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Do Whatever You Want

Do Whatever You Want

Peace House Community By MARTI MALTBY When people find out that I have worked with the homeless, they sometimes ask me if they should give money to panhandlers. I used to give the standard social work answer: “If you give them money, it could be used for drugs or alcohol. It’s better to give them a snack, or to donate money to agencies that help the homeless.” Eventually I realized how insulting and hypocritical that answer was. It’s insulting because it reinforces the stereotype that people are homeless because they use drugs and alcohol, or that all the homeless use drugs and alcohol. It also implies that they don’t know any better than to blow their money on things that won’t improve their situation. And this coming from social workers who say we’re trying to reduce the stigma of homelessness, and that we care for the people we “serve”. It’s also hypocritical because it implies that the homeless shouldn’t drink, even though it’s okay for others. If you have dinner at my house, I’m likely to offer you wine or beer with the meal. Not only am I removing any doubt about whether the money will be used for alcohol, I’m actively promoting the consumption of “spirits”. Heaven forbid someone who is homeless touch alcohol, though. These days, when I’m asked about giving out money, I just say “Do whatever you want.” I don’t mean to sound flippant when I say this (okay, yes, I do), but I want to recognize that there is no one answer that will fit each situation. If someone feels strongly that they should not hand out money, I have no objection. I just ask that they say “no” respectfully and without derision. If they want to offer the person a snack or some socks instead, wonderful. But if someone decides to give money to a panhandler, trusting that they will use it to buy themselves food or to get on a bus, I won’t criticize them. They are being generous and showing faith in another person’s goodness and [...]

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