Should you give money to the homeless?


written by Lance Steinhibel

“I bet you can’t hit me a quarter” reads my friend Matt’s sign, as he sits on the curb begging for money. We see it every day, someone in need looking for money. As I watched people pass by, only one guy actually threw a handful of change at him. Most would just drop whatever loose change they had in their pocket at his feet. I sat there wondering to myself, how many times have I walked by someone like Matt who is looking for money, and judged them in my head? I was thinking to myself, what are they actually going to do with this money? Are they going to just buy drugs, booze, maybe food, or a night in a hostel? For the longest time that ran through my head as I would walk up to them. Then I started to think about it, if I were going out for a beer with friends, is it any different than if he spends the money on beer? I know some of you are thinking, well he’s homeless, and probably a drunk which makes it worse for him to buy it. Sure, there are many homeless that are alcoholics, but not all of them are.

I met a homeless man recently in Sacramento, and he was drinking a beer as I talked to him. We chatted for a little bit and he apologized for drinking. He told me that he just wanted to feel something. Being on the streets for ten plus years had left him numb to feelings, and having a couple beers was a way to feel something again. As we talked, he remembered the feelings that God gives him each day and how he forgets to ask for them. He feels too ashamed to pray, in fear that God will judge him. He’s trapped in an endless cycle that keeps turning over and over. So, what to do when you see someone like that?

The Bible talks about helping the homeless, and to help those in need. But it’s hard to know everyone’s story and where they are in life. I try to talk with everyone that I see, but I still wonder. Now, I’m not saying that you should never give any money to any homeless person you meet, but I do feel that the Bible lays it out pretty simply. I don’t want to talk about the normal verses that everyone seems to preach on when it comes to homelessness. I feel that the best example comes from Acts 3 when Peter and John are walking in the temple gates. They see a man that is paralyzed, begging for money. As they pass by him they are asked for money. Instead, they respond with prayer for the man who is healed instantly, and goes walking with them, praising the name of the Lord for what happened.

Great story, right? But how does that help me decide if it’s alright to give this guy money or not? Well it comes down to what Peter and John showed us. It’s about finding the true need in someone’s life. We need to look at what a person really needs. Sure, they need money, but sometimes they just need a hug or someone to actually sit down and talk to them as much as they need the money. They need to be treated like a human being and not someone that has been cast aside by society. I have found that the best way to approach this question is to look at this person through the eyes of God. Obviously I don’t have God’s eyes, but we need to try to see them as God sees us. What are we needing in our lives? What differences can we make in their life if we take the time to find the true need in them, instead of walking by and possibly dropping a couple quarters in the cup? Would we see the sick healed, the addictions broken, or their hearts restored?

Sometimes I feel like I’m not going to make a difference; that the problems this person is experiencing are too much for me to do anything about it. If we think that way and approach someone with the mindset that we are going to fix everything at once, we are going to be let down so many times.I’m not saying that we can’t fix any problems they might have. However, trying to fix all of them at once is a lot to take on, especially for one person. I try to approach it thinking that I will try to meet the need that God is putting on my heart for this person. Sometimes it’s giving them money, talking to them, praying for them, or even giving them a cigarette. Now, I know I just made some of you wonder why I am I handing out cigarettes to the homeless. If you ever want to talk to a homeless person and have them stay for awhile, I have found that they will talk to you forever if you give them one. I get asked for cigarettes all the time while I am on the streets with the cross talking with people. You would be surprised at how effective it is.

We need to be seeking God’s heart for everyone that we meet, not just the homeless. Everyone is in need of something. Most of us forget to ask those that we know, and look into their lives to see if they need anything until they ask us. If we are truly going to be an effective help in anyone’s life, we must learn to be available. Not in a way that is convenient for us, but in a way that opens our lives up to anyone that we meet. We must learn to truly love our neighbor as ourselves. Sometimes it seems easier to help someone that is homeless, or someone that we don’t know but if we truly want to call ourselves friends to anyone that we know, we must learn how to reach out to them, and help them if they are in need. It’s hard to break past the pride. We feel like we are almost shaming our friends by implying that they need help. We must learn how to look past the problem and look at the need, then find a way to meet it. If we are ever to love as God loves us, we must learn how to first forgive as God has forgiven us. For if we look at others and judge them, how can we ever see the true need and hear what God is wanting us to do? We will end up never looking past the judgment.

Please leave me a comment about this article below, I would love to hear your opinions or stories about helping the homeless.

