Doing the Best We Can With What We’ve Got

This is one of those grey areas. No, I’m not talking about the city in winter, though I could be. What I am talking about is what happens to me every time a homeless person comes up to me on the street. There’s an ethical battle over the fate of a buck or two that takes place half a dozen or more times every day.

Here’s the scene: A homeless guy comes up to you on the street while you’re to class or home from class or to the 7–11 or wherever you happen to be walking. He tells you he’s out on the street, he’s got no money, he’s trying to get $13 together so he can get into the House of Friendship for the night. It should be a no–brainer. This person has no money. While we students can’t be considered wealthy, chances are we have some money. And we want to help people out. We want to do the right thing. But what, exactly, is the right thing?

We’ve all heard the reasons not to give that bit of loose change: They need to learn to work for themselves, giving them money will only encourage them to be lazy and count on charity to survive. Plus, they’re just going to spend the money on drugs and booze, instead of food and putting their lives back together. Giving your change to a homeless person is enabling their self-destructive lifestyle.

And maybe there’s something to this. Maybe in a lot of cases this “don’t feed the ducks” approach is fair. But that doesn’t stop me from being overwhelmed with guilt every time I walk by somebody who could use a hand up. . . or out . . . or what have you.

When I was a kid, my class stayed out one night in the winter so we could see what it was like to be homeless. I remember that it wasn’t really so bad. We just kind of hung out and had fun. Of course, people who are really homeless don’t have the benefit of teachers and parents bringing around hot chocolate, or of warm cozy beds to go home to when they’ve been out for a while.

This is one of those grey areas. My change helps in the short term, but could be harmful in the long run. Plus, I don’t really have very much money to begin with.

Don’t we have governments to look after the weakest members of society? And aren’t the people out on the street among those weakest members? It’s only a buck or two.

We’re just trying to do the best we can with what we’ve got.