Careful with that generosity

Published 8:21 pm Monday, February 29, 2016

We’ve all noticed the surge of panhandlers in North Suffolk’s booming retail district.

You can’t help but see them on most street corners in the Harbour View area these days: A man holding the handwritten cardboard sign saying he’s a homeless veteran who needs food, another with a sign saying he is a cancer patient in need of funds for medical treatments.

And all this may be true.

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I cringe when I drive past them in my fancy Hyundai. I feel a hint of guilt when I go past them to get to Ruby Tuesday’s for lunch or to Kroger’s Marketplace to stock up on groceries that would be certainly be deemed luxuries for a homeless person.

How can you ride by someone down on his luck and not want to help? It’s the right thing to do, the Christian thing to do in today’s world – right? It’s natural to want to help people in need.

But what if — and I stress, if — these people are not really homeless? What if these people allegedly suffering from medical problems are healthier than the charitable people handing them $5?

Suppose they put in their eight hours on the street corner, then go home and prop up their aching feet and eat a hot dinner?

As much as I hate to think of anyone being homeless, I also hate to be duped. So I’m taking the approach that a handout is not always the best way to help.

If you feel compelled to help, remember:

4The Suffolk’s Coalition Against Poverty has a Night Stay Program, in which local churches and faith-based organizations rotate weeks providing free overnight shelter and meals for the community’s less fortunate. That program will run through March 30.

Even when churches in North Suffolk are not hosting guests on a particular week, any person in need can go to the North Suffolk library and catch a free bus ride to the downtown Suffolk drop off point for a free ride to the shelter.

4Instead of a cash handout, think of alternatives that will also benefit a person in need. Give them a fleece blanket or premade bags stocked with granola bars, soap, toothbrush and toothpaste, along with information about where they can find needed resources, such as CAPS, the Salvation Army and other community resources.