Tuesday, May 07, 2002

For those looking for answers

Sorry, but today, I have only questions, no answers.

This is the question: Is it better to support programs that help the poor, or to give money directly to the poor?

Intellectually, I believe that giving money to the usual sort of city street beggar is not especially a good, or even Christian, thing. Statistically, most of them are drug or alcohol abusers, and abusers are very likely to use money to support their habits, rather than provide essential food, clothing or shelter for themselves. So, by giving money to a beggar, there is a good chance I have given that person the means to harm himself. Thus, the intellectually sensible course is to support charities that provide food, clothing, and shelter.

Only, emotionally, it is hard to walk past so many of the poor, and not become hard of heart towards them. Sometimes, my solution is to give not money, but other things. (I’m afraid listing them would be prideful, when the reality is my efforts are pitiful.)

I am unconvinced by my own intellect: it cannot be that writing a check to an organization, by itself, is Emotionally significant enough, though it certainly must be of value. One’s obligations to the poor appear to extend beyond giving of money to treating humanly (by which I do not mean humanely; one is humane to animals).

Sometimes, my resolve cracks, and instead of adding a couple of dollars to my mental tally of money for Lazarus House, I yield, and give cash. This most often happens when I have tried to pass without seeing for the fourth or fifth time, and it is not convenient to stop and purchase something for the person.

Have I done anything for the recipient of my spare change?

On a typical day in New York, I can pass 5 to 10 beggars. Some no doubt choose to be there, rather than work. One young man in Times’ Square recently, in excellent physical shape, slept on an upturned milk crate, holding a sign which read “Tell me off! $1.00.” Most at least give the appearance of genuine need, and some surely suffer from severe mental illness. How do I choose which to stop and help, and which to ignore? How do I tell the charlatans from the genuine? Does it matter that I do so? In san Francisco, the numbers are much larger, owing significantly, it would appear, of the generosity of SF’s welfare benefits to the homeless. Should my charity in SF differ from NY?

How do I, when passing the 10th beggar of the day, afford the dignity to him that he deserves? After all, even a phony must be treated as a child of the Lord.

Any suggestions?


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home