The Intermittent Volunteer’s Weblog

Befriending People in Dallas Who Are Homeless

Worthy or Unworthy…Is That the Question? April 28, 2008

“It’s not about whether people are deserving. It’s about our compassion.”

Journal Archives

Monday, 5/9/05

When the subject of  the homeless comes up in general conversation, people frequently want to discuss ‘Unworthy Homeless Persons I Have Encountered.’  Often that single, and sometimes unpleasant, experience with a street person becomes a certain knowledge of the ‘ubiquitous homeless.’  The ‘shiftless’ mother who, babe in arms, asks for money for formula and takes it straight into a liquor store somehow becomes every woman out on the street who has a child and asks for help.  The stories may well be true, but they miss a couple of points.

Helping the homeless is not about their worthiness.  It is about our giving.  If receiving blessings were dependent upon worthiness, would you and I have all that we have?

If you see someone misusing a resource they’ve been given, that’s not a reason to refrain from helping the person in need that comes along.  What if she’s in earnest?  If you give aid to five women in a row who buy liquor with the money and meet a sixth who’s on the level, would you deprive that sixth hungry child of the help she’d receive from you?  Or, if you want to be sure of how what you give is used, you could go and buy formula for the child yourself.

This is one of the reasons I have liked working with mobile soup kitchens, who go to feed the homeless where they live.  There are no questions asked, as Jesus asked no questions when he helped the poor and the sick.  The worthiness of the recipients is not at stake.  The work is about compassion.  There are no qualifications required except that a person be hungry, thirsty, cold, in need of solace.  “Ask, and ye shall receive.”

There is no single profile for a homeless person.  There are hustlers, manipulators and thieves on the street, yes.  Ditto drug addicts and alcoholics.  There are also veterans:  about 40% — people broken by war in body, mind and spirit, the same people who were heroes when they went off to war.  There are families who lost their jobs and missed a few house payments, finding themselves on the street.  There are mothers with children who ran from an abusive husband in the middle of the night and didn’t know how to seek out a shelter or couldn’t get in.  Do I want to feed and clothe these people if I have the opportunity?  Yes.  Do I want the woman who lives under a bridge because her ex-husband tied her up in their basement for a long period of time and she can’t bear confinement to get treatment for her trauma?  Yes.  If she doesn’t or is unable get it, do I want to offer her a sandwich?  Yes again.

Do I want to interview each of these people when I encounter them to determine whether they fit someone’s profile of worthiness?  Definitely, no.



2 Responses to “Worthy or Unworthy…Is That the Question?”

  1. Nancy Says:

    We need a kindness label, one that brings to mind the idea of someone going hungry, being scared or not having a place to just sit down and rest. The problem is, that won’t scream at us and offend our sensibilities. A kindness label won’t give us something to toss out during conversations, it just doesn’t have the power of “Homeless person as Panhandler”.

    Yes, it is always the same with labels, Homeless only seen as a panhandler, but it is also, Black person I have known, Mexican, Fat, Wal-Mart types, whatever. That is always the problem, if we see something that is even a little out of our norm it makes us uncomfortable, that is what we remember and somehow the whole group becomes “one of those people we have known”.

    I am sorry that we feel the need to justify our inaction and indifference with a label.

    The Baggy pants wearing Black person label, makes it easy not to care about what happens in South Dallas. We don’t care if the infant mortality is 13% (13 out of every 1000 babies will die before age 1)

    Illegal aliens label, they don’t care about our rules. But we sure want them around to fix our Mexican food or mow our lawns or push our baby strollers.

    White, low class, white trash, low rent Wal-Mart types label. Guess whose back our country was built on.

    We love a label, we label everyone we see who doesn’t fit our particular notion of “what is right and proper” it makes it easier to look at and dismiss others, especially the Homeless.

  2. Karen Shafer Says:


    Wow, what a powerful and eloquent post! It goes right to the heart of the matter. Thank you.


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