Should we give money to the homeless?

Should we give money to the homeless? This has been disputed in my prayer group. I feel that giving them some financial aid is better than doing nothing. Others feel that they should be directed to a local homeless shelter. I am a big fan of all the homeless shelter does, but it is 25 miles away from where I encounter homeless people. Not many homeless will be willing to walk that far. Plus, the shelter can only accommodate so many.

Telling someone who is 25 miles away from a homeless shelter to go to the homeless shelter, without providing for that person any assistance in getting to the shelter (e.g., a bus pass, a few dollars for bus fare, etc.), reminds me of this passage from the epistle of St. James:

“If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit?” (James 2:15-16).

Some might argue that perhaps the person is a grifter who is just presenting himself as a hard-luck person to swindle passerby out of their hard-earned cash. Bishop Fulton Sheen’s niece once said much the same thing to her uncle when people on the street would stop him and tell him their tragic stories, hoping for handouts. Ven. Fulton Sheen replied to his niece, “I can’t take that chance.” He was willing to be swindled if it meant giving to someone truly needy.

Now, it must be said that perhaps you have just reason for not being able to give. Perhaps you are entirely out of cash, or don’t have appropriate alternatives on hand (e.g., fast-food gift certificates, bus tokens or passes, unopened bottles of water). Perhaps it feels unsafe to stop to offer personal assistance. If your usual default is to give what you can, then it is okay that occasionally you find yourself without material resources. You can still give that person a sympathetic smile and say a silent prayer for him or her as you go on your way. Perhaps your prayer will bring to that person someone else who can help.

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