Would you give to a homeless person who hasn't asked?

I was in the city last for work, and at 8:00 PM I was wandering around, looking for a cafe for dinner.

I crossed paths with a man who looked terribly destitute. He was in a sleeping gown (which would be just adequate for the cool night), and drinking from a plastic bottle of meths. I had in my wallet $5 and $20 notes. The $20 might have bought him a shelter for the night (but I did not know where to find one). I was reluctant to part with $20 however, and I couldn’t see how the $5 could be helpful.

As we crossed paths (he was walking too) I looked at him long enough for him to ask for something from me, if he wanted, but he didn’t. I felt some resistance to offering him money, unsolicited, as it may be an intrusion and remind him of how visible his destitution was.

I decided not to approach him and offer any assistance, and said a prayer.

I don’t feel bad about this, but I’m just wondering if, next time, I should do anything different.

My main question is - is it (or could it be) more considerate to not approach someone in such a state, namely destitute and intoxicated, but conscious, unless they show some sign of wanting assistance?

Answering my own question… If I had a smart phone, rather than my current basic phone, I would have been able to find a shelter.

This highlights how information technology can be a great social benefit, and I feel now some obligation to save for such a phone, in order to be ready for emergencies and opportunities to help others.

A quick internet search has also shown me that (apparently) there is no quick way to find a homeless shelter in Adelaide. If this is the case, then building such a site would be a good use of my spare time.

That is my main question, coz I’m a guy who likes to “focus”, but any other thoughts on this scenario are most welcome! :slight_smile:

Are you asking in case you run into this particuliar man again, or in general?

In general… I’m interested in any comments on this scenario, but particularly the issue of intruding on someone who is in a bad way, but not asking for help.

I would love to hear of first hand accounts, such as “I was in this situation, and offered to help, and I made the person so happy”, or “… I offered to help, and it only embarrased him”.

Why not buy some food at the cafe and take it to the man?

Good idea. That would be one suggestion for a similar scenario.

A couple of reasons it was not apt here - he was drinking Meths, which would indicate that he’d be unlikely to want food, or to want to think about it, and also he was walking so I would have to ask him to stop while I made a purchase.

I once did purchase a meal for an intoxicated person, and he got angry with me. However, I was much younger, and did not realise that a drunk doesn’t want a large burger.

Perhaps chocolate or a wrapped snack would be in order.

I have been in both situations.

Once, I was in a store check out line behind a woman and small child. The woman was pouring out change and was clearly stressed as she didnt seem to have enough. She appeared to be lacking financially in many ways. I offered her a few bills to pay the difference and she politely refused. I believe I embarrassed and upset her and felt awful about the situation.

Another occasion, a woman I vaguely knew from coming into a business was in a supermarket check out. It was one of those times you think, oh, no. She talks and talks and … About many things. She is a good Christian woman, but sometimes was difficult to deal with. This was a few years ago. Anyway, she pulled out rolled change and appeared worried. I knew she was having difficulty keeping utilities, etc. I knew her situation. So, I just stepped up and told the cashier to ring our items up together. She was quite grateful. If ever we ran into one another, nothing was said about this. It worked out very well. :slight_smile: I still think she was an angel in disguise:)

Lastly, a woman worked in our business as … Very minimum wage and work most would feel superior to do such work. She was in her 70 s or 80 s and took the bus to work in a state where very few people do this as there isn’t much of a need in many areas. It took er over two hours for a twenty minute drive. She was always happy, never complained. I noticed all her clothes were quite worn and many didn’t fit or were ripped and pinned together. I went to the mall and purhased some clothes and things for her. I placed them in a tote and gave them to her when no one was around. I only asked she never tell anyone.

You’re situation is a little different. If you frequent the area, ask local store employees if he is there often and what they know of him. You could pay ahead for a meal nearby and maybe leave a sack with a few useful and clean items.

What is Meths? :confused:

If the man was visibly intoxicated and homeless, he’d probably have wasted money on booze. Sorry if that sounds cynical, but if you are on the street, you wouldn’t be buying luxuries like alcohol.

