Sunday, January 14, 2007

Crocodile and Alligator

My dad (Robert Haugaard) made up this joke, which I thought was pretty good:
A crocodile thought he was an alligator, but he was in denial.

Monday, January 08, 2007

How Should We Give to the Poor?

I see them at freeway exits and on the sidewalks in shopping areas. Men and women with signs that say they're homeless, asking for money. And frankly, I'm very unsure what to do.

Jesus was pretty clear that his followers need to give to the poor, but then Paul says that "If a man will not work, he shall not eat" (2 Thes. 3:10).

What troubles me is when I see the same people, day after day, who seem to be making a career out of begging. I see men and women with "I am homeless" signs who are smoking and drinking large coffees from fast food stores and listening to an iPod (or some digital device). Is that what the money they get is buying?

I see freeway exits without anyone begging, then a bit later, every exit is covered. I've even seen what seems to be sort of a changing of the guard, with one homeless person walking away and another taking his sign and resuming the begging, as if one person is going off duty and another going on. It's almost as if it is organized. And when it seems organized, it begins to seem like a con.

I've seen people who are probably illegal Mexican aliens lining up near a building supply store by a freeway exit to do what is probably some seriously hard day labor while a small distance away are people asking for a handout. Why aren't they doing day labor, too? Are Mexicans the only ones who can work hard?

My mother was approached by a woman outside a grocery store who asked for money to feed her children. Sure, my mother told her, she'd go back in the store and buy her a chicken and some rice. No, the woman said, she wanted money to take her kids to McDonalds.

I've been told by co-workers that they've seen a guy who begs down the street from our office get into a pickup truck and drive away.

So on the one hand, I want to help, but on the other hand - like Paul - don't want to encourage laziness. I realize that some of what I see - the bad use of money, for example - could be partly tied to mental problems, but on the other hand, I think some of it is a con job or a simple disinclination to work.

One solution is to give to organizations that specifically work with the homeless, and sometimes I do that, but that also feels a bit "hands-off-ish," as if I want to avoid any personal contact with people in need. And that is - I hate to say - partly true. In fact, one reason I sometimes do give directly to people on the street is because I want to force myself to be a bit more personal, something I am not naturally inclined to be.

But on the other hand, giving money to people on the street may just be feeding an ugly addiction or rewarding con artists or helping people avoid getting assistance for their problems.

So I wrestle with this. Not whether to give - that's commanded - but how to give wisely and within the time I have available.

If you have any thoughts, I'd like to hear them and maybe post them here.