Money isn’t the only way to help the homeless

Duncan Cicero

Freshman Music Therapy Major

When walking to and from classes every day here at Cleveland State University, there are certain things that we notice, whether we want to pay attention to them or not. And one of those things is the increasing population of homeless people on our college campus.

I’ve heard, and I’m sure you’ve all heard, other students complain when people ask them for money. Maybe you’ve even done some complaining yourself, or you are on the other side of the spectrum and give people whatever spare cash you might have in your pockets.

Either way, the undying question stands: Is it okay for us, as students, to feel uncomfortable with being asked for money as we just go about our business?

Coming from the relatively quiet suburbs of Buffalo, New York, walking past homeless people and being asked for money on a daily basis is still pretty new to me. It’s not that I don’t want to help the people, but sometimes, depending on the situation and the area of Cleveland that I am in, I just don’t feel comfortable stopping my momentum and pulling out money from my wallet. If I happen to have some spare coins or dollar bills, I will occasionally help someone out, but I hardly ever carry cash on me anyways.

Just because it doesn’t make me uncomfortable, I don’t think it is a bad thing if it does other people. Everybody is different and everybody comes from different pasts, you never know what kind of experience somebody might have had with a stranger that has affected their behavior now.

Of course, we as students have a right to our safety. By law, panhandlers are not allowed to block our way into the buildings on campus and they are not allowed to follow us or harass us if we choose not to give them money. But, they are allowed to ask. Several courts around the country have ruled that the right to “beg” for money is covered by the first amendment right to free speech. So unless the beggars are doing something illegal, they have the right to ask for whatever they might need, of anyone they might encounter, anywhere.

And maybe you’ve found yourself or heard others wondering why these people who are asking you for money or food can’t just go out and get a job like everyone else does and provide for themselves. Think about how close-minded that statement is. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. Sometimes, these people don’t have a ride to work, or even have a cell phone to give a potential employer to contact them back if they got the job.

There has been a stigma placed against these homeless people that describes them all as drug abusers, alcoholics or in short, losers, blaming them for getting themselves into that position. But the truth is, many homeless people have been through something very traumatic that put them where they are at that moment. Most of the time, it isn’t what they’ve done to themselves, and it isn’t what they could have done better. Poverty happens, and it’s not always that person’s fault.

I think these stigmas are made up to help us cope with the reality that poverty is real, and it can happen to any one of us. Homeless people are humans too, so instead of labeling them as terrible people, why aren’t we doing more to help them? What can we do to help them?

First, there’s the obvious. You can give them whatever they ask for when you are stopped on the streets. But if that does make you uncomfortable, there are many shelters and donation bins around the city that you could donate money,  food or clothes to that would distribute these items to people. Second, if you would like to see the impact that your donation actually has on the people, you could volunteer at a church or community center that does an outreach program for the homeless. These programs are always looking for helpers.

So yes, sometimes the constant asking for money or food when you’re only trying to get to class on time can seem annoying, but next time it happens, consider one of the listed options. These people need our help, and maybe if we all come together to help them, they wouldn’t even have to stand around and ask for money. We should be trying to pull them from the poverty cycle. We need to refrain from judgements and consider their story. We don’t know the reasons why these people have been placed in these positions, and the stigma following it only worsens the situation.