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Ask an Apostle: Should I give money to the homeless?

Teresa Coda answers your questions this month.
Catholic Voices

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Q: There is a homeless person who I often see begging for money on my drive to work. I think he uses the money to buy drugs or alcohol. Is it wrong to refuse to give him money? 

—Dollars for dignity?

A: Your question brings back many a memory from my childhood family vacations, when, while exploring a new city and encountering people who lived outside, my parents inevitably argued about the correct response to their signs asking for help.

My mom, a social worker whose job with Catholic Charities involved helping homeless men and women access resources and services, insisted that giving money wasn’t the best solution; better to buy a sandwich for the person who is asking, or to make a financial donation to an organization that serves the homeless or addresses the systemic problems of addiction and hunger. My dad, on the other hand, wasn’t one to over-interpret the asking of a stranger—one who he never failed to remind us could be Jesus—and gave without hesitation to anyone who asked. We can’t know what they will do with the money, and who are we to judge, anyway?

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Both of my parents had logic and reasons for their approaches, and neither of them were wrong. Which is another way of saying that I don’t think there’s a clear answer to your question.

If you are uncomfortable with the fact that a person could be using your money to buy drugs and alcohol, then perhaps you could consider asking them what kind of food they like and then bringing them a meal, or dropping off a bag of snacks, socks and other items most often needed by homeless men and women. Or you could simply offer a smile and a short conversation. What you don’t want to refuse—regardless of whether you decide to give money or needed items—is respect, kindness, and validation of the person’s dignity and worth.


About the author

Teresa Coda

Teresa Coda works in parish faith formation. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two young daughters.

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