The Man At The Fountain Part 2-What About Drugs?

Last week I shared my recent encounter with a homeless man, in which I gave him money. In the discussion that followed via the comment section and in actual conversations I had with friends, the subject of drugs came up several times.  It usually went something like this:

I don’t give the homeless money because they might spend it on drugs.


What happens if they spend the money you gave them on drugs?

The drug dilemma can make the difficult problem of homelessness even harder to deal with.  

But let’s spend a moment with each of these questions.

I don’t give the homeless money because they might spend it on drugs.

Is this true?  Might they spend it on drugs?

Yes. The relatively small amount of research I’ve done on this points to about 70% of the homeless being substance abusers of some kind.  Most do not become homeless because of the drugs, they instead become homeless first, and then fall into addiction.  Drug dealers are quick to fill the void of society’s inadequate efforts to aid those on the street.

So yes, they might spend the money you give them drugs.

That doesn’t deter me from giving if I can.  

I would rather give than risk rejecting someone who would use the money to buy a badly needed meal. 

It reminds me of the conversation we often have in America over welfare programs and government hand outs.  Some people would rather help nobody in order to prevent an abuse of the program.  I would rather accept a degree of misuse in order to be sure that everybody who needs help actually gets it.

What happens if they spend the money on drugs?

Maybe they would go hungry that night.  

Or, maybe the drugs would enable them to reach a state where they could get through the night. Obviously, there’s a great deal of pain and discomfort in living on the street; enough to make a weekend of tent camping seem like a 5 star luxury hotel. There’s no fire. There’s no food. There’s no crawling into the car for cover if a rough storm comes. There’s usually no cellphone.

It’s just you, the concrete, and the elements.

I’m fortunate to not be speaking from experience, but I can easily imagine wanting to get high or stoned in order to survive yet another night in those conditions.

In dealing with the homeless, I believe our primary goal should be to keep people alive.  If we do that first, we can then move on to health care, addiction and everything else.  Sometimes it might be the drugs that keep them alive until tomorrow.  Maybe the help or break they need is coming tomorrow.  But they have to live until then to get it.

I’m not advocating drug use.  I’m saying that ugly messes like homelessness sometimes have ugly solutions that don’t work as well or as cleanly as we’d like.  We should be willing to accept a few uncomfortable things if we need to, on the way to something better.

I like football analogies, and the one that works here is that of an offense needing to punt in order to score on their next drive; giving the ball to the other team on purpose, in order to stay in the game long enough to win it later.

I’m certainly no expert in dealing with or solving homelessness.  These thoughts are just where I am right now based on my experiences and the things I’ve learned from a close friend of mine who devotes a lot of his time to serving those on the street (more on him in upcoming posts).

I believe we have a responsibility to help those in need as best we can.  I’m not sure what that “best way” is, but the more we avoid judgement and stay open to other perspectives, the closer we will get to finding it.

Follow us at here at Wise & Shine and sign up for our newsletter to keep up to date on recent posts and upcoming offerings. Read the original post, The Man At The Fountain here. You can also follow Todd Fulginiti’s personal blog, Five O’Clock Shadow.

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25 thoughts on “The Man At The Fountain Part 2-What About Drugs?

  1. I too have often thought should I be so unfortunate to be homeless and living on the street I would be wanting the effects of alcohol or drugs to get me through the night. As you say Todd let the prime aim be to keep someone alive, then deal with health/drug abuse aspects afterwards. There’s not always the time to take someone to a restaurant or even buy them a takeout. All the conflicting research isn’t that helpful is it?
    I see many of the problems being long standing and complex but not always. Sometimes a little help and compassion as you have given goes a long way rather than turning our backs and ignoring. Any one of us could end up homeless – mistakes and bad luck happens.
    A useful post, thank you.

    1. Thanks for your comment Margaret. Like you said- the research on this stuff isn’t always real helpful.

  2. “I believe we have a responsibility to help those in need as best we can. I’m not sure what that “best way” is, but the more we avoid judgement and stay open to other perspectives, the closer we will get to finding it.” . . . Amen Todd!

    There but for the grace of God go I as “… one of the least of these…” we share this world with.

  3. Thankfully, I’ve never been homeless, but I HAVE struggled with addiction, and so often I see myself in the faces of these people. It breaks my heart for them, and also, for knowing it could have been me.

