My Two Cents

Victoria Lemon, Co-Editor in Chief

Walking down Michigan Avenue, the tall buildings glistening overhead, a man with a small dog and a wheelchair sits at the street corner with a sign that reads, “Money 4 food.” Feeling unsure of what to do, you give him a wide breadth and guiltily hurry away, not knowing whether to look or to avoid eye contact. You have heard the rumors, “All they will ever spend it on is drugs and alcohol,” but your heart hurts as you pass by. The struggle of whether to give or not to give money to homeless individuals on the street is one that people of all ages are faced with, especially those who live in more densely populated areas. Although giving money directly to homeless people has the potential to alleviate their immediate needs, the best way to benefit the homeless population is through hands on volunteering and providing a way out of poverty. 

Homelessness is a widespread issue that affects multiple sectors of the population and is prevalent in the Chicagoland area. According to the Chicago Tribune, “With more than 80,000 people who are homeless or lacking adequate shelter in Chicago, according to a May 2018 Chicago Coalition for the Homeless analysis of 2016 census data, this may be a problem you run into almost every day as you make your way through the city.” 

As a result of the ubiquity of homeless people and the severity of their situation, some are inclined to donate money directly to the individual in need. According to Diane O’Connell, a community lawyer for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, “If you believe in the dignity and autonomy of other human beings, then you believe and understand that money is what they need to meet their basic needs.” Regarding the fears that the homeless will simply turn around and spend the money on alcohol and drugs, O’Connell states, “Whether or not a person has an addiction they also have personal needs.” 

Mrs. Williams, a teacher at Wheaton-Warrenville South High School, expressed a similar sentiment when she shared her philosophy from when she used to live in the city. “I don’t feel like it’s my right to impose on someone else what they can and cannot [spend the money on]. They can spend it on whatever because that’s part of human dignity […] You’re not going to save someone from destruction whether you give or don’t give, it’s a systemic problem that stems beyond an individual donation,” Williams stated. 

Some South Students expressed similar viewpoints. Nicolas Kozee reflected, “I’ve always been told that if I give money to homeless people, they’ll just use it for drugs. I don’t think this is always true and frankly, what happens with the money after I give it to someone is none of my business. The changes of the money I give being used to help someone outweighs any possible negative outcomes.” 

While it is true that donating money directly to those in need has the potential to be very effective in eliminating their short term hardships, this method is not without repercussions. According to The Atlantic, “We choose to donate money based on the level of perceived need. Beggars known this, so there is an incentive on their part to exaggerate their need, by either lying about their circumstances or letting their appearance visibly deteriorate rather than seek help.” In a sense, donating enables the beggar to remain a beggar. 

Although donating money has certain drawbacks, these drawbacks can be eliminated when the donation is accompanied by support. The old proverb comes to mind, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” The homeless do not just need money, they need a way off the streets and a way to get started–they need a guiding hand. Instead of donating to the individual, effectively giving a fish to feed them for the day, people should donate to charitable organizations that have the necessary tools to provide services such as addiction recovery, medical care, job placement, shelter, food, sanitation, and other necessities that plague the homeless population and make getting off the streets so difficult. 

To this end, according to The Atlantic, “If we drop change in a beggar’s hand without donating to a charity, we’re acting to relieve our guilt rather than [the] underlying crisis of poverty.” Therefore, although the decision is entirely up to the individual and varies based on the situation, it is more beneficial in the long run to donate funds and volunteer at nonprofits that benefit the homeless. In this way, we are donating more than just the loose change from our pockets, we are showing that we care.