This was posted on Reddit by a former homeless person. This is well worth a read, although it contradicts some of the other advice I have been given about ministry to the homeless (Note: Expletives deleted):
"Okay, so, I don't think it's appropriate to restrict charitable giving to only supporting organised charity or government initiatives. I also think that only giving people "things" (ie food) is a bad idea. Here are a few reasons.
Homeless shelters and services like soup kitchens develop a culture. Everyone needs humans to interact with and a society to be a part of. However, the homeless congregate around these services, especially when they have no other option.
The "scene" that results from this is incredibly toxic. Instead of having an opportunity to be around functional, healthy people in a different environment, we only interact with other homeless people. People who have poor coping skills, who have addictions, mental illnesses, learned helplessness, and all of the other crap that accompanies homelessness. People who all believe that there's essentially no way out, and that to find a way out is in some way disloyal. Getting out and learning how to interact with society is already really, really f*****g hard.
But when you have a ready made peer group of, perhaps, the only people who won't look down on you or treat you differently because of your situation, it's that much harder to collect the internal resources necessary to pry yourself away from that community and learn how to function in another one. The horrible, abusive, and dysfunctional interpersonal dynamics amongst the group seems not only normal, but inevitable. This is, in my opinion, only heightened by the presence of the people running the charity.
These people are usually educated (almost always more educated than the service users), from a relatively stable or "normal" background, and the class differences between users and providers is obvious, and often insurmountable. Not because of ill intentions on the part of those providing charity, but because there are basic, fundamental differences in things like communication and priorities that come with class differences. There is almost always some sense of patronisation, sometimes obvious, sometimes subtle, sometimes only felt by the receivers.
The distinct sense of we the givers are different from you, the lowly receivers, whether intended or not, almost always seems to be there. This makes one thing apparent: that as a lowly receiver, the kind of person I am not is: whatever the giver is. Stable, normal, secure, educated- those are other qualities, and they have nothing to do with me."
To that effect, some of the best charities I've experienced are ones that were primarily run by people who had substantial experience with poverty. Now, don't mistake what I'm saying here, because nowadays most charities that have job postings request that the candidates have "lived experience". This is often essentially b******t, and someone's week going hungry in college doesn't compare in any real way to being poor, where poor is literally an essential component of your identity and culture.
That brings me to another point, which is that organised charity usually requires employees to ensure its running. There is a big problem with this, and anyone who has had to take charity and who has also paid careful attention will already know what it is: these people's jobs depend on there being enough poor people of the correct demographic for them to serve.
Many charities depend at least in part on grants and government funds. I have seen firsthand the ways that organisations manipulate the system to ensure that they continue to receive maximum funding, while providing questionable value to the users.
Of course there are metrics that are used to determine if an organisation is being effective and if they are needed. And of course, the organisations are adept at fudging the numbers and gaming the system. I doubt if I have the room or energy to get into it in detail, but please believe me when I say that there are plenty of homeless shelters, job search organisations, soup kitchens and so on dedicated to keeping people dependant on the system as long as possible, and/or getting credit for those people's successes, whether or not it was actually due to charity. On the other hand, pure donation and volunteer based charities are unpredictable and unreliable.
A related concern to this kind of manipulation is the learned helplessness that is instilled in us. Giving people money is important in two ways. One is that money is an essential component of social function. If you don't have money, you basically don't exist. Exchanging currency for goods and services is such a basic function of modern living that taking it away from people denies them the opportunity of one of the most basic forms of interaction we have. It denies people the opportunity to function in society on a very basic level. it denies them autonomy. This is negative in a number of ways. One is that it is impossible to learn to have a functional relationship with money when you never have an opportunity to use money. Another is that taking away people's opportunity to choose- even if they make bad choices- reduces them to basically helpless infants. We cannot learn to make good decisions if we do not get to make decisions. Doing the homeless shuffle from park bench to soup kitchen where you eat whatever is put in front of you back to park bench to a meeting with a social worker that you're obligated to go to because someone said so, doesn't encourage you to look beyond the park bench. People don't have goals if their life is spent without choices.
The assumption, as well, that homeless people are incapable of making the best choices for themselves given the resources they have available only cements that exhausted learned helplessness even further. Now, I don't know what things are like for people who were doing well and then fell into addiction, but for people like me who were never doing well, who grew up looking forward to welfare day (pizza!) and food bank day (a garbage bag full of stale donuts!),
We make decisions with money that may be foolish or self defeating to a rich person, but there was usually something behind it. Sometimes it was "if I spend ten dollars on twenty five cigarettes I can smoke away my hunger twenty five times" sometimes it was "if I have money in my pocket I can't get arrested for vagrancy", sometimes it was "I want to save this so I can sit at the all night diner tonight instead of going to the shelter because of Reasons", and sometimes it was, yes, "f*** this, I gotta get high/drunk". But denying me those options altogether denies that I'm even capable of making decisions.
That brings me to Why We Don't Always Want You Giving Us Food/Supplies.
Food and supplies are nice and wonderful. But I am not going to eat food that isn't prepackaged that a stranger gives me. I've heard of people spitting on, putting garbage, razor blades, roofies, and God knows what else, in food that gets given to homeless folks. And im not going to go with some stranger to get food either. No. I live on a street corner. If I never come back, nobody is calling the cops. Nobody is looking for me. Have you ever had a guy get mad at you because he bought you dinner and you won't put out? Well, it's a lot worse when you don't have anyone to call or go to for comfort, or if he decides he's really mad and he's allowed to do whatever he wants to you because you're just some homeless girl and you don't matter. And you're afraid to make a scene, because who do you think is going to get in trouble? Nice clean upstanding citizen, or trash?
And im not just talking about rape. I'm talking about being spat on, being pissed on, being beaten up, having them tell the cops you tried to rob them, out of spite. Or for kicks. And I'm not saying this kind of thing only happens to women. And it could be even worse. What if he (or she) is a pimp? Or a murderer? Do you know how often the murders of homeless people are investigated? Not. Nobody f*****g cares about us. So no, i'm not a bad person because I don't want your food and i don't want to go anywhere with you.
There's a less frightening side to having some stranger buy you food: the shame. The shame of being paraded into a diner as someone's good deed. The shame of being afraid to ask for anything because you aren't allowed to ask for things. The shame of being on display as the Poor Person Being Bought A Meal by the Good Person. When you purchase something with money that you pull out of your own pocket, even if you stink and you know you're disgusting, there's some kind of dignity left.
That brings me to what I think is effective. Soup kitchens that charge, even if it's ten cents for a coffee, where the volunteers are at least 50% homeless or ex homeless or on probation or whatever. No condescension. And if Fred, everyone knows Fred, he's not all there, doesn't pay, nobody says too much, but in theory you're still a person, you still have to pay. Or that require everyone to help out and where the volunteers eat the food too.
Resource centres that offer computers, showers and laundry machines, but not a lot of places to sit around. Resources that are available without necessarily being mandatory.
Welfare. As in straight up, flat out, handing people checks. Bigger if you can prove you found an apartment or have a big expense, smaller otherwise.
Charity thrift shops where the prices are actually low. Like, joke low. To give people an opportunity to experience being selective, making- though small- financial decisions.
Organised charities that have a definite scale and limit. Systems that aren't set up in such a way as to impede people when they do become motivated. And patience, virtually endless patience. Heh.
Now, the situation is a bit different with people who aren't really able to function independently because of some condition. I'm only talking about people who probably could."