Have you ever given a homeless man money and wondered what he did with it? Have you ever stopped yourself from giving because of this hesitation?
The idea that a homeless man or woman might be using your money for drugs, alcohol, or other things you wouldn’t want is no excuse for withholding Christian charity. There is always another way to help besides handing someone money. In reality, people don’t need the money – they need clothes, food, a job, shelter, a smile, respect.
One young man, Josh Paler Lin, decided to see what would happen if he gave a homeless man money, and this video shows the homeless man’s use of the money for what he thinks he needs.
The homeless man’s reception of the first one hundred dollars is one of gratitude, teary eyes, and a sense of awe. At first you were probably concerned since he was walking into a liquor store, but by the end of the video, the homeless man’s real intentions showed. He fed others. With money that could have bought him so many things, he instead acquired necessities and food for others he knew needed it (and that was before he had any idea that he’d receive another hundred!).
“You thought I was going to get all smashed-up drunk,” the homeless man, Thomas, said. “There are some things money can’t buy… I get a happiness out of what I’m doing.” Both the young man and the homeless man in the video were shocked at each other’s choices – giving all that money, giving all that love to others through gifts of food. Thomas received a gift and used it in the best way a gift can be used – to pay it forward.
Throughout our lives, we are often told to “do unto others what you want them to do unto you,” but let’s think about the deeper meaning in that overused phrase. The Golden Rule is more than just a shallow hand-out of material things; love others. Love your neighbor whether they are the person in the house next to you or the homeless person you pass on the street. And, as Thomas did, when you are treated well and blessed, spread the blessing around.
Not all people are alike. You can’t guarantee that everyone will have Thomas’s selfless heart when handed one hundred dollars, but you can guarantee that others are in more need than you, especially if you have that much money in your pocket.
“There’s a lot of people who are victims of circumstance, and they didn’t go homeless because they are lazy, you know what I’m saying,” Thomas explained. He tells his story in the video – his father died of cancer and his mother of kidney failure. He actually stopped working to help his sick parents and ended up thrown out once they both died.
A homeless man might have graduated college and never found a job fast enough to pay back his debt. Perhaps he had a mental break-down and lost his wife, kids, house, and job after a tragic incident. Unfortunately, many of the homeless are actually veterans, unable for various reasons to reintegrate to civilian life after combat.. Whatever the circumstances, we have no right to judge, but instead, as Christians, we are called to love unconditionally. No matter the reason, homeless men, women, and families still maintain the same human dignity as those with big houses and stable finances.
Pope Paul VI states in paragraph 27 of Gaudium et spes,
Unlike the rich man who neglected Lazarus, we are called to practice the corporal works of mercy: Feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, shelter the homeless, clothe the naked, visit the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead. As Jesus says in Matthew chapter 25, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of my brethren, you did it to me.” Expecting nothing in return, just as Thomas did not expect the next hundred dollars, we are to help others who are in need. Passing up a chance to help is passing up on Jesus’ call.
• Hand out gift cards to easily accessible restaurants or even lunches you’ve prepared yourself. This way you know they have food for the day.
• Bus passes might be helpful, too. (Imagine how much we take for granted the ability and freedom to get around town.)
• Give bottles of water, especially if it is hot outside.
• Make them cards with shelters and food banks listed on them.
• Pay attention to what they are wearing. Do they need a better coat? Are their socks wet? Do they have mittens or shoes? Could they use a blanket that’s being sold at the store right at the corner? It only takes a few minutes to stop in a store for get them a hat and hand it to them. Maybe you already have three at home and can give one away.
• Are you done reading your newspaper? They might also want to read it. It’s something simple but kind to offer. Maybe you could also hand them a coffee, too.
• Offer a book you’ve read a million times or a card you wrote to brighten their day.
• Is it raining? Do they have an umbrella?
• Ziplock bags of toiletries – lotion, soap, toothpaste, toothbrush, sunscreen, wipes – would be practical and helpful gifts.
• Give them some sunglasses for the summer, or a baseball hat to shield their face from the sun.
• Talk to them about God, so they know there is always hope and there is always a Heavenly Father watching out for them. Maybe they know the scriptures better than you do, or perhaps they need to talk something out with you that’s been on their heart.
• Have a normal conversation about their life. You might be surprised! I’ve met a homeless man who know the entire history of Pittsburgh just from reading the signs around the city and visiting the library. I’m a history major in college, and he knew more than me.
• If you’re a doctor/nurse, help them with advice about their cold or other ailments. If you have hot tea in the winter, please give it them if they are coughing. If you have oranges or fruits, please share. Are they coughing? Do you have cough drops? Do they need a band-aid?
• Let them know you’re praying for them, and remember them in your prayers. When work is difficult, offer it up for those without work. When Mondays are hard, resist the temptation to have a “personal day” and do it for those who don’t have a job to call off from.
• Volunteer your services at a soup kitchen or other charitable organization.
• If you can manage it, a job at your company. This Detroit company goes above and beyond, employing the homeless to help the homeless.
• Also, if you do see someone on the street who looks especially ill or desperate, please stop and make sure they are okay. You never know if they might need medical attention immediately, but you’re walking right past them. (Remember the Good Samaritan.)
•Make eye contact, shake his or her hand and ask for a name. It’s as simple as that – recognize their dignity and count your blessings.
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