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Should I give money to someone who is homeless?

I’m sure you’ve encountered someone you thought to be homeless. Maybe it’s because they were holding up a cardboard sign asking for help, or perhaps they approached you directly and asked you for money. 

These types of encounters can be uncomfortable for a lot of people. On the one hand, helping someone in need seems like a kind thing to do. But the urge to help someone in this type of situation may be accompanied by a nagging thought that they might use the money to buy drugs or alcohol. 

So, what is the right thing to do in this situation?

While I don’t think there is a universal “yes” or “no” answer to this question, I do believe it can be a good, kind gesture to give money to someone in need under certain circumstances. 

From a practical standpoint, there are some necessary things people experiencing homelessness simply can’t get with food stamps, or SNAP benefits (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) if you’re here in Nashville. 

Specifically, these resources can’t be used to purchase essential hygiene products like soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes, toilet paper, or feminine products. SNAP can’t be used to buy hot food or food that is going to be eaten in-store, like in a restaurant. This isn’t an ideal situation for someone who doesn’t have a way to store packaged or perishable food.

But even more important than the money you may desire to give is the human interaction that comes with it. A person who is homeless often feels invisible or overlooked by society. 

If you decide to give a person some money, don’t just drop a couple of bills in a bucket and walk away. The simple act of looking someone in the eye, saying hello, and handing them a gift can go a long way beyond the gift itself. In making that connection, you’re letting them know you see them as a person of value and worth. Treating someone dignity can be a more powerful gift than anything money can buy.

Hear Glenn discuss this question and others with Andy Bales, CEO of LA’s Union Rescue Mission in this month’s episode of Real Hope. Listen on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.