Stop Complaining About How Homeless People Spend Your Money

By Rhiannon Winner on August 20, 2016

I stop and donate whenever I pass a homeless person. If I’m short on cash, I offer them a “hello” or “good morning” or “how are you?” It’s become second nature, which is why I’m stunned whenever someone says something along the lines of, “I don’t give money to homeless people.” Their justification is not that they don’t carry cash, would prefer to donate to a reputable charity, or that they’d rather buy them food/water/clothes instead. Usually their objection is that they don’t know what that person is going to do with the money – the assumption being that homeless people tend to blow donations on alcohol, drugs, and the like.

I am of two minds when it comes to answering them. A part of me wants to point out that when you hand over that money, you don’t get to tell someone else how to spend it. If you donate to a charity, you don’t get to decide whether your money is spent on the cause or paying someone’s salary, and donating to a homeless person is no different. Chances are they’ll spend it on essentials and not drugs anyway, but if you’re so worried about the possibility of them using it for crime, then don’t give them money. Buy a couple of bottles of water during the summer, a jacket during the winter, or just ask them what they need. You can spend money to help them without the risk of them using it for illicit activities.

On the other hand, I’m tempted to argue that ignorance plays quite a big role in a person’s decision not to donate. You think homeless people are all drug addicts? The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, a nonprofit, found that the main cause of homelessness was “insufficient income and lack of affordable housing,” and for women, it was domestic violence. The National Coalition for the Homeless agrees, citing factors such as poverty, lack of work opportunities, and a dearth of affordable housing as some of the main causes of homelessness. In pretty much every reputable listing, drug and alcohol addictions are rarely the top causes of homelessness. Chances are that if you donate, you’re helping victims of circumstance. They are human beings, and yes, they deserve sustenance and a good morning just as much as you do.

But let us, for argument’s sake, assume that your money went to someone who is a drug addict. If you took my first suggestion and gave them food or water or something else they needed, this is a nonissue. Just because someone is struggling with addiction doesn’t mean they don’t deserve the same respect as any other human being. They have a right to be alive regardless of whether or not they made a good decision. When college students go overboard at parties and need to be rushed to the hospital to have their stomachs pumped, do we turn our collective societal noses up at them? We may scold them once they’re recovered, but we will race to save them in the moment. Sure, they made a poor decision, which is something they will hopefully realize in the future. But in that moment when they are struggling, they deserve compassion. We will save their life despite their mistakes because we recognize that there is inherent value in human life. So that cocaine addict you bought a hamburger and a couple of Gatorades for? They deserve it. They deserve to live. You shouldn’t be angry that you helped keep another person alive. I shouldn’t have to remind you that they’re someone’s child, someone’s brother or sister, the love of someone’s life. It doesn’t matter that they’re a gifted writer, a math whiz, love to play with kids, or that they make a mean grilled cheese sandwich. They have a right to exist because they are human, and no addiction will ever make their life worth less than yours.

So stop griping about giving your money to homeless people. You can take steps to ensure the money is not spent on an addiction, and if you don’t, then you haven’t earned any right to complain.

Finally able to say that one line from Hamilton about being 19. Avid reader, novelist, spaghetti enthusiast, and Eminem's biggest fan. Follow me on Instagram @rhiannon.winner and on Twitter @rhitweetings

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