Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The poor you will always have . . . and doubts

Just the other day an incident happened that really upset me. It upset me enough to want to discuss it here. I’m angry with the way I reacted. I am second-guessing myself, even after many hours have passed. I just don’t know the best way to handle situations like this.

Maybe there never will be a best way.

I work in Pittsburgh PA, USA. It’s not a huge metropolitan area by any stretch, but we have our share of city concerns. In my situation just the other day, it was the homeless.

I often walk during my lunch break. I need to step away from my desk and computer and the software I’m working on. Just the other day, a woman, perhaps in her early 40’s, sat on the steps of the City-County Building.

“Sir, can you help me? Sir . . .”

I stopped. I had seen her walking the streets earlier in the morning. “Please, Sir. I’m homeless and I haven’t eaten in two days.”

I don’t like doling out money to the homeless for many reasons. Within a half of a block, I knew of a Jimmy John’s sandwich shop, a sidewalk hotdog vendor, and a Dunkin' Donuts. “Come on,” I said. “I’ll get you something to eat.”

“Friday’s,” she said and pointed over her shoulder. “On Fifth.”

I stared at her. Was she scamming me? As far as I knew, there weren’t any Friday’s downtown. “I don’t know where that is,” I replied.

“Up on Fifth. I’ll take the bus.”

Unsure of the situation, I still grabbed my wallet. “I have a couple of bucks I can give you.” I started to pull out two $1.00 bills.

“I need ten dollars!” she begged. “Can I have ten dollars?”

My hand stopped and I glared at her, anger rising. “You’re sitting there begging and you’re telling me how much to give?” I snapped.  I shoved my money and wallet back into my pocket and walked away.

Even now as I post this, her cries for forgiveness echo in my ears. Yes, I am second-guessing myself.

The Bible is full of admonitions regarding the poor and fatherless. However, we’re also to be wise. I am not deaf to the plight of others. I regularly volunteer at a community food bank. My wife and I have stood on the streets of Pittsburgh several times with a local ministry, feeding the homeless. I had visited and counseled inmates in a maximum-security prison for several years.

Still, in this one incident, with this one woman at the City-County Building, I am second-guessing myself. Could I have handled it differently? Was I right to get angry? Maybe there were mental issues. Was I just being a good steward with my money?  

A verse keeps circling in my head: “when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters . . .”

Doubt is a terrible feeling.


  1. I think she was scamming you. If she was that hungry, she would have accepted whatever you had to offer her, not told you what she wanted. To claim she wanted money to take the bus to another area to eat, just shows she was only interested in the money. Otherwise, she would have been begging for money close to the Friday's. You offered to help her, but she rejected your offer and made a demand instead. I don't believe in giving money when you don't know what it is going to be used for. For all you know, it could be feeding an addiction (cigarettes, alcohol, drugs) in which case, you're doing more harm than good by giving them money. Offering to take them somewhere and feed them is the best solution. And I know from experience that you go above and beyond when it comes to helping the less fortunate, as well as your own friends. So don't feel guilty at all brother. You didn't refuse to help anyone. You stopped to try to help (which most people wouldn't do to begin with), she refused your help and made a demand, and you moved on.

  2. Keep in mind in that verse you mentioned, Jesus said "my brothers and sisters." He was only referring to the sheep - his people. Plus in that passage, Jesus has already separated the sheep from the goats. The judgment has taken place; the sheep don't even realize that they have done good works.

    All this is to reassure you that you don't need to feel guilty about this. Living in LA, it was quite dangerous to give money to every panhandler out there. I did try to give some spare change when I could, but I would have gone broke had I tried to help every single person.