Here’s a good rule of thumb that a friend told me once: when somebody on the street asks for money, offer to buy them a sandwich, if they accept, buy it for them like you promised, if they say “no give me the money” or something like that, they are probably going to use it on drugs, alcohol, etc.

Oops… Australianism? Metholated Spirits is an ethanol cleaning fluid which is the cheapest form of alcohol available to desparate alcoholics.

Due to your situation and the other person involved with drinking and/or drugs it is a bit of a gamble how the person would react. I would simply find out if he frequents any of the nearby stores and leave whatever it is with someone who would know or see him at an appropriate time to give it to him.

If this is an area the homeless frequent, maybe the men at your parish could start a small outreach once a week and hand out sandwiches or something once a week to help on a semi regular basis.

Highlighted… that’s a good insight! I think that my attempt to engage his eyes as we passed was the best I could do to get an idea of how to act. Without any response from him it is a gamble.

Your suggestion to enquire at the store, and leave some money, would be good in some such cases, but in this case the area is far out of my way, and was I only there for an special meeting.

The St Vincent De Paul society do run a homeless shelter in Adelaide, so I’ll make a donation to them for the amount I would have been able to give this man. :slight_smile: Thankyou!

I like that suggestion! There was a nearby convenience store, and in the few moments that we passed each other I tried to think of what I could buy there, but nothing came to mind (because I normally avoid buying snacks at such places). For next time, there is the idea of: a sandwich, a hot dog, chocolate, or a wrapped snack.

Honestly, I am more apt to help the person that doesn’t ask for help but obviously needs it than I am the person that begs for help. When my husband and I were first dating, there was a guy near my husband’s work study that everyone presumed was homeless and it was later revealed he was actually making close to $60,000 a year by his “acting”. I don’t trust the “obvious” people that much since then.

Thankyou, Bix, for this post which addresses the nub of my question. It does seem to be the case that we can make helpful unsolicited donations, but that we can also cause offence. Discretion is need.

We especially must be wary of giving for the sake of our own feelings and conscience, rather than the other’s genuine needs (my comment on the general case, not your stories!!)

I work with indigent adults, many of whom are homeless. I network with other people and buy/collect a variety of items that I keep in my car, including tents, umbrellas, rain ponchos, toiletries, etc. Consequently, I don’t have a lot of cash to give, but I give what I can.

Our homeless are the invisible members of our society. Show them the dignity they deserve by being proactive. Many have mental health and/or substance abuse issues. I used to concern myself with who was “deserving”, or if whatever I gave them would be put to good use or wasted…but, I came to realize that it isn’t my job to judge. Kindness doesn’t judge. Just go with your heart and don’t analyze it too much.

PS: The man you encountered almost certainly was aware of any homeless shelters in your area. If he was drinking he would not want to go to a shelter because drinking is not allowed.

God Bless

You’re welcome~
These are things I wouldn’t share, but the anonymity here makes it easier! :slight_smile:

Aside from my many typos, the angel in disguise I referred to was meant to desribe the last woman. Oops…

I always try to discern the situation beforehand. I was more nervous with the woman at the supermarket than any of the others I listed.

Thank you for reminding us to help others.

Thankyou, SusansChoice, for these observations from your own experience.

I particularly value your recommendation to go with the heart, rather than over-analyse, and the explanation that he would have already been aware of the homeless shelter and not wanted to go.

Looking back, my heart was saying “Just give him a few bucks”. I got caught between the $5 and $20 options, and gave nothing. Plus, I was looking forward to my own dinner ($12), I was tired from the meeting and trip into town, and was generally averse to going far in helping someone else. I guess I do feel bad about it, after all.

An interesting point. Thankyou! I am not sure I agree with this as a general rule (ie. prefer to help those who don’t ask), but there is something in the thought - namely that the genuinely need may often, even more often, be the ones who don’t ask. And, we can often see for ourselves that someone is needy, without them asking - as I saw with this homeless man a couple of nights ago. :slight_smile:

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