, so it's also a fact that cash we give them may go to that, in which case we are not helping them.

    This being the case, we can take measures to avoid this waste, such as ones I suggested: literally taking them out to eat, or what homeless shelters do.

    My argument really can't be overcome. The only way would be to say that I advocate not helping at all;. But that's not true. I'm saying, give, but give wisely. so that it has its full effect and blessing, and is not squandered.

    Nor does my view entail false blame, as Chrysostom is talking about. It's acknowledging the reality that there is a lot of substance abuse (as well as some fake beggars too).

    We are to have a heart for giving, and be cheerful givers.

  • I agree with you in that there are different ways to give. The rhetorical effect, however, of what you have written is to make a distinction between certain types of beggars. Appearances can be deceiving. Why be anxious about what is done with one's resources? Are they not the Lord's? Scripture is very clear, when we give to those who cannot repay us, we store up treasure in heaven. When we are defrauded, we are not to ask it be restored because we have stored up treasure in heaven. The position is correct to give "to everyone" who asks, even should such a one step out of a luxury vehicle. If one is merciful to all, even to evildoers, one is most like our heavenly Father, who causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall upon the just and upon the unjust.

    (revised to include mistakenly omitted word "cannot")

  • If a beggar says he is hungry, we take him to dinner and share Christian truth with him and show human kindness. hat's doing much MORE in charity than throwing him a ten dollar bill and going our merry way. We're giving him time, talking to him like a human being who has value and worth, and making absolutely sure the money goes for that which it was intended.

    There is no adverse "rhetorical effect" in what I'm saying here. I'm taking it to a deeper level, just as Jesus does in the Sermon on the Mount: going to the roots, thinking deeply about how to best help people and show forth the love of Christ.

  • "Why be anxious about what is done with one's resources?"

    I'm not anxious about my resources, but rather, about how to best help a person and how to absolutely avoid enabling sin and addictive behaviors.

    That is love! It's putting their needs above my own, as the Bible commands us to do.

  • How is "making absolutely sure" the same as "not anxious"? You are correct in that taking someone to dinner is better than simply giving someone money. It is, however, reality that in our society, people need money. Moreover, we abuse our own resources on useless even sinful matters on ourselves. I have known of Christians who offer food, and then if that is refused refrain from giving, as though food is a poor man's only need. Many homeless take public transit and have to purchase things not available at shelters. Moreover, if he buys a pack of cigarettes or a bottle of alcohol (or even a lottery ticket, as one beggar I used to know of) with our money, we should not lose sleep. We do not share in the sin of the beggar if he misuses our alms. Your words demonstrate subsidiarity, to be sure, but they must also be accompanied by solidarity. As Pope Benedict says in Caritas in Veritate, subsidiarity without solidarity results in "paternalistic" aid. Yes, take the man out to eat, but nonetheless hand him $10 (or as the Holy Spirit prompts you) if he refuses to accompany you to the restaurant.

  • Moreover, if he buys a pack of cigarettes or a bottle of alcohol (or even a lottery ticket, as one beggar I used to know of) with our money, we should not lose sleep.

    That's right; but we ain't helping 'em, and I thought that was the object?

    We do not share in the sin of the beggar if he misuses our alms.

    I agree again. This is beside the point. We do what we can to avoid a scenario where the aid is misused and our sincere charity turned into unhelpful enabling.

  • I agree with you. No one wants to see their money misused. I understand your point completely, but my point is being altogether missed. God gives his resources to those who he knows will misuse them. It is most God-like for us to do likewise, and make no distinction between types of beggars. Otherwise, they will remember us as calculating or manipulative do-gooders, rather than those who truly loved them. If you really want to live the words of the Gospel, then truly "give to everyone who asks of you." If you refuse anyone based on the fact that they may use it for sin, would not God be justified in withholding his resources from us beggars who use his resources ungratefully and imprudently for vanity, overeating, immoderate entertainment, and other unnecessary pleasures?

    The real point is that we are all unworthy beggars. Hidden in that drug addict or that alcoholic or that man who is simply down on his luck whom the almsgiver suspects of being a drug addict or alcoholic is Jesus Christ in disguise. Do not refuse him.

    Many blessings upon you and your blog. Pax et bonum.

  • I'm not refusing him in the first place. I'm not missing anything. I'm fully applying the injunction, but using wisdom and prudence in doing so.

    It ain't solidarity to enable sin or make a brother stumble. The charitable thing is to help him out of his sinful condition (if present) precisely so he can be fully a member of the community.

    Proverbial-type language in Scripture is not to be taken absolutely literally. The point here is being willing to give and share from the heart without anxiety, without judging. Wise application of the giving isn't anxiety, it's just . . . wise!

    Nor is it judging per se if it is known that a person has an alcoholic or drug problem. Love and charity dictate that we do all we can to help him out of that situation, for his own good. We don't do that by throwing him cash that will likely be exchanged for the thing that is his problem.

    Then we feel great about ourselves and how giving we are, but it's not helping the person, which is the object of the giving.

    You're interpreting the Bible here like many people do when it says "turn the other cheek." They take it absolutely, and some even conclude pacifism from that.

    They forget that Jesus also told His disciples to buy a sword. And they forget that St. Paul certainly didn't apply that proverbial advice during his trial. He did all he could to defend himself, including identifying himself as a Pharisee and appealing to his Roman citizenship (whereas Jesus was mostly silent during His trial).

  • I agree with you. No one wants to see their money misused. I understand your point completely, . . .

    Delighted to hear it, since you started out saying, "The authority of Scripture trumps the reasoning above," and my point of view hasn't changed during this entire discussion.

    You seem to have softened, though. Glad to have you on board . . .

  • This comment has been removed by the author.

  • I've been working with the homeless for over a month now. They don't ask for much and I've not yet seen any abuse of what was given. I think that to worry what they use donations for is a needless angst until such a time as one knows for sure they are enabling some pathology. Until that time one should assume they are helping and do that to the best of their ability and gifts. I've found its much easier to give another person hope than one may think. It sometimes takes little more than an encouraging word an I dare say, my time spent with the homeless is more enriching to me than I ever would have expected. The Lord is only good.

    We must live by:
    2478 To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor's thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way:

    Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another's statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved. ~ St. Ignatius of Loyola, Spiritual Exercises, 22.

  • They don't ask for much and I've not yet seen any abuse of what was given.

    That's kinda the key issue, isn't it? Because it is not very much money, then the amount of damage they could do on the chance they abuse it will be limited.

    But now consider giving $1000 dollars to a random homeless person an what happens? I think those us admonishing others against "needless angst" change our tune for the simple fact that the increased potential for abuse warrants more filtering because we are our brother's keeper. Not from a lack of hope or trust, but from a simple duty to prudence. It's your conscience that moves you to give, but that same conscience (rightly) starts going, "Whoa! We are getting into serious amounts now. Let's take a moment and put in some checks and balances so no one, not me, not the beggar, or anyone else gets hurt."

  • Kevin Clarke,

    Thank you for posting the words of Chrysostom. I had heard this many years ago and today, as the issue once again came to mind, I was grateful to find them.
    For me, that is the wisdom that best explains the admonitions found in the Bible and by Christ himself. When I think about Matthew 25, I certainly hope that Christ does not judge me as harshly. This is the problem with scholasticism or legalism.

    Maybe the beggar buys a hamburger with the money I give them, and maybe not, but I just give and leave the rest to God.