There are better ways to help the homeless

An editorial from the Parkersburg News and Sentinel
PARKERSBURG, W.Va. —  Signs going up around Parkersburg have sparked some debate about the best ways to help those who sometimes seek money at busy intersections. The signs read “Please do not contribute to the drug & alcohol problem by giving to panhandlers.” While it may be difficult to temper the urge to receive instant gratification by handing over some loose change to the person at your vehicle’s window, the truth is, a direct donation is not the best way to help those in need.

In fact, an organization called JustGive.org has compiled a list of 35 ways to help the homeless. No where on that list does it suggest it is a good idea to hand over money to panhandlers on the street. A kind word and a smile, yes. Money, no. The organization suggests the most direct way to help the homeless is to donate to nonprofit organizations dedicated to serving them.

Local leaders agree, including Greg Smith, president of the Latrobe Street Mission board, who said “I think that if you are providing money to help individuals who are homeless, that you’re probably going to get more value by donating money to organizations where that’s their mission.”

Here in Parkersburg, there are other such groups, including the Salvation Army.

But here is the trick, handing money directly out your car window is quick and easy. Options that would truly benefit the homeless population at large require a little more effort. Volunteer at a homeless shelter, or a soup kitchen. Buy an extra bag of nonperishable groceries and donate it to the local group that could use it best. Tutor local at-risk kids. Volunteer for Habitat for Humanity. Carry with you cards listing local organizations where those seeking aid can get the help they need. Be an advocate.

When questioned on the new signs, Mayor Bob Newell explained “Most of that money doesn’t go where people think it does. People have no idea how much of that goes to drugs and alcohol.”

It is a harsh truth. While not everyone out on the streets seeking help is looking to fund a habit, far too many are. Do the right thing for these folks and save your donations for the organizations dedicated to helping them.

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