Saturday, January 23, 2016

Does our help do harm?

Does helping people harm them?

This has been discussed in connection with foreign aid programs, parenting, and helping the poor. Peter Greer of Hope International talks about it with Forbes Magazine in connection with both foreign aid and helping the poor:
The poor helping the poor.
Illustration by Frederic Walker

When you spend time with people who are living in poverty there is a consistent request, and it’s not for more charity, it’s not for more hand-outs. The consistent request is for a job. People in the developing world don’t want to be poor, they don’t want to be someone else’s charity case...
-- Peter Greer of Hope International, in an interview (Forbes Magazine)
Does this apply to the homeless? Does this apply to the people in Tent Cities 3-4-5, United We Stand, and Camp Unity Eastside?

To be honest, it does. I can tell you firsthand -- having been there -- that many homeless would prefer to be self-sufficient and self-supporting. There are also many who would gladly be a "welfare case for life," living on the generosity of others.

The homeless face problems many others do not. For example, a homeless person has to lie to obtain a state identification card in Washington (they have no permanent physical address). They are constantly faced with the inability to get a job simply because of their mailing address, or the lack of a physical address. Or, perhaps, the lack of an identification card they cannot get without committing a mortal sin. So, to some extent, they need help simply to survive. Therefore, help is needed.

Yet I have some questions about how we help:
  • When we give them help, does our help preserve their dignity?
  • Does our help let them participate in the process?
  • Is our help just and fair?
  • Does our help provide them additional options they didn't have before?
  • Does our help let them help themselves more?
And I'm not saying we shouldn't help -- certainly we should help -- but how we do that may matter even more than what we do.

What do you think?

Disclaimer: this post may not express the opinions or beliefs of Greater Seattle Cares. It may not even express my opinions in general.