    And in all honesty, if I’d been homeless during that time, and someone had given me money, I probably WOULD have looked for something to help me through the night. And that would have been better than any Big Mac. Is that wrong to say? Maybe. Would some do-gooder have been supporting a habit? Absolutely. But to your point, they would have also been helping a fellow human being get through the night.

    Obviously, I’m not advocating drug use – thank God I’ve been free and clean for years now. Nor am I trying to downplay what has become a huge (and global) social issue.
    But in terms of the individual homeless person, so what if we give them money and they don’t spend it the way we had in mind? In my opinion, the point is that we’ve done our part, albeit in a small way, to try and help a fellow human in need.

  4. Kendra’s comment reminds me of something my dad often said…about encountering “unhoused” folks both in the U.S. and in his travels. “It’s not my place to give with strings attached, just give.” If he had small bills and change, he’d give that. If he saw someone and could buy an extra sandwich, he did that. I remember being with him in San Francisco – on one of the coldest July days I’ve ever experienced, you know – fog and all 😉 and we had lunch and he ordered a ton of food. He didn’t make a big deal out of it but when the waiter came with doggy bags, he knew my dad wanted two bags – for a homeless couple he’d seen on our way into the restaurant.
    I love what you and Kendra shared, Todd, about being clear — you’re not advocating for drug use by giving money. I hear you. You’re just doing what you can…by giving…and the rest of it? We’re not pulling the strings. ❤

  5. Making decisions is not for everyone. Those that must have data for every decision will invariably miss the anomaly, and the anomaly happens at least 80% of the time. Data digesters are OK with 80% “right”, but those on the street are by definition not in the 80% of the bell curve. Thus, giving them money is not about control of their behavior, but more of an acknowledgement that they matter.

  6. Good points, all.

    The point of giving isn’t always about what or how much we give, it is establishing warm and caring human contact, even for a few moments, when normally people at best walk by and ignore them, or at worst, say or act out in hurtful ways.

    Life unhoused is very hard. How do we know that this one time we give some money the person would try to turn their life around? We don’t know what someone will do with what we give, nor do we know what someone would do as a result of our stopping by and giving? As you said, even helping someone get through another day, another night, that’s something.

    I do know this, even if the unhoused person wishes to buy themselves a meal, they’re often forbidden from entering a store or restaurant, because how they smell/look/behave affects the other customers.

    For this reason, I try to buy them a hot meal to go. If I have extra cash I might include some too when I have some on me.

    This reminds me, I need to buy a multi-pack of socks and keep them on the front seat of my car in baggies, so when I pull up to a traffic light I can hand out a pair or two if someone is panhandling and I don’t have cash to give.

    1. Great points- and I love the sock idea. My friend, who works with the homeless on an almost daily basis, says that the thing people need most is often socks.

      1. Yes, I’ve heard that too. I read recently that someone puts together care baggies, usually in quart or gallon bags where she puts in a couple pair of sock, a toothbrush, toothpaste, soap and even some money. She hands them out to her local homeless.

        I figured eve if I just put a pair of socks in a sandwich bag and then have them ready in the front passenger seat, I could have something to give for when I roll up to a traffic light and someone is there begging.

      2. My friend does the same thing- he cooks or makes sandwiches for them too. He takes care of about 15-20 people over the winter. He calls his operation ( if you can call it that) My People On The Streets. I hope to share more about him in an upcoming blog and/or podcast.

        That sock idea in the bag is really great! Easy to do and really useful 🤩 Thanks for sharing that!

  7. As I told you in another comment, I would bring homeless people food or other stuff rather than giving them money. But I love your final sentence “ the more we avoid judgement and stay open to other perspectives, the closer we will get to finding it.”

  8. Great article Todd. Love the empathic, compassionate and imaginative approach- as well as the football metaphor. Otherwise, it’s just an egocentric, judgmental decleater , if you’ll pardon the pun.

  9. This is an excellent conversation and thank you Todd for your article – your questions ‘is this true?’ re whether the person will spend the money on drugs reminded me of the Byron Katie 4 liberating questions “Is it true. Can you absolutely know it’s true. How do you react when you believe that thought. What would you be without that thought?” – put that original thought aside and help a fellow human in whichever way you can, socks, a meal, money, kindness. Like neighbourdave said, ‘acknowledge that they matter’. Take care everyone.

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