I had a recent experience with a homeless man, or a man who at least claimed to be homeless.He had on clean clothes, the beginnings of a beard, and appeared fairly well groomed. He approached me and relayed his story:
“I’m sorry to bother you, please don’t think I’m weird or anything, but do you have some work around your house that I could do for some money?”
We had just moved into a new duplex, and everything was fixed in our house, so we really had nothing he could do, so I answered him, “No.”
“I just got out of a divorce, I’m homeless, and just need a few dollars for a hamburger. Is there any way you can help me out?”
“Sorry about your situation, but we are heading out of town right now.” (My family and I were on our way to Dallas and had just stopped at a gas station when this guy approached me)
He thanked me for my time and then turned to the next person filling up gas and began his story all over again. My first reaction to him was, “I’ve heard this story before by many other homeless people, and they probably only want money for drugs or alcohol.” My second thought was, who am I to judge this person, who knows, this guy could be the one telling the truth. I was caught in a dilemma. I felt the desire to help, but I was also competing with the feeling that I thought this guy was lying to me. I ended up giving him a little cash because I felt it was not my place to judge someone just because others might be peddling that lie to get drug money.
Looking back on the situation now, I wish I would have walked over to McDonald’s with him and used my debit card to buy him a hamburger. This is the action that I will take in the future, but it did not come to me in that moment. I relate this story because I’m curious as to what our “duty” is to the poor among us. There are some, like Bill VanderMeer, director of the Union Gospel Mission’s Men’s Shelter, who said:
“I think (giving money) is the worst thing people can do,” said Bill VanderMeer, director of the Union Gospel Mission’s Men’s Shelter. “It enables panhandlers. That’s how they make their living and manage their addiction.”
There are many people who’s feelings are quite polar to Mr. VanderMeer’s. With the recent events in Haiti there are thousands of people rendering aid, by way of money and service. This is understandable because you can see the truth of the devastation, it makes their plight believable. My question is, what sort of obligation do we have, if any, to the poor that live among us?