Grace Theology Applied to Panhandling---Thoughts?

I read through (nearly completely) at least six different threads on panhandling before posting this, so I am sure that I am writing something new. I also did not want to “hijack” the other threads by inserting my concerns there, so here goes:

God gives us many graces, and we (from the concupiscence of Adam’s Fall) misuse them. God gives us the grace of our hands, for instance, but we misuse that grace by slapping our siblings and making them cry. Our misuse of that grace, however, does not make the grace any less good or holy, because grace comes from a perfect God. Grace, more importantly, keeps coming into our lives, even when we misuse it because of our fallen state.

This is how I apply the Catholic Theology of grace to panhandling:

Every time I see a homeless person, I give money. I take the advice of Matthew 6 quite literally, doing it so that no one notices (I have an elaborate process for doing this, but it is not necessary for me to go into details).

In this case, I represent, as a Disciple (all Catholics being Disciples), the Body of Christ to the world, and have presented this man with grace (money, in this case). He might misuse that grace by buying drugs. Still, that is his problem. As the giver of grace (money), I hope that he can use the money for good reasons. God gives us grace and hopes that we use it for good reasons. We, however, can choose, through our free will, to misuse that grace. It does not make the grace any less holy. The homeless man has, through free will, misused that grace by buying bad stuff.

This does not mean, however, that I should stop giving grace. The sin of someone else does not end grace. The grace of God still continues in our lives, despite sin.

So I thought I stopped struggling with this issue by coming to this prayerful understanding a while ago. There seem to be (to me) problems with the other intended solutions posted by posters of analogous threads:

[1] Food option: Suppose the homeless man refuses? Do you leave? Is that not withholding grace? Grace is not meant to be withheld. Should we not keep trying with different offerings?

[2] Deliberately bring no cash option: Suppose there is an ATM machine every two blocks in the world? Are we withholding grace in that situation too?

I am NOT saying that people who do things like [1] and [2] are wrong or sinful or whatnot. It is just that, for me (a person of the lovey-dovey-never-angry-cutchie-cutchie-coo personality type), I would feel more comfortable in watching my grace misused (at least I gave the grace) than not giving grace at all.

From a theological standpoint, is it not the most sensible idea to just give the homeless whatever they want (cash, virtually 100% of the time) and then pray that they use the stuff wisely?

In times like this, I catch myself hoping that the church makes some infallible pronouncement on panhandling issues. Not that it ever would, LOL.

Very nicely put honeyspeak:thumbsup: We are called to give without expecting anything in return. Is not ensuring that our gift is being used in the way that we see fit a “return” that we’re looking for? We are not culpable for giving someone something that can be used for good or evil, and them choosing the evil option. We should give and give without expectation of any reward. That is true charity (in my opinion). There’s my two cents.

Comments welcome.

God Bless :D,


I think it is licit to either give food or give money (I’m still working out the licitness of not giving anything…).

I think it is a legitimate concern of yours that the person receiving the money not use it for drugs or alcohol, and so I think it is legitimate of you to give food. Now let me tell you a story…

When I started university, almost 6 years ago, (24 now), I was…just a bit of a picky eater. I wasn’t a fan of vegetables…you know, the green or white ones… By the time I came home for that first Thanksgiving (In Canada, late October!) I would have eaten whatever Mom put on the table. The next year I got involved in a youth group, and one of the parents came in each week to make supper for us. I quickly learned to actually (almost) LIKE mushrooms, broccoli, cauliflower, and whatever else goes into that casserole.

If you choose to give food, I’m sure you don’t walk around with shepherd’s pie in your purse, but you know, I would think it awful nerve of them to refuse a granola bar or a dinner roll. I would leave. Grace has not been withheld, it’s been refused.

I am sorry, but I have to disagree with giving money directly to the homeless. While I appreciate the sense of charity, which is very important, I do not see a recognition of of what is really going. I do not see any talking about why that person is holding the “homeless please help” sign. If the reason why the person is holding out their hand to you is understood, I think most will not be so quic to open their wallets directly, but rather direct their giving to groups that help.

Let me tell you about my family.

I have a brother who is a professional homeless man whose primary source of income is panhandling. How does he use the money? He buys pot and smokes it. How much money does he generally get? Anywhere from $100/day to as much as $2,000 a day. Tax free. What does he do with the excess? Does he share? No, he parties as wastes it. He pulls in between $30,000 and $50,000 per year tax free. With no expenses, except his drug habit, he just blows this money.

When you give money directly to a homeless person, you are cooperating in their sin. What is the sin I am referring to? The very grave sin of sloth; one of the so-called seven deadly sins.

