I guess I really first noticed the huge influx of people asking for money on the corner of Broad and Memorial about a year ago. I, like many of you reading this, gave spare change and even significant amounts of money to people that I thought would benefit from what little I could contribute. Over the last year though I noticed that the problem, though I saw many benevolent givers, did not diminish but seemed to grow to pretty staggering levels, not just on one corner but several.
My moral dilemma didn’t really manifest, though, until I saw a couple panhandling on the corner of Medical Center and Broad. The unique aspect of this couple is this; I had paid for a room for the young woman because her husband was abusive physically. I thought the best thing to do was to get her a room, and hopefully she could find family or get a better place to stay, but as I looked at an abusive husband standing there as his wife dropped her head in shame, I wondered, “Did I contribute to domestic abuse by providing money and a room to this couple?”
I have similar stories that also made me rethink how I would address people asking for money. The church I lead, The Experience Community, has been doing a really cool outreach called 5000. This ministry simply feeds homeless people in Murfreesboro on Sundays and tries to plug them into rehab if needed. Through this ministry, many homeless people have filtered through and many have stayed at our church. Many are very dear friends to my wife and me. Because of this, I have gotten to know much of the backstory to a lot of the people that ask for money on our streets. For instance, a couple that used to come struggle with crack-cocaine and the man beats his girlfriend, and I recently saw many people giving money to this woman as she stood at Memorial and Broad. Of course, people do not know the story, but if they did, would they give cash to a person who will then hand it over due to fear to a drug-addicted and abusive boyfriend?
See, the intentions of givers is good, but our ignorance is not helping the needy people of our city, but is in fact enabling them to self-destruct or hurt other people. Would we give if we knew that money was going to literally fund domestic abuse, buy crack or even promote prostitution in our streets? I hope the answer is no. The real problem is our ignorance. The fact that we have become a “bumper sticker” culture that thinks giving a buck or slapping a sticker on our cars will somehow change the world, but no one wants to go the distance through longer relationships and a deeper commitment to the problem. I know that we are a busy people, but if we truly want to make a real change, we must dig into these people’s lives and/or give our time and money to organizations like Greenhouse Ministries, Journey Home, Salvation Army, Way of Hope or 5000 (all within a couple of blocks from the corner of Memorial and Broad).
Another issue is the City of Murfreesboro. I love our city, but was disturbed after presenting all of this to a city leader, only to hear that in an ordinance to stop panhandling it would also include politicians that campaign on the corners in election years. So . . . it’s political? I was a bit disappointed. I think if our city spent some time and energy on this growing problem, we could make a significant change in the lives of many people in Murfreesboro, not just short term, but making long-term changes.
I know this stance may be unpopular, but we as leaders, Christians or simply responsible citizens need to take an approach that is best for the people in need, not just the politically correct, easy way out. My humble suggestions are this: if you truly care, make long-term commitments to the organizations mentioned in this article. If you have influence, help people find employment, get educated, and mentor them to the best of your ability. Do not give cash to individuals; give to organizations that can use the money much more efficiently. Though it sounds offensive, and will be unpopular, please help. Don’t just give carelessly, but intentionally give your money to healthy organizations, and sacrifice your time to dig into a life that can be changed by your benevolence.