When Charity Backfires – What The Homeless Are Most in Need

We are of course thankful for any donations people make to charity; however, like anything, too much of anything can be bad, and focusing too much on one problem is neglecting other major problems. Sadly this applies to giving to the homeless as well. When someone donates to the homeless, most think of donating old clothing or uneaten food; although that is deeply appreciated, far too many people donate those things and not enough donate the other things which can truly help to make the biggest difference and help end homelessness — in fact, so many people donating clothing and food, often becomes a burden to both the homeless and the charitable agencies.

Just this morning, a very nice woman and her male neighbour kindly offered me some clothing. They opened their trunk to reveal three large trash bags of clothing, plus a large luggage bag full of more. I then explained to them,

“I don’t have a closet, I don’t have a vehicle, I cannot accept this, I have no place to put it. I only have this small backpack and it has enough space in it for two sets of clothing, which allows me to have three sets when you include the clothing I am wearing. Thank you, but I can’t.”

I have seen this before: a few days ago I was walking down the street and I saw a nice jacket, in great condition, in the dumpster next to the homeless shelter. I thought,
“Why would someone throw that away?”
Then later that day I overheard someone staying at the shelter ask another,
“Hey, is that a new outfit?”
The person responded, “Yeah, I just got some new clothing from [the charity].”
The other then asked, “Did you wash the old cloths?”
And the answer was, “No, I can’t carry around that much clothing, and I don’t have the money to go to the laundromat, so I just throw away the old cloths when I get new ones.”
And several others agreed with that statement.

And I realised that he was right, to wash a load of laundry, even if it is one outfit, is $8 here — that is a lot of money for a homeless person, especially one like me who doesn’t ask for money from people. Homeless people need a place to have their clothing washed for free! And he was right again, homeless people have all of their possessions in a little backpack or in a shopping cart, they cannot carry more than a small number of clothing; carrying around an entire closest worth of clothing with them all of the time would be an extreme burden and impractical.

These events got me thinking something which I have thought a few times over the years, and which I have heard charities also complain about: Too many people are donating the same thing, and almost no one is donating the other things which are badly needed.

People are donating too much clothing, vastly more than what the homeless people can carry or wash, and vastly more than what the charities can house — the truth is that a lot of the clothing either gets sold back to people in Second Hand Stores, or ends up being taken by the charity to the landfills. The same regarding food: people are donating vastly more food than what can be eaten, and a lot of it is thrown in the trash by the charity or by the homeless people, because it is more food than they can carry around, and it will go bad before they can eat it.

Homeless people don’t have refrigerators, they can only accept the food that they can either eat there on the spot, or carry with them for a few hours before it goes bad. I have seen many homeless people at the end of the day throw out gallon jugs of spoiled milk, and many charities throw out dozens of gallons of spoiled milk, and dumpsters full of rotten food, because the charities don’t have enough refrigerators and freezers to store all of the food that they are given. 60% if the food that is donated is thrown out because it either is already bad or goes bad before it can get to a person, and 40% of the food that is given to people is thrown out because they have eaten all that they can and the food will spoil in a few hours, or the person just can’t take the burden of carrying the food around with them all day.

These massive donations of clothing and food are burdening the homeless, not helping them.

So what do the homeless need?

They need a warm and dry place to sleep, they need a place to take showers, and they need a place to sit and rest during the day.

I have noticed that many people who have never been homeless, seem to not understand how homeless shelters work. Here in the United States, by regulation, shelters only let people stay there to sleep, and that is it. the shelters let people in around 6:00 pm at night, and they kick them out at 6:00 am in the morning, even in the dead of winter, even when it is raining or snowing. I have been to four different shelters and they all did this — it is my understanding that it is a government requirement. The shelter I am staying at now only has showers on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and only allows 12 showers on those days, so if you are not one of the first 12 people in, then you are out of luck for the next two days or even longer on the weekend.

People also think, “well, more people donate the charity around the holidays, so at least the homeless are better off during the holidays.” But that again is wrong. People are only donated more food and clothing, which again is not as needed due to over-donation. What makes things even worse is that since a lot of charities are ran by religious organisations, these places often times close during the holidays so they can be open to their congregations for religious services, or close to give their volunteers the holiday off, leaving the homeless without food or showers during these times. A few days ago was the holiday of Thanksgiving, and because of that the main charity in town did not give breakfast, lunch, or dinner to the homeless from Thursday until Monday, and also did not offer the Friday showers, so the homeless could not bathe from Wednesday until Monday. Does that sound like the holidays made things better for them? It is the same every major holiday.

As Christians we are called to help those in need:

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

Matthew 25:31-46

As Christians we are not called to an easy life, but to a hard one. It is easy to go along with what the world says, it is easy to be spiritually lazy, to not care about our fellow man, it is easy to be afraid and let that fear paralyse us into moral failure because we are too scared of others. We are called to rise above that, to lay down our lives for others and to serve others:

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.

John 15:12-17

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Matthew 20:25-28

When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Mark 10:41-45

It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

John 13:1-17

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:25-34

“So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

Matthew 10:26-31

“I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

Luke 12:4-7

See, we must be not afraid to truly care about our fellow man, and to help them, not just in ways that are easy, but in ways that are harder. We must be open to giving them a place to sleep, a place to have shelter from the heat, the rain and the snow during the day, and give them a place to wash. These are things that as Christians we are called to do, and yet so few are willing to give these things, these things which would truly help, and which when given complete the list of what we are called by Jesus/Yahshua to do, along with the feeding, and the clothing, and the comforting of the sick and the visiting of those who are imprisoned. Let’s follow Christ.

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