Money To Live

August 8, 2008

Giving to the homeless

Filed under: philanthropy — by moneytolive @ 5:00 am
Tags: ,

If you are reading this, you probably have enough money to live, but an estimated 123,833 people in the United States do not.

In Princeton, I saw a homeless person sleeping in a neighborhood park on Sunday. This rarely happens because the homeless community is kept away from the university and downtown area. Most of the time, I don’t see it, so I don’t think about it.

Moving to northern Virginia (today actually!), I’ll be spending some of my weekends in DC, which has a large homeless population of more than 6,000 people.

I think it is ok to be homeless. By chance, I won the evolutionary lottery and was born in a developed country with the mental capabilities and emotional temperament that make it pretty easy for me to find work and hold down a steady job. A few thousand years ago, practically everyone was homeless. Some people might still like it that way, and that is ok with me. (Digging through a trash can is like hunting for berries in a forest). That said, it is not acceptable to leave children on the streets.

Even though I think it is ok, I am pretty uncomfortable when I see a homeless person because I start debating whether or not to give a him a few dollars. Writing a check once a year to a homeless shelter or innovative initiative will not make me feel better when I see someone on the street.

Some ideas that I have heard that I like are

  • In the summer, carry unopened bottled water and give that out.
    But, water is heavy.
  • Give out day old (or week old) bread from restaurants or grocery stores.
    Same problem as water, this is heavy and bulky.
  • Pass out information about local shelters and resources.
    This is not a good fit for me — I would like to do something more direct.

My current idea is to give out McDonald’s gift certificates in small denominations.

  • McDonalds is everywhere, so it is likely that the certificates can be spent easily.
  • A few dollars at McDonalds buys a lot of food — certainly not the healthiest, but enough to fill a hungry belly.
  • McDonalds is safe, clean, and climate controlled (warm in winter, cool in summer), and if you buy something you can use the bathroom.
  • The money cannot be directly spent on beer/liquor (though who am I to judge, maybe a beer would be better than a salad or sandwich).

What do you think? What do you do when you see a homeless person?

I’ll keep you posted and let you know how this goes.

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1 Comment »

  1. Your blog is interesting!

    Keep up the good work!

    Comment by AlexM — August 17, 2008 @ 6:22 pm |Reply


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