Wasn’t sure where to post this but it’s more of a spiritual issue for me than a financial one. I could really use some sound, sensitive advice (i.e., not knee-jerk reaction.) I apologize in advance for the length of this post, but it requires some explanation.
Not long ago I posted to the prayer thread on behalf of a woman who had lost her job and was homeless. Actually, this woman had worked part-time for the social service agency I work for and as it turned out, she had been homeless while she was working there. She lost her job when a kind-hearted client offered her the money to cover her co-payment for a medical appointment. Unfortunately, she accepted the money and the agency found out about it. Coincidentally, I had also quietly given her money for the co-payment. (She was in pain; how could I not?) I imagine that if I had been in her place, I would have done the same thing. Living hand-to-mouth, it would be very hard, even foolhardy, to turn down any offer of money. The agency I work for is in the charity district of a good-sized city. It’s an area where there are lots of homeless, lots of services for them, hospitals and social service agencies. Several times after she was let go, I saw her pushing a cart along a major street in that area. 10 days ago, she called and left a message for me a few minutes before the office closed for the day. In the message she asked for a list of resources and she said she was very hungry. If I’d thought about it I’d have known that if she’d been homeless for awhile in that area, she probably knew exactly what services were available and where to find them. She would also have known that I couldn’t get the resource info she asked for so late in the day. Our resource person was already gone and I didn’t know what services were available. I thought if I saw her I’d give her some money for a meal. Of course I saw her. She was walking the route I take home. The following Monday, I got the list of resources for her and left her a message to pick it up at the front desk. She never has. Since then, however, she has been walking by the office when I leave every day. She knows the schedule, she knows what days I’d be expected to leave early or later. It’s not a coincidence.
I’m not a particularly good judge of what Christian charity calls for in a situation like this. I have a younger brother who lived on the edge of homelessness for years, living in areas just like the one I’m talking about because he couldn’t keep a job for more than a few weeks. But he was my little brother, who our dad messed up emotionally big-time, and so he was always able to break my heart enough to get money for rent or food or whatever instead of facing the indignities of the social service jungle. He became very manipulative and I believe this woman is trying to do that now. The only women walking the streets in that area at the times I leave work are prostitutes. I hope to God she isn’t resorting to that. I’ve started being very creative in my routes home, driving through unsafe neighborhoods in order to avoid driving past her. This is ridiculous. I learned to be suspicious because of my brother. I can’t separate that from this. I want to do what’s right; it’s not that I don’t want to let go of money. I have more than I need. I don’t think she’s an alcoholic or a drug addict. She somehow manages to look nice and clean and fix her hair; she must be going to a shelter. Jesus said to feed the hungry when you see them, not drive out of your way to avoid them. I don’t know what to do; I don’t even know how to feel about it. I’m always the first person to advise not to give money directly to the homeless and instead to give it to the services that help them. That’s an easy rule to follow when you don’t know the person. I know this person walking the streets. She wants something from me personally. No matter how I handle it, I’m not going to feel good about it, so that’s not really important. I just want to do the right thing. I’d appreciate any thoughts you might have since I can’t seem to get past the experiences with my brother. Thanks.