So where I live (the Shoreditch end of Bethnal Green. Or the Bethnal Green end of Shoreditch, depending on which direction you’re coming from) there are heaps of homeless people. Any main road seems to have at least two guys sitting outside The-Supermarket-That-Shall-Not-Named or next to the cash point asking for any spare change. And I don’t know what to do about it. This is the conversation I have with myself every time I am asked if I have any spare change:
You can’t give money – it’ll only be used for alcohol and drugs. Do you really want your money to support the local drug dealers?
Who says he’s gonna spend it on drugs? And why is it your business what he does with the money you give? Jesus asked you to help those in need and clearly he is in need. God has entrusted you with that money – it’s not yours.
But I don’t think God wants his money to be used to support the local drug dealers either. And there are plenty of services out there to help. Maybe this guy prefers a life on the streets and so why should I support him in something that clearly isn’t healthy?
You know it’s rarely as simple as that - no one dreams of a life on the streets. You might be right; he might be most comfortable with living on the streets but it never should have come to that. And who are you to judge?
He’s here every day. He must be getting enough to survive on. So why should I give him anything?
But you can’t just ignore him – how is that loving your neighbour?
So I could give him food. But he didn’t ask for food. He’s asking for money. Seems a bit cold to stop for a chat but not offer him anything. So what do I do?
I don’t even agree with all these arguments. But, for one reason or another this is what runs through my head and affects the way I act. Most days I hurriedly say ‘Hi’ as I walk past. But on the days when I’m feeling braver/more generous/more loving I stop for a brief chat. And sometimes give money.
But when I walk away I never know if I’ve done the right thing. Or if there even is a right thing?
And then I wonder 'Am I sheep? Am I a goat?' *
And how can I pray for a solution to his problems if I’m not willing to at least be a small part of it?
*For those of you wondering how a farm animal metaphor got thrown in check Matthew 25 v 31-46