Whether he or she is begging due to homelessness or an addiction or both, what are we to say and what are we to do for them?

Well, let me start off by saying that more often than not, giving them any sort of cash typically hurts them more than helps them. It’s degrading and toxic charity at its very essence. There is no sustainability nor accountability in doing so. I’m not saying every beggar is going to go use the money on drugs or alcohol, even though a lot do. Cash is a short-term fix that only causes more problems for the individual. This concept goes for handing out clothes and other goodies also.

But, aren’t we suppose to give to the poor and needy?

Proverbs 19:17 
“Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.” 

Reading this, you would say yea, of course we are supposed to give to the poor.


But, there is a fine line between giving to the poor and giving to their addiction or creating greed in their heart. This calls for some critical discernment, which most of the time has to be on the fly.

So, how do you decipher the two? Truth be told, I don’t have a concrete method. But, here are some of the things I do.

I acknowledge them; after all, they are people too. No one wants to be isolated and neglected. So, I build a relationship as best as they let me.

When they ask me for spare change or cash for the bus or the train, I typically don’t answer their question. I do one of two things. I ask them what their name is, with intentions to remember it for next time, or I follow up their question with more questions… like, where are you going? Why do you need to catch the train? More often than not, with the more questions you ask, the more flakey their story and answers get. This is the best way that I know how to discern what their true motives are.

If the question is more geared towards, I need money for food, I say something like, okay, let’s go grab some food where we can sit and build that relationship while eating together. That’s dignifying and it builds community.

Build a Relationship

With the first option of getting to know them and building a relationship, this is more so for the beggars you see on a daily, weekly, or even monthly basis. As they are approaching, you can now address them with something like.. “Yo, what’s up *Bobby*.” First, they will be surprised you actually cared to remember their name. This does more for them than actually giving them anything. Secondly, if their motives behind begging are for impure reasons, they will begin to stop asking you for money because they know that you know them.

So, I would encourage you to get to know them, ask good questions, and just listen to them. There are a lot of people out on the streets who just need a friend to listen to them and talk to. Even though they are surrounded by people, they feel isolated and neglected because people choose to ignore them and walk on by. They need to feel like they belong and have purpose. They need hope and opportunity.

I hope you don’t read this as me saying, “Never give to the needy.” That is the last thing I want you to hear. My point is simply this, relationships matter and people matter. Be careful of how you give to the needy because Americans are notorious for creating a culture of greedy people who become takers, or consumers, for a living and it ruins communities and even nations. Often, the ‘how to give’ comes from seeking understanding, listening and learning, of their stories. Every one has a story to tell and everyone needs someone to tell it to.


For more on toxic charity and hurting when trying to help, read one of or both of these books…

When Helping Hurts – Steve Corbett

Toxic Charity – Robert D. Lupton

For more on how to help without hurting, read one of or both of these books…

Helping Without Hurting – Steve Corbett

Charity Detox – Robert D. Lupton