I think that’s probably the main reason why I’ve never given money to anyone on the street. Ever since I was little, while obediently following my parents around the bustling Chinatown in Lower Manhattan, NYC, I’ve seen homeless (or at least I thought they were homeless) in the streets. I’ve seen beggars trying to make a bit of money by playing erhus to attract tourists. I’ve seen middle-aged men squatting on the sidewalk, staring into space. I’ve seen wrinkled old grandfathers and grandmothers slumped against the walls of dirty buildings watching the rest of the world hurry by them. Though some of them weren’t even asking for money, I always wondered, why are they here? Are they simply sitting there because they want to or do they actually need something? Why doesn’t anyone do something? Why are they all just ignored? Being a quiet, four-year-old child then, I didn’t say a word, much less ask my parents about them. I figured, I’m too small to make a difference, I’ll just wait until I’m older.
So going back to my reason for not giving, both times - when I was in Chinatown and when I was in Los Altos - I didn’t give because I was uncertain of how the beggars would spend the money. But just because I have reservations doesn’t mean I’m excused from giving. I remember a few years back, the pastor at my church talked about how every day, when he goes home from from his office at the church, he drives past a passel of homeless beggars on El Camino Real. Although he wanted to give them money, uncertainty stopped him. His solution? Instead of fishing in his pocket for a dollar, he told the person, “I can’t give you money, but if you’ll wait here for a few minutes, I’ll run into the fastfood restaurant over there and buy you a burger and fries.”
So the next time someone asks you for money, don’t just brush past him - offer to buy him a meal. If it’s not food he wants, find out what it is, whether it be a pair of socks or a train ticket, and buy that for him. By purchasing something that that person could use instead of simply handing him some spare change, we can still give while knowing where our money just went. After all, money isn’t the only way to help a person - food, clothing, toiletries, or another small offering can brighten that person’s day as well.
Article by Lauren Kam