Should you give money to those experiencing homelessness? Some would say yes and others would vehemently disagree. While it is ultimately a personal decision to do what you please with your money, people should address the many misconceptions and stereotypes surrounding this decision.
Throughout our culture, there remains a widespread notion surrounding the money donated to people experiencing homelessness. The general stereotype or misbelief centers around their allocation of the donated money going towards drugs and alcohol. While this may be partly true, we have no way of knowing where or on what they will spend their money. Some people need money for prescribed medications, a bed to sleep in that night, or even for their next meal.
While giving a few dollars to someone will not immediately eradicate their poverty or housing situation, it may keep them warm for the night or prevent them from going hungry. We cannot dictate where our money goes once we give it to someone else, whether a waiter at a restaurant or someone on a street corner.
Wherever we go–grocery stores, restaurants, retail stores–we get asked for donations. However, when we donate to these causes, do we know where our money is going? Rarely do we see the impact of our money or know where it goes, yet we still donate. Further, when we tip our waiter at dinner, which we almost always do, we have no control over how they choose to spend that money. For all we know, they could be spending it on drugs or alcohol.
Why are these cases any different from giving money to someone asking for it on the street, someone who is a community member in need?
Even if you do not want to give someone money, holding onto the assumption that an individual experiencing homelessness will spend it on drugs only further emphasizes the stigma surrounding homelessness and hurts the progress towards a solution.
Some people feel we should not give to those begging for money, regardless of the circumstances. Economist Tyler Cowen worries that giving to beggars or those experiencing homelessness will induce wrong long-term incentives. Cowen writes, “The more you give to beggars, the harder beggars will try.” As we cannot give money to everyone–there is not enough in our pockets–we choose to give to those we think need it the most.
The stigma of providing more aid to those who express their dire situations worse reverberates down the chain. These people experiencing homelessness find themselves inclined toward lying or exaggerating their destitution for survival.
Others argue that we give money to people who are homeless only to assuage our guilt rather than to help others genuinely. Instead, donating to charities and organizations that work to end homelessness would be a better use of our money.
The argument of whether to give money to those on the streets asking for it could go back and forth, and ultimately, it is up to you what you choose to do with your money. But no matter what you decide, whether you give your money to an individual or not, you should treat those on the streets with humanity and decency. Recognizing someone as a person by making eye contact with them helps to erase the stigma and the barrier between “us” and “them.”
Most people asking for money often face disrespect, harassment, robbery, and even assault. Having someone make eye contact and honestly acknowledge them, even have a brief conversation, can be affirming. It may sound simple, but it can make a big difference to someone.
No one can tell you what you should do with that extra five bucks in your pocket. Still it should go without saying that you should treat individuals experiencing homelessness or those asking for money with dignity and respect, whether you give them anything or not.