Leave Some Comments

to “Should you give money to the homeless?”
  1. Scott S says:

    Lance –

    In the book “The Shack,” Jesus is telling Mack about all the different kinds of people that eventually choose to follow Him. Mack says, “So, does that mean that all roads lead to you?” Jesus replies, “No, most roads don’t lead anywhere. But what it does mean is that I will travel any road to find you.”

    I love it that you hand out cigarettes as a way of engaging with people. (Have you ever thought about how powerfully you are communicating non-judgment with that gesture?) That is such a great example of culturally relevant mission. Go Lance! Go Jesus!

  2. Clay Politz says:

    Great perspective Lance. It’s so easy to just drop a few dimes on someone and continue living with no empathy. One night my friend Charles and I were walking the streets of New Orleans and when a guy asked us for money Charles asked him what he needed. The guy was honest and said he just wanted a beer, so Charles said, “come walk with us and I’ll get you a beer.” We walked to a homeless shelter that had been badly damaged by a hurricane and rumaged through all the old books they were throwing away. Then we walked downtown bought the guy a beer and he walked with us to a big outdoor music event. All the while, my friend, Charles is very attentive to this guy, listening to this his story and sharing the gospel message. This homeless guy did not decide to follow christ from this encounter, but I know for sure that the soil of his heart had been plowed deeply.

  3. Brandt Russo says:

    Oh man, where do I start. I was recently doing a bible study on the Proverbs 31 woman and ran across these passages in verses 6&7.

    “Give beer to those who are perishing, wine to those who are in anguish; let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more.”

    It came out of no where, but reminds me a lot of your friend who was trying so hard to merelt feel again. I think the bottom line is he heart behind EVERYTHING we do. As if the lie we tell when we claim to have no money when asked is any better then this hypothetical vice we are convinced they have. Its amazing what taking the time getting to know someone will reveal about not only their heart and life, but our own.

    In the case of Peter and John in Acts 3, they didnt say, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, heres a sandwich.” It was “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk”.

    Two things to note here. They didnt actually have money to have (if they had they probably would have given), but even when they didnt have something monetary to give, they still had Gods spirit working in them. There are so many dynamics we miss in this, but the bottom line is that they gave until they had NOTHING to give (2 corinthians 6) and then gave some more. Jesus said to give to all who ask, and they surely made that their lifestyle.

    When we ask God for bread, he doesnt give us a rock. Who are we to judge. I say give. Start with you have and as the relationship grows, there will be more leverage to speak into their lives about their vices (if this is an issue of them being broken and us being fixed). Lets learn to love our neighbors as ourselves.

  4. Matthias Olson says:

    Great article Lance. I find myself judging others constantly, especially when it comes to the homeless. I’m constantly in downtown Minneapolis and there’s always guys hanging out by the side of the road with signs asking for money. I usually don’t have any money and always feel awkward driving or walking by these guys. I’ve realized that a simple hello and acknowledgment can go a long way. Thanks for the article.

  5. Patti Helzer says:

    Lance thank you so much for this article. It is thoughtful and thought provoking. I met you last June at the ARC meeting … and was on the team that ministered in Skid Row. This article is such a great reminder and in many ways you simplified something that can seem so complicated. Just be Jesus … quit judging … love … open your eyes … open your heart … listen … be creative … think outside the box – i.e. passing out cigarettes!

    I remember once while minsitering in Egypt a pastor telling me how it is always an honor when God allows you to hold someone elses tears! That is the work that you are doing and that we should all be doing … holding the tears of a broken heart and offering them up to God in prayer!

    Much grace and love to you!

    God Bless,

  6. Andy says:

    That was a good thought provoking article lance. My congregation does a street ministry where we give out “life packs” which would include some basic necessities like food, blanket, water, bible, and other assorted items. We go out and first tell people the gospel and ask them if they want prayer. When we are done we tell them that we are giving in the name of Jesus. We dont hand out money because that is not what they need. That is just a means to get what they need. I dont feel like handing out cigarettes or buying someone a beer is a good idea. I believe in a healing Jesus and giving them something that will continue an addiction would not be something that would be good for anyone. Jesus didnt use wine to get people to listen to him… what did Jesus say … If they dont want to hear the gospel message you are supposed to shake the dust off your feet and move on to someone who will listen. In most of my encounters I have only had a few times where people wouldnt listen or want prayer anyways.

    God Bless,


  7. Tarrin McDonald says:

    Aw man, I wrote a nice big reply and it got deleted 🙁 But here’s the gist:

    It’s all about relationships.

    I run a ministry to the homeless that I like to call “The Bagel Ministry.” Every Sunday me and a few others head out to “The Zone,” an area of spiritual and physical poverty right down the street from City Hall, and we hand out bagels, lemonade, and water.

