Turning off of I-70 onto the Range Line exit, you coast down the hill, and come to a stop at the red light. Right outside of your driver’s window, not two feet away, is a man standing. He's holding up a cardboard sign, and looking out of the corner of your eye, you read, "Hungry. Homeless. Anything helps. God bless." His facial hair is out of control, his clothing is tattered and filthy, and you can see his big toe popping out of the tip of his tennis shoe. The man clearly looks like he is struggling. He makes eye contact with you. What do you do?
When traveling through Columbia, chances are you will encounter at least one person holding up a cardboard sign with writing that says something along the lines of, "Hungry and homeless" The decrease in employment and economic hard times have played a role in homelessness. Some can’t purchase a home because of housing discrimination against their race. Many people with mental health issues find it difficult to get a job. However, how often are these people that you see holding up that sign on the side of the road actually homeless? I was curious to dig a little deeper and do some research. How many people will spare a few bucks to help that man out, and how many will turn their heads and pretend he isn't standing there?
I decided to create a survey. What I had expected to find from my results was that the majority would say that they never give homeless people money. However, to my surprise, the results were mixed. I surveyed 41 people, and 54% said they never give homeless people money, while 46% said they do sometimes. My next question was, “Why?” The majority of the 46% said that they will give the homeless money if the individual really looks like they are in need. I assume what they mean by that is their appearance, and how rough they look. Four individuals claimed that you should be compassionate and help the less fortunate. It’s easy to spare extra change lying around your car. Another respondent put themself in the homeless person’s shoes and said, “If I were homeless or stranded I’d want someone to help me.” If you try to see things from his/her perspective, you might be more apt to help. One person’s response said they give them money because of guilt. I would assume that an example of this would be the homeless who have a dog with them in the middle of winter. It’s a sure way to get more money. The individual will feel guilty if they don’t help out the dog. So, why don’t the 54% ever give homeless people money? The bulk of them said that they do not truly believe they are homeless. Most of them said they believed they were just lazy. While that was the more popular answer, four individuals said that they believe the homeless should have to work for their money, like everyone else. In my opinion, I’m not sure if this is a fair answer. A lot of those individuals are homeless people they can’t obtain a job, and they are simply doing what they can. A response I do agree with though, is that the homeless man or woman might spend the money that you give them on their addiction, like drugs or alcohol. In many cases, an addiction is how a lot of those people ended up homeless, and they spend every single day begging for the cash that will feed their addiction. Another response that made a really good point said, “Many times giving them money just encourages them to never try to get a job and earn their own money.” I really like this reply because it has some truth. Two survey responses said they never give homeless people money because they look rough, and are afraid to. This answer doesn’t surprise me. The violence in Columbia continues to grow every day, and you can’t trust a lot of strangers anymore. They can be unpredictable.
I personally never give homeless people money, because I believe most of them, at least around Columbia, are not really homeless. I will, however, give them food. My mom told me a story about how her friend and she actually picked up a homeless man once. They took him to a restaurant to buy him a meal. However, after he let my mom and her friend buy him the meal, he admitted to having a job, and said that acting homeless got him a lot of extra cash. I was astonished at how selfish the man was. My step-dad told me about a homeless man who would park his BMW two blocks down the road, and walk to the corner to beg for cash. These are prime examples of why you can’t trust all homeless individuals. It disgusts me that there are so many individuals acting homeless because they are too lazy to get a job, or want the easy, extra cash. The sad truth is that there are people on the streets who are actually homeless, and truly do need help, but are being mistaken for the ones who are faking it. Many individuals in our culture have grown lazy, and can be very selfish. They don’t want to work for their money, so they stand at the street corner and lie about being homeless. For many of them, they are merely feeding their addiction. Every dollar you give them is going to drugs and/or alcohol. They do not want a job, and do not plan on ever getting one. However, for those who are actually homeless, they are taking it day-by-day, doing the best they can. But what do my survey results say about our culture? I have considered the possibility that bias could contaminate the results. One may conform to an answer that is “socially acceptable.” I believe my results show that our culture holds a variety of individuals. Many are very generous to give to others, but can be naïve. Others are more cautious about the decisions they make. I’d be interested to take my research a little farther. How do the characteristics of these people explain their responses? It could be possible that social classes play a role. Some wealthy people feel like they owe nothing to anybody. They believe they worked for their hard earned money, and the homeless should do the same. People lower on the totem pole know what it’s like to struggle, and are more willing to help out someone in need. I also think it can depend on how individuals are raised. If your parents taught you to be compassionate towards others, you may be more willing to help out the homeless. I think that many people give the homeless money to feel better about themselves. Rather than doing it to help them out, they do it to say, “I did a good deed today.” I am in no way saying that this pertains to a certain group of people. I trust that there are good hearted people, who will do anything to help out another individual in need. My question mentioned earlier was, “How many people that you see holding up that sign on the side of the road are actually homeless?” In general, they all look the same, so how will you know? You won’t. A person who owns a two story home and drives a BMW may put on the filthiest clothes they own, grease up their hair, and will look the part. Are you willing to give them money with the possibility that they aren’t homeless? There are alternatives I think you should consider. We should stop giving them money. If we continue to do so, they will continue to come back every day. It’s pretty much a job in itself waking up each morning and going back to the same spot to beg in rain or snow. Why not get a real job then? If their sign says they’re hungry, consider giving them food instead of cash. In that case, you are helping them out, but they will not have cash to spend on items they don’t really need. If the individual is really homeless, they’ll be grateful for the offering. You can help the homeless by informing them about local shelters and donating to homeless organizations. We take for granted the little things in life every day. Most of us have a roof over our head, food in our stomachs, clothes on our backs, and even a bed to sleep in every night. Most of the homeless can’t obtain a job. They live day-by-day, never knowing when their next meal will come. They aren’t begging because they want to. Nobody wakes up and says, “I want to be homeless.” Most of them are there because they have no other options. We cannot control everything that happens in the world. Many people will put themselves in that situation because of an addiction. Others will pretend to be homeless because they’re lazy, and/or want extra cash, and you’ll probably never know the difference. All you can do is show compassion towards others in need, and lend a helping hand. Next time you stop at that red light, and see the man or woman standing next to you, consider what it would be like to be in their shoes – homeless, hungry, and lonely – then make your decision on whether or not to help them out.