The Sign Holders


enhanced-buzz-wide-27012-1367322144-6Our pastor was sick. At the last minute, he called up a missionary/social worker in our area and asked him to fill the pulpit. The gentleman didn’t preach so much as tell stories, and the stories he told revolved around his work with the homeless. His primary job was assisting homeless folks who qualified for veterans’ assistance the financial help that they deserved, taking care of the mountain of paperwork and helping them set up budgets, gets jobs, and get off the streets.

A lady in our church had just started collecting backpacks and supplies so members in the church could go downtown and hand them out to the homeless. The idea was to show some kindness and engage with the poor and needy. When the social worker who was filling the pulpit that Sunday heard about the idea, he panned it.

“There are plenty of places in this city where homeless folk can get food. I know personally the charities that hand out breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and provide a roof over people’s head at night for free. The last thing homeless people need is a backpack full of goodies. Chances are that the only thing something like that would do would get them killed, because some other homeless person would want what they had and take it from them by force. And forget about giving those people money! If it seems like a scam, it is.”

It was quite a Sunday message.

It’s been a couple of years since that gentleman filled the pulpit, and since then, my town has seen an explosion of people holding cardboard signs on busy street corners with messages like “Homeless Veteran, Anything Helps. God Bless,” and “Mother of 3, Husband Layed Off”. Usually the signs have at least one (possibly intentional) misspelled word and most invoke God to bless the givers.

But the only thing I think when I see the cardboard sign holders is a scam. If these people wanted help, there are more churches and charities per square foot in my town than in any other place in the world. They don’t need to stand on street corners if what they want is a job and help out of their situation.

Then a friend of mine shared a theory with me. They are part of a social experiment. Some research company has placed these people here in a two-year study (it started as a one-year study, but since the people have been around for longer than one year, it must be a longer study) to measure something. My friend wasn’t sure if the company was measuring the effectiveness of the message on a cardboard sign or whether certain areas in the city are more generous than others or whether the weather affected people’s giving, but it must be something like that.

It all makes sense! And better yet, it means that I really don’t need to feel bad for the people holding the signs. They are just doing their job for the research company. Nor do I have to feel angered with them for taking the lazy way out instead of getting jobs. They do have jobs; they stand on street corners for the purpose of a social experiment!

Of course, it could also be that I am just not a compassionate person.

What do you think when you pass someone holding a cardboard sign, asking for help?


4 responses to “The Sign Holders

  1. Depends on the street corner & whether or not I know them & their situation personally. Most I know that DO need help use those charitable services to get help. Or as I may have mentioned on FB – in Feb when your Uncle Mark was in hospital & our snowblower was busted – I called our church to get a few telephone numbers of people in recovery programs and or families in need where the husband/dad was out of work. I called for help & got a yes I’ll come help you with 1st call. He had no idea what I would pay him or how long & hard we’d both have to work to clear the 10″ of VERY heavy snow from our driveway & walks. I paid him what I could afford. (It was precious little compared to the gratitude I felt). So here’s my answer re your ?: Presuming someone is physically capable – enabled – not disabled or mentally ill or w PTSD & such – I believe God will always provide their needs without a scam or sign. One ? For you – your pic on this blog looks like you were conducting your own social experiment. It’s provocative. Did you really do this or was it just staged. 2nd ? – who funded the research ? Grant provided by our tax dollars to see if sign holders vote? Such a sceptic.

  2. I used to fill a prick at my heart when I see those people. Working at the university scarred me a bit. There are many beggers on the diag every day and you could go broke trying to help. I also know that we know someone who was in a position to hire people and offered some of the corner standers work. They declined saying they could make more begging on a corner. I do feel however that our churches are not doing the job they could with helping agencies in their community reach out to the poor. Our church partners with Hope Clinic that provides food, health care, basic needs to the poor in the area. I know we have had to have help from time to time and the church was there to fill our needs.

    • Our church just finished a food drive w 5 other area churches to restock the area food pantry. And yes there are times I can give, times I can’t and sometimes now w me unable to work we’ve gotten some anonymous help from time to time that allows us gas & a visit to the pantry. (In our area they charge teeny amounts to preserve dignity but if you speak to the pantry manager they can waive if you seriously don’t even have $5 bucks

  3. I never give money but have been known to offer to buy them a sandwich or bar of chocolate the ones who genuinely need help are always grateful

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