    At first, it was discomforting being asked for money. Sometimes I had some, sometimes I didn’t, but the worry I always had was that once I gave one person money, the other 200 people there in line would want some too, and I just don’t have the financial resources to do that. As time went on (I have now been going out every week for over a year) the requests for money stopped because people became familiar with me. We began talking and having relationships. Instead of asking for money, people now offer to help set up our canopy, pass out food to their friends, and help us clean up after. This is the power of God. “Silver and Gold have I none…” but we’ve got the love of Christ to share.

    This also reminds me of Mark 1: 31 when Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law: “And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them.” When we see and feel Jesus’ restoring power, we have a desire to serve him. When the people we serve downtown see Jesus in us, they begin to serve one another. Love trumps money.

  8. Leah says:

    Excellent article… I love your thought process! I think that you have a point and it was encouraging to hear that a fellow brother in Christ is willing to take the time with a homeless person and hear their heart. In my own mind I have to remind myself that it is not the outward appearance or circumstance or even the “incorrect” world view that the Lord sees instead it is THE HEART that Jesus observes. The inner workings are what moves His heart. So ya, you were right on. I would love to right articles too… How do I get involved?

  9. Larry Woulfe says:

    Lance, give a person a cigarette in order to share the Gospel with them. That is awesome. Never thought of that. What a great idea. Filtered or non filtered? Anyway nice job on the article. <

  10. Great article man! I really love what Dorothy Day says. “If you have 2 coats, just know that you’ve stolen one.” She is highlighting the fact that God has made enough for all, but we have jacked up the distribution. I will gladly give my money AND time to those who find themselves in desperate situations. I don’t ask what the money is going to be used for…that is up to the individual. what is important is to see the person as Christ and to become so interconnected that their sobriety and salvation ends up saving you from your own addictions as well. in the short-term though i will always give food, money, etc. because people need to eat and be clothed and be healthy and have homes and support.

    beautiful stuff! keep it up.

  11. Patricia Hermelink says:

    Very good article! There are times when cash is the REAL issue for a homeless person, but in my experience, it is not very often. Their immediate needs can most often be met with tangible items or food or shelter.

    When I worked for a church for the homeless in Pittsburgh, PA, our rule of thumb was to never give cash. If a person needed cash, they knew to ask a pastor who would help them with their purchase and then get reimbursed by the church. This just kept things above board and accountability in tack.

    At least in PA, CO, and KS, the welfare system is available for the poorest of the poor that have no income. Of course, when it comes to dealing with state or federal governments you must have a residence, or at least a mailing address for contact. This is difficult with the homeless because sometimes many of them become content with their living situations and are not looking to get better. Still, for the ones you can persuade, a shelter address will do to get them into the system and receiving foodstamps and emergency cash income. That is, until they can find a job.

    The problem I have found with those who are chronicly homeless is more emotional, mental, and spiritual than it is physical. So often there are controling spirits and mental health issues for these people. Sin done and sin perpetrated against them, unforgiveness, bitterness, etc has complicated their pysches to produce illness that has crippled their wills and ambitions to lead productive lives and take responsibility for their own health and welfare. Depression sets in and then you have a cycle of oppression/depression that is almost insurmountable for most to climb out of.

    Praying for you and your ministry Lance! Keep bolstered in the Word and in fellowship with strong believers.

  12. andrew schmidt says:

    your heart for the downtrodden is huge and seems to keep growing!
    you are an inspiration to me. your article/blog or whatever we call these things now a days confirmed in me what i heard the other day when. just do it and listen all the while.
    keep us the good work.
    vli compatriot from OP

  13. Stephanie says:

    OK so I just stumbled on this site like 5 minutes ago crazy amazing, I like what I see. So I am from the beautiful town of Austin Texas. Starting when I was about 16 I met a guy named Gino he went to my church and was always barefoot. He and his friend decided that if there where millions of people that could not have shoes then they willed not either. (Until I introduced them to TOMS) They also decided to be homeless for a year this is about the time I met them. We started hanging out and he took to my first homeless camp. We just hung out and chatted with them. Well little did I know this is where I would spend almost every weekend that I did not have a soccer game or cheer competition? I became there family we would have cook outs and talk about all the people they would come in contact with. One guy Gus said “I could be the best witness for God if it was not for pot?” I asked him “why”, “Do you see how many people see me every day at the corner of Mopac and Parmer.” Well now he helps run church under the bridge. These are still people just a bit more Nomadic than most. We all ways heard them say thank you for not running or avoiding us. It gives us hope that one day we can be equal with society. So I would tell everyone maybe just make eye contact or flash a smile. It means more than you think.

