July 25, 2017

Would you give money to the homeless?

Somebody asked me the other day, "Would you give food or money to a homeless person? My answer is complicated. It's counter-intuitive, but poverty is expensive. I'm in favor of providing assistance to the homeless (even if it doesn't necessarily break the cycle of poverty) if only because it's a sound financial argument that improves my own quality of life. 

Beyond financial arguments and getting into appeals to emotion, yeah - I'm generally in favor of reducing suffering. I'm particularly affected by the suffering of children, seniors, and mentally or physically handicapped - the people least able to provide for themselves. An animal part of me screams out, "Law of the jungle, bitch!," and says that's just the way things are, but a compassionate part me can't endure their pain.

Strangely, I don't mind the pain and suffering of otherwise able-bodied people and I think the reason why is because they can voluntarily choose at any time to use their own skills, knowledge, and abilities to pursue any number of options to improve the quality of their lives. But incapable children, frail or senile elders, the mentally broken, and the physically impaired aren't able to make such choices for themselves, or if they are, they're not able to accomplish them.

So yeah, I'm in favor of my tax money being used to fund social programs for the most vulnerable. I'm in favor of donating money to programs like United Way and letting them do figurative or literal triage to determine who most needs assistance. I'm in favor of my provincial and national government trying to keep people off the streets.

But as a matter of personal policy, I don't give food or money directly to homeless people anymore largely because I don't want my money to be wasted. Shame on me if I'm jumping to conclusions based on a small number of interactions with the homeless during my lifetime, but what I've witnessed is that I'm not making a meaningful impact when I skip the humanitarian organization and give directly to individuals. 

I've got some experiences with homeless people who asked me for money to buy food, but then refused the food I offered because they wanted money. I've also got an experience with a neighbor who wanted to borrow $40 "to buy milk for the kids," when it was plain as day that it was actually $40 to buy some weed. But the example that sticks out the most for me was the homeless guy I knew in Jacksonville, North Carolina.

I knew a homeless guy who camped out in the woods near a shopping mall where I once worked. He slept in the woods at night, and hung out in the mall during the day. I know this because I was the over-night security guard who opened the mall every morning. We got to chatting in the mornings, and I suggested he could get an income started at the drop-in day-labor company, but he said that's too hard because he had to get there by 6am. 

I was like, "You're homeless and unemployed. WTF are you doing at 6am that would stop you from going to work?" And it's not because he couldn't get up on time: after all, he had a cell-phone for texting his network of friends who washed his clothes, gave him rides, put him up during the winter, and paid his cell phone bill.

I asked him if he had anybody who could help him get out of living in a shanty behind the mall, and he told me that he had a cousin in Virginia who had offered to take him in, but he wouldn't go because he didn't know anybody there and didn't like their house rules. 

I was like, "How can it possibly be worse to behave yourself in somebody else's heated house with running water and regular meals than to sleep under a tarp and get eaten by mosquitoes every night?" Evidently, he thought it was worse.

There are people who genuinely need help and are willing to do the work necessary to not be parasites. I understand that there are talented, capable people who wind up homeless due to circumstances outside of their control. And I get that the cycle of poverty is hard to break, but that's exactly why I'm going to leave that work to charitable organizations and governmental agencies who are far more effective at helping the poor than I am.

There are ways for the homeless and severely disadvantaged to get help, but I'm not one of them.


  1. Hi! James Bull

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    1. Hi there! Yes, I'm still offering readings. To order, scroll to the top of the page and click the button that says, "SERVICES." Thanks!


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