Washington Area Women's Foundation

Giving Back to the Homeless

homelessWhen seeing a homeless man or woman, some people debate on whether they should give that person money or not because they assume that it will be used on drugs and alcohol. From my beliefs, I say that is not true. So, I talked to an expert to find the answer.

When giving back to the community, many people feel great about what they do. They’re very proud of themselves and believe it will come back to them. However, when seeing a homeless man or woman, some people debate on whether they should give that person money.

Why think twice?

I’ve heard people say, “all homeless people do when someone gives them money is spend it on drugs or alcohol.” I believe that isn’t true because when I see someone actually giving that homeless person money, he/she does not stick around to see where the money goes. So how can you tell?

Statistics show that many people become homeless for various reasons, such as lack of affordable housing, physical disability, and/or mental illness. So why does it have to be all about drugs and alcohol? The National Coalition for the Homeless states that only 30% of people in America become homeless from substance abuse.

A homeless person is judged just from the way he/she looks. When I’m out with my friends and they see a homeless man or woman, their first reaction to that homeless person is that he/she was a drug addict or alcoholic. Every fourth Sunday at my church, we go out, feed the homeless, and get to know their stories. From talking to some of the homeless people, many of them were high school drop-outs or their family didn’t care for them. So how can you judge someone you don’t know? Homeless people require long-term support, rather than condemnations.

Homeless people want to live ordinary lives like everyone else. They want a nutritious meal. They want a comfortable place to lay their heads every night. So why not give them money to support those needs? Some people may choose to give money directly to a homeless person. Others might feel more comfortable giving to a nonprofit that they know will provide the long-term support people need. Still other people may prefer a combination of both.

I asked Michael Stoops, director of community organizing at the National Coalition for the Homeless, whether or not it’s bad to give money directly to someone who asks for it. He told me that giving is a personal decision – it’s all about what you feel comfortable with, and he sometimes gives money to people on the street.

I intern at Washington Area Women’s Foundation, which helps women and girls thrive through philanthropy. We have a list of Grantee Partners that help many different types of people. Some help the homeless because there’s a great need for those services among women. Studies have shown that out of the population of single, homeless adults, 25 percent are women. Women make up 65 percent of the population of homeless adults with children. To help these families out, The Women’s Foundation collaborates with a non-profit organization that’s called SOME (So Others Might Eat). “So Others Might Eat” is the only interfaith, community-based organization in the District of Columbia that offers a comprehensive, holistic approach to caring for the homeless and extremely poor citizens of our city.

Great organizations like SOME encourage me to donate to nonprofits. However, it can be difficult to say “no” when someone in need approaches me on the street, especially now that I know the major causes of homelessness. In the future, I plan on doing both: supporting nonprofits that can help in the long-term, but also helping people who are just trying to figure out where their next meal will come from.

What do you think? Do you feel comfortable giving money to people on the street? Please leave a comment below.

Photo credit: Ed Yourdon via Creative Commons

Freedonia is an intern at Washington Area Women’s Foundation who enjoys writing blogs and hopes to write many more.

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