  14. Eva says:

    God come to me in August 2000 in my home suddenly and change me instantly so that I in December 2000 walk away from my abusive husband and my home and kids and took a airplane away from my country Sweden and to USA without knowing what I should do there.

    I had no money at all and no workpermit when I arrived in Seattle, WA but God made me in 4 months time going away from Seattle and find my way to Chicago to Florida to North Carolina and I come to Virginia Beach area in end of March 2001 without any money of my own.

    Then did I lived as a true homeless for 2 years and even if I find me a bed for the night every day as I didn’t do any drugs, drinking or even smoke cigarettes.

    After some months as homeless going to those places where I could get a meal a day and clothes to wear did I hear to my surprise that the homeless friends I had wasn’t out of money.

    They told me they was mental retired and got a monthly paycheck of between $600-800 !

    There is room to rent for $75 per months in Virginia Beach area so they don’t need to be homeless, they CHOOSE to be homeless and beg for money instead.

    I come to understand by God’s teaching that we do the opposite when we help those homeless people that get their money every month because many of them wasn’t mental ill they just was playing mental ill because they didn’t wanted to work.

    So by given them money we also help them to make the choice to stay homeless because why should they work when they get their money in other ways ?

    Today am I a Pastor in a church in Florida. I moved back to Sweden in May 2004 because I was going deadly ill of the way people treated me as homeless because the churches and the social service thought I got money from Sweden but I didn’t get one dollar from my country so the only true homeless was me that had no help from anyone more than God.

    Back home do I still struggle of the effect of what to be home less did to my body because I never eat any healthy food for 3 and half years and I was walking daily from morning to night for get help in any church but no one helped me.

    Many churches had request of being member of the church for to could help but how could I be a member when I in my homeless changed the place where I lived so often ?

    I counted out that I in 2 and half year had moved 26 times !!!

    I had no address to write down for the money to send to when it come to those church help where they have to make a decision for some days, that was impossible for me.

    The most embaressing was when I had my monthly bleeding. I had to ask sometimes men for some pads of different sizes to stop the bleeding. If you should give something….give pads to women that am in the age of could get kids ! I had to ask every day for pads.

    I was woking my last year in USA as a living-in-nanny for muslims from Afganisthan so to not think wrong here but for me was the terrorist attack a blessing because this family couldn’t get any american to be in their home after September 11 but I got both a job and a place to stay because of that even if they treated me so bad as a slave in their family.

    My kids father could send me a flight-ticket back home when I had an address or else had I died in USA because back home was I laying immidetly in the hospital because I was so sick.

    I give homeless sometimes something when they ask and that is something sweet because I know since I was homeless that they need sugar those who do drugs.

  15. Rebekah Sabatini says:

    Great article Lance.
    I am glad you are still carrying the cross. I still find it an honor to have been able to carry the cross with you those times back in the day.

    I enjoyed reading this article as it even helps me here in Kolkata India. Needs are so great, yet when we look at them with the eyes of God and see what it is that they truly need…that is when we will begin to see changes come to their life.

    thank you for sharing. it encouraged me today! i would love for you to come and carry the cross through Kolkata someday!

  16. Quinn says:

    Thanks for the article. I have only lived in two cities in my life, and both of those cities have a huge homeless community. Even growing up in church, it was widely taught that you should not give the homeless money, but you should give them food (either what you have, or offer to buy). While this was taught with good intentions, I think that it prevented people from actually interacting with the homeless. After a lot of thought, I came to my own conclusion that it doesn’t matter what they do with the money. I believe that Christians are supposed to give freely, and our responsibility is to give what we can, whether it be money, food, an ear to listen, or arms to hug. It is not our responsibility to make sure that the person uses what we give them in the way that we think that it should be used. I don’t always practice what I preach, and I am certainly just a guilty as judging as anyone else. However, it makes me even more greatfull for grace and the fact that I have the ability to improve and become more like Christ everyday.

  17. PaulFan says:

    Hmmm. Well, I don’t think I will have time to find out what each homeless person needs when I come across them, so giving them a few bucks will have to do for now. Should we give them money? What will they do with the money? Look, if you give them money and they do something good with it- like feed themself, that is great. If, per chance, they buy booze with it, then I don’t think God will judge you negatively for that.

    It is a good thing to give to others. It is bad to judge others capriciously. Think about that and then decide whether you will give a homeless person a few bucks next time you see them.

  18. You make a good point that everyone is in need, not just the homeless. Sin and separation from God is a worldwide epidemic.

    We need to have sensitive hearts to provide a ministry of word (gospel proclamation) and deed (meeting needs) to those we meet on a regular basis.