The homeless we have in the USA are not a downtrodden group of otherwise noble people. No, nearly half are simply social leaches like my brother. They are a source of endless heartbreak to their family not because they are mentally ill, but because all they do is take, and never contribute. A significant number of the homeless are there by choice like my brother. Giving a panhandler is like (and may in fact actually be) buying a drink for a drunk. Another large group consist of people with some sort of mental disorder who may not have the capacity to use the money wisely.

Helping the needy is very important. Money given to the St. Vincent de Paul Society or local homeless shelters can be spent far more efficiently and put to better use than to be put directly into the hands of people, a significant number of whom are either lazy leaches, or suffer from some cognitive disorder. I give my money, and occasionally my time, to these groups but I will never give money directly to a panhandler. I will NOT buy a joint or a drink for someone too lazy to get a job.

I don’t know if I would agree with that. Think of it from their point of view: how do they know the food hasn’t been tainted or poisoned? I’m not saying you would do that, of course! But let’s face it, there are sadistic people out there who do mean things to the homeless. So it doesn’t surprise me that some of them are overly cautious about preferring money to food. After all, with money they can pick out the food for themselves.

You must follow your own conscience and do whatever you believe God is calling you to do. Perhaps it is indeed your role to do this - in which case, no apology is necessary. In my case, I don’t have that kind of money, to be giving money to everyone who asks. I am simply not that rich.

So, I give a tenth of my income to various agencies, including the Church because it seems to me to be the most efficient way to get the most help to the most people. Between the two of us, our homeless person will have a bit of cash to buy some lunch (funded by you), and a nice warm dry place to sleep tonight (funded by me). :slight_smile:

Replying to YACatholic (post #2): Oh, of course we ought to give without expecting anything in return (something that I neglected to mention, but thought was implicit in my original statement)!

Replying to Spirithound (post #3): Of course it is fine to give either food or money! If a homeless person, however, refuses food, and we turn away from them, it is perhaps not, in your words, the “awful nerve of them to refuse a granola bar,” but more likely a judgment impaired for reasons beyond their control. God never gives up on us (unless we die in a state of unrepentant mortal sin, for which we send ourselves to hell), so our grace should readjust when they refuse the initial grace (like food), right?

Replying to rpp (post #4): There is absolutely nothing objectionable to donating to institutions, since you feel suspicious about the motives of some panhandlers. The only problem is that we really never know the motives of individual panhandlers. Would it not just be good to err on the side of caution and donate (assuming that the recipient will reject food, which (s)he almost always does)? Catholic theology defines sin as willful and cognizant rebellion against God. Since we do not know if the panhandler has a mental awareness of his/her sin of sloth, then to speak of our formal cooperation with the sin of sloth appears off the mark, no?

Replying to theistgal (post #5): Wow, I never quite thought of that before. Homeless people actually refuse food for a reason (contaminated food) other than the obvious fact that food cannot buy drugs. Your idea, however, presumes that homeless people would be so selective about food that they would pass up contaminated food even if no other options remained to fill their bellies.

Replying to jmcrae (post #6): What I did not mention in my original post is the amount of money I give. I am only a student without a permanent job, so I only give $1 to every homeless person. In a sense, I am sort of balancing my concern that they might spend money for drugs with the idea of charity (that some money should leave my wallet). Giving $1 also leaves me free to donate to other people, should the need arise. That is a good point about our shared patronage, LOL.

I once offered to buy food for a panhandler ( who was asking for money to buy food). There was an outdoor vendor right there and I asked what he wanted, that I would buy him whatever. I just stood in line waiting as he started yelling at me for not just giving him money. I got a sandwich, turned to give it to him and he refused it. He wanted drugs. Sorry, I won’t feed that habit.

Replying to coco2 (post #8): With your testimony, we find a rare circumstance where you truly know the intentions of the panhandler, because the panhandler described exactly what he wanted to do, and his intentions would have been bad (I would have also backed off in this case). My only point was that in most circumstances, you can never be sure, and therefore, you might as well lean on donating.

On a cold winter night a few years ago I found myself in a position to actually talk to a “some real homeless people”, I asked them if their was any immediate need, like a cup of coffee or hot chocolate I could get for them, as I was going in to a gas station to pay for gas and they were sitting on a cold curb outside. One said, no, but thank you, someone just got me a cup of coffee and I just finished it, and in about an hour when I need another cup of something hot someone else will come along and get me one, but…he said, “If you have an extra pair of gloves I could use those”.

I believe the truly homeless don’t normally beg, they just are pleasantly surprised when someone offers. Thats my experience anyway. Another man sitting close by was sipping a hot cup of something that someone else had given him and he said, “When you do give us something, just give us a dollar at a time because someone will just try to beat us up to get what we have otherwise and that includes those among us.” Interesting.

