It may come as a shock to you, but I don’t give money to homeless people. Now, before you think I’m a completely selfish jerk of a person, let me explain why and what I do instead.
When Rob and I first moved to Hawaii, we lived pretty far from each other (in traffic time, not miles) using public transportation. We often met downtown in Honolulu or hung out in Chinatown. I experienced significant culture shock, but not because I was suddenly a minority as a Caucasian in an Asian-Pacific community. It was the homelessness epidemic that threw me.
Coming from suburbia in Michigan, I was stunned to see so many homeless people. They were everywhere!
Whole city blocks had their sidewalks wholly taken over by homeless tent cities. Bus stations reeked of urine, and public park bathrooms covered in feces and blood. Parks overrun with people sleeping on bedbug-infested mattresses laid out under massive, sprawling banyan trees deterred people from any would-be picnic attempts. Some of them would even drop their pants and take a poop right on the sidewalk in front of office buildings in the business district! It was DISGUSTING!
It was nasty for reals, Peeps!
It broke my heart to see people living in the United States of America – in “paradise,” at that! – in the squalor and degradation of those in a third world country. At the same time, it thoroughly grossed me out. Home girl doesn’t do bugs! I don’t do dirt. I don’t do smelly. I puke easily. If I even think too long about something I find gross…you get the picture.
Rob and I, being cheerful, generous givers, decided we would help the homeless and create little care packages for them, as many churches and other organizations do.
So, we set out for Kmart off Nimitz Highway and purchased several hundred dollars of sanitation products, snacks, other items we felt would be useful for those living on the streets, etc. Then we boldly asked Kmart if they could give us a bunch of bags and lend us a table to use to assemble them. To our surprise, they did! They set up a folding table, lent us some chairs, and gave us a stack of grocery bags, setting it near their security area by the exit. We spent a good hour or so packing every one of those bags with toothpaste, toenail clippers, cheese crackers, and so many other goodies. Many shoppers stopped by to ask what we were doing, and some even helped us create a few bags! It was fun.
Then came the distribution.
I hate all things dirty and germy, and I have a pregnant woman’s nose 24/7, but I was able to receive grace from on high to override my disgust and my sense of smell to help these unfortunate people. We walked out of Kmart and went around the corner to Nimitz Highway where a small patch of grass had become home to about 15 or 20 people. We distributed some bags, chatted with the people, and then went on our merry way.
We drove through Chinatown as slowly as we could without holding up traffic, with our windows down, yelling, “Hey, you! Catch!” and tossing these bags full of love at the intended recipients whom we hoped were coordinated enough to catch them! We also gave away cash to many of them.
We felt so good about ourselves! Come on, you know you would, too!
We felt like we were really helping these individuals.
Then we experienced what it felt like to lose our residence to circumstance, and we had to scramble to make ends meet and find a home. After we experienced being homeless twice in this beautiful, yet freakishly expensive state of Hawaii, we realized we weren’t actually helping the homeless when we gave them money. We were enabling them to continue living in substandard conditions.
We weren’t helping local businesses, either.
You see, homelessness is bad for business.
You may be asking why that is relevant information. Allow me to elaborate:
They work their butts off to build a business, and then they get pooped on (literally) when homeless people decide to camp outside their doors.
Giving money to the homeless was perpetuating a problem and hurting more than helping.
Many homeless realized they got more foot traffic near businesses and, therefore, received more monetary donations. Some homeless people went as far as to deliberately and selfishly plant themselves in doorways where people had to literally step over them to enter or leave the business.
I don’t feel safe going to businesses whose greeters are homeless on the sidewalk at the entrance, shouting obscenities at me and threatening me when I choose not to enable them in their bad choices.
In fact, two years after we had raided Kmart for supplies, the homelessness situation got so bad and so violent around the Nimitz Kmart we actually stopped shopping there.
To this day, there are entire zip codes on the island I will go out of my way to avoid because of the homeless population and the corresponding level of crime, the horrible smells, and all of the litter they leave behind. And I’m not the only one who stays away from those areas. That’s hundreds of entrepreneurs whose businesses are negatively impacted because of the homeless!
“According to a 2015 assessment by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 564,708 people were homeless on a given night in the United States. At a minimum, 140,000 or 25 percent of these people were seriously mentally ill, and 250,000 or 45 percent had any mental illness. By comparison, a 2016 study found that 4.2 percent of U.S. adults have been diagnosed with a serious mental illness.”
I realize some of these people are mentally ill and need help. I get that, I do. These people have addictions and real issues. I have genuine compassion for these people. They need people to care about them and love them back to life. I don’t have a problem with these people. I enjoy reaching out to them (with my nose plugged and latex gloves on – just kidding…sort of). I don’t mind showing the love of Jesus to these people, even though their appearance and stench is a bit off-putting. They need Jesus, and they need His Church to be His hands and feet.
I also realize, however, there are so many others who are NOT in that impaired condition.
Many of them are non-disabled, right-minded individuals who do not take responsibility for their own lives, but expect others to support them instead. It’s these people who choose NOT to be a benefit to the economy as a part of the workforce with whom I have a problem. They CAN, but they choose not to participate in society in a contributory fashion.
Then there are the jerks of the homeless community. I can’t tell you how many times we got hustled by some swindler who lives on the streets by choice – or at least he convinces people he does. This is the guy who makes enough money off of the kindness of others he’s able to pay cash for expensive cars and electronics and to rent out the multiple properties he owns!
Seriously, dude?! I forgive you, in Jesus’ name….
So, instead of giving money to homeless people on the streets, now we help organizations directly with donations to their services – places such as soup kitchens or shelters. We help people who work to get children off the streets and into a home. We still distribute blessing bags, but now we choose biodegradable products to reduce the amount of litter left behind.
We don’t throw them out of moving vehicles anymore either (because I get my aim from my mother). Instead, we do outreaches where we join forces with other organizations to meet the needs of these individuals and help rehabilitate them back into society as functionally independent, healthy people.
So, the next time you see a homeless person begging for money, consider buying them a sandwich. Then take that money you would’ve given them and donate on their behalf to the shelter they’ll likely sleep in later that night. You can even offer to help them get into a job placement program to help them get off the streets and into a better future. That’s a win-win for everyone.