    There are also layers of needs that must be looked at when addressing the issue of homelessness. You have very real and present needs like thirst, hunger, shelter and safety, but then you also have deeper needs such as a lack of job skills, lack of life skills, illiteracy etc.

    I think we need to meet as many as we can. Sometimes that means caring enough to bring them to an organization that can assist in some of those deeper-seated issues.

    Can we on an individual basis meet everyone’s need – no. But if we can develop a heart like Jesus that is willing to reach out to the downcast I think we can make a change, perhaps one life at a time.

    If you have trouble giving cash, then buy McDonald’s or Subway gift cards and hand those out – then you know that the money you give is going for food.

    Looks like you guys are doing some good work – keep it up.

  19. Uncle B says:

    Feed the poor starving bastards! Best of all be careful how you vote! These poor victims of recession cannot protect themselves from the American Medical Cartel and its insurance companies who actually are cutting costs by upping the ‘anti ‘for health insurance and kicking the poorer bastards off the plans – as bad as Nazi Germany did to the Jews of another age, these poor rascals are being refused humane medical care, and are left begging for even bandages for weeping cancers, morphine for the pain! In America! Today! For curable diseases! They are forsaken! This genetic cleansing of the American population must be stopped before the levels for the “kick-off” reach you and me. Corporatists with their actuaries are determining who gets medical care. Not Doctors! The equations they use to decide who dies without care are based on corporate profit margins, not medical facts! The whole thing needs nationalization much like the police forces and the Armies – give everyone a fair chance at survival! Stop Medical Practitioners from profiting on the dead and dying. America! Show your humanity and vote for better than this!

  20. Dave Brueck says:

    Howdy, Y’all have been on my heart and in my prayers the last couple days. God bless the love of Jesus Christ that you share daily. I was looking y’all up online and got this article url at the top of my search. I had not read it last year but it’s a fresh word today. I hope that others continue to find this and are blessed with it’s truth and encouragement.

    Acts 3 is very powerful for my wife and I… part of the heart to our ministry to Pastors and Missionaries. God used verse 4 to increase my knowledge of how he work through me to love others. Let God’s compassion show through your eye contact…. eyes to see!

    I try to stop and spend time, make eye contact, get to know my brother…. share a meal if time permits. But trusting God’s Spirit in me for that time and that person; what would He have me give… that gift is in the name of Jesus! God bless all of you as the Holy Spirit moves through you in His daily miracles.

    Hope to see y’all this year….. keep on keep’n on

  21. shinie says:

    yes there are homeless the downtrodden and the poor every wherein this wide world where we live .and it is our duty to help them in any way we I my brothers keeper ,yes we are.The Bible tells us that the poor will not cease from the land ,and my personal view is that as long as we hoard and accumulate things and live in llarge housesthe people who are in actual need will suffer. we spend so much on so many unwanted things which is enoughfor a poor family to live in a year but our hands and our hearts are closed and our ears eyes are closed. may the almighty GOD the maker of heaven and the earth forgive us. Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy.

  22. JackieZ says:

    Last night my friends and I went on a mission we had been planning for awhile: we distributed cigarettes and liquor to the homeless. We bundled up a pack of cigarettes, a pack of matches, a mini bottle of liquor, and 2 candy canes into each Christmas sack and drove around downtown between 11:00 pm and 1:00 am, well after the shelters had closed for the night. We were looking for the older chronically homeless and alcoholic and we found them, although they were scarce. These were not panhandlers or hustlers, just men beaten down by life and addiction with no scam to run and no hope left. I cannot tell you how grateful each one was to recieve these coveted items – over the top delighted and flabbergasted – and they enthusiastically and sincerely wished us a Merry Christmas as we did them. I am familiar with the homeless services here and I know that food and shelter is abundant but that what some people really truly need is a break from scrambling to feed their addictions. These guys we reached last night were able to kick back and have a lovely drink and smoke an entire fresh pack of cigarettes and ponder that maybe there is a God, after all, and that maybe He really does care about them.

  23. Trina says:

    Good Morning everyone ! Ok first a homeless person feels bad enough being on the streets. Its times they are without foods for days a shower , no clean things to put on , if they ask for money give it to them . We are not God we are just people he send to help in time of need . Stop wondering why the person is there . Only god known it is none of our business? If u want to help do so don’t do what god job is . If you have time you can give a homeless person do it . But never walk away without making sure they has food or some kind of money its not right , I would give my last and I have not work in over 3 years never know how my bills will get pay . But god always works it out ! So please give what you can it makes all the different in the world . Everything I do I do for god I so want to be like him . Love a homeless person no matter what going on ? Thanks amen

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