I was eating lunch at an outdoor table with a few friends while visiting in Austin last week when several homeless guys walked by. One stopped a the table next to us and asked if they had any change.
One of my companions turned to our table. "They shouldn't do that." She said.
"Shouldn't do what?"
"They shouldn't ask people who are eating for change."
This is one of the difficulties of this job. "They" aren't "they" anymore. While I probably agree, its probably rude to ask people for money while they eat, it's different to make such a statement when the person asking is Jo, or Jose, or Juan, not "that guy". And the more people I've met, the less I can see "that guy" as "other". I don't know him, but I know others like him. I have people I could call "friend" who ask people--indeed who ask ME, for change.
Many visitors to Worcester Fellowship ask about change. "Should we give people who are asking for money any money?"
One answer is easy. "This ministry is not about giving people money. Worcester Fellowship doesn't give people money."
"But should we, you know, the rest of the time? Should we give people money?"
I've spent a fair amount of time searching for proof that the Bible doesn't ask us to give poor people money. Unfortunately, it does. In proverbs it says "if someone asks you for money, give it to them." Damn.
"But won't they use it for alcohol, or drugs?"
"Yup, some will. Alcohol, drugs, cigarettes. And also for coffee at Dunkin' Donuts so they can use the bathroom. And phone cards so they can be called for jobs. And a chocolate bar. And a lottery ticket."
The fact is, except for cigarettes and drugs, I've used MY money for all those things, too.
Here is my advice. Decide for yourself about the money. But look the person in the eye when you say "yes" or "no". And ask "how are you today?" And smile. And think of them as "Jo" or "Jose" or "Juan" and not as "them". Maybe say a prayer.
People shouldn't have to ask people who are eating lunch for spare change. That I know for sure!