In our area we have places that normally feed the homeless and they know where those places are and go to them. (Usually run by our Church and other denominations in the area.) Another man told me one time that he needed new glasses and that there are only so many prescriptions and if you have any extra ones lying around to donate them to places that will hand them out to them because sometimes they just can’t see as well as they use to and that they can’t afford to go and get new glasses.

Honestly, if you talk to them, they won’t bite you and they will tell you their needs. If its just a panhandler like rpp spoke of, they probably can be passed up. But thats just my opinon. If you’d rather, just give to your Church, they will use the money in the way these people need. (Now if they had wanted drugs, alcohol or cigarettes I wouldn’t have provided that.) I gave one guy an extra hoodie we had in the car once as he looked really cold. He was very grateful. I think its just the simple things that the truly homeless need and want.

Based on MY experience, and the advice of nearly every police department in the USA and many other nations, I think this is bad advice. Getting lucky once does not mean it is safe.

Replying to allhers (post #10): Well, if you look at the word HOMELESS, you notice that the word only mentions a person without a home (and nothing about begging). You could arguably be right about the effectively purist school of homeless people, a group defined as people lacking a home but never begging. It seems unfortunate, however, that the purist school of homeless people (those who do not beg but appreciate giving gestures) constitutes only a minority of the homeless at large. You are definitely right in pointing out the existence of this purist school.

Replying to rpp (post #11): You are right about the fact that getting lucky once is not necessarily indicative of the norm in our relations with the homeless. But which is better? [1] Telling God that we were swindled by fifty homeless swindlers, or [2] telling God that we ignored the pleas of forty-nine homeless swindlers and one homeless person with sincere and pure intentions?

How about giving to a homeless foundation, thus ensuring that all 50 of them, regardless of their character or motives, have a safe, warm place to stay tonight? :slight_smile:

I know you are sincere but I don’t agree. We have a responsibility not to enable alcoholics or drug users. What if you give money and they use it on their addiction of choice and cause harm or injury to others or themselves.

If you feel that your donations to a food bank, or homeless shelter are not sufficient, offer to walk, pull over at, whatever, the nearest fast food restaurant or store (there’s one on every corner) and buy them a meal. Print up a list of shelters, or places that help alcoholics or drug addicts and hand them out. I think you will be surprised at how many will not be interested in food or help.

This is a false choice. I never said, and in fact did spefically state, that we must help the less fortunate. Giving money to groups that help the homeless is, in the USA where swindlers, like my brother, outnumber the actual needy by something like 30 to 1 probably, is a much better way to help then than giving money to a drunk, drug addict or lazy person.

God has much more liberty to give generously to all without exception because, "the earth is His and the fullness thereof."
We, however, are quite limited in our resources to offer others and need to be wise stewards in our charitable use of them.

In this case, I represent, as a Disciple (all Catholics being Disciples), the Body of Christ to the world, and have presented this man with grace (money, in this case). He might misuse that grace by buying drugs. Still, that is his problem. As the giver of grace (money), I hope that he can use the money for good reasons.

Paul tells the Ephesians to live as children of light, then describes what that entails, “the fruit of light consists in all goodness, righteousness, and truth.” As our deeds are to be generous(goodness), they are also to be done in righteousness(justice), and truth. There is such a thing as the unworthy poor. They are those who refuse to work and Paul said, “if a man will not work, neither let him eat.” (2 Thess. 3:10)That is just and right. For God often uses the consequences of sin to correct us and convict us.
Therefore by giving such a one money, we remove the good and needful chastening of God. We can end up doing more harm than good.

From a theological standpoint, is it not the most sensible idea to just give the homeless whatever they want (cash, virtually 100% of the time) and then pray that they use the stuff wisely?

No, absolutely not. Not what they want, but what they need. Those who have the mind of Christ can best determine what a man needs. Which means that we ought to view this practice in the light of God’s Word praying for the guidance of His Spirit, judging what is best for each man.

You know I give to the parish and the diocese and there seems to be enough left for the poor box; and even the occassional panhandler. I don’t think about it. It’s something I do because it’s the charitable thing to do. That someone put’s so much thought and that there are so many thread’s on this subject just surprises me a little. :shrug:

How does one make 2 grand a day panhandling I’d like to know?

:shrug: Probably NYC.

How? Standing on a street corner and free-way exit. $5 times 400 people in about 6 to 10 hours and you have it.

enlightening indeed. my regards to your brother whose life is so “precious” to all the god fearing. or is it? dunn dunn dunnnn!

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