Panhandlers: A Moral Conundrum?

According to some Mormons, the best reason for giving to panhandlers is (Mos. 4:16):

. . . ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.

King Benjamin Insisting That We Help the Poor

Another Mormon scripture (Mormon 8:39) reads:

Why do ye adorn yourselves with that which hath no life, and yet suffer the hungry, and the needy, and the naked, and the sick and afflicted to pass by you, and notice them not?

Nate Oman, writing for T&S (6 Apr 2012), states:  “For many people, being confronted by a panhandler presents a moment of profound moral choice.  I think these people are confused.”  Oman’s solution, don’t give.  “Giving cash to someone on the street may well facilitate self-destructive behavior.”

At Least He's Honest!

Oman’s article engendered a great many intelligent comments.  DavidH writes,

. . . a visitor interested in Mormonism made an interesting point in Sunday School. . .  The visitor, who had seen more than her share of tough times and who had family members with serious addictions, said “An addict rarely starts to recover until s/he hits bottom.”

And a donation, even if used for self-destructive behavior, may help the addict hit rock bottom.  An interesting idea.  According to Chris, “Your money won’t change their poverty.  But it could be an act of kindness to show them someone esteems them of worth.”

Howard suggests that “there are a few lazy bums who don’t want to work.  But most of the people living on the streets are mentally ill.”  He further notes that, “if they look sleepy, dirty or lame chances are they need your help because they haven’t enjoyed shelter for a while.  If they look clean and rested chances are they don’t.”  Larry is going to “double [his] Fast Offering contribution.  Which seems like a great idea.

Allison says she “has gotten in the habit of carrying a whole box of granola bars in [her] purse.  No moral ambiguity there, everyone deserves a granola bar.”  DavidH states:

. . . if I’m entering a restaurant (usually fast food) when approached, I sometimes invite them in and buy them a meal.  Or if they do not wish to come in, I buy food and bring it out to them.

According to Anne, “My recommendation is to give a gift card for food (I carry Dunk’n Donets $5 cards).”  But Meldrum the Less has a different idea:  “Campers are told ‘Don’t feed the bears!’  The exact same reasoning applies to panhandling.”

Kevin Barney suggests giving to institutions and facilities instead of panhandlers:

I have long felt that if you really want to succor the poor you should donate to shelters, food banks and other nonprofits that will leverage your contribution and do vastly more good than you as an individual can possibly do for any person on the street.

Anne further notes that: “there’s been a sea change over the last decade or so as systems have shifted away from shelter models to rapid rehousing models.  My daughter was involved with a “rapid rehousing” project near down-town Salt Lake City and was very impressed with the potential benefits.

Dan recommends long-term solutions:

Like strengthening labor laws, providing unemployment benefits to those who lost their jobs, food stamps to people who cannot purchase food, universal health care to ALL children, free education to all.  I know these things are all those dreaded socialist programs y’all on the right hate with a freaking passion, but they ACTUALLY help the poor.

We all need to remember, that “there but by the grace of God go I.”  And if you don’t do anything else, please double your Fast Offerings contributions (if you are Mormon).  And for everybody, support your local “rapid rehousing” projects.

I do agree with Oman when he writes:

I think that C.S. Lewis was right when he suggested that if your charitable giving does not impose some kind of noticable economic pain on you, you probably aren’t giving enough.

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