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Sister, Can You Spare a Dime?

Jack is a fixture of the neighborhood right outside the gates of a large, urban university. Homeless for the past 13 years, Jack carries all of his belongings in a shopping cart, to which he also hitches his faithful dog, Rufus. Every day, Jack takes up a position outside the fast food joint across the street from the campus, where he solicits passersby for change. Most nights, he sleeps in a nearby parking lot, but when it gets really cold, he has been known to sneak into the campus library and labs to keep warm. A veteran of the Gulf War, Jack obviously has his demons, and he can sometimes be seen drowning them in a bottle of wine half-concealed in a brown paper bag.

As a freshman at the university, Mandy encounters Jack in the second week she is on campus, when she goes off campus with fellow members of the water polo team for a late night snack. When she sees his cardboard sign— "Homeless Vet. Please Help"— Mandy throws a few quarters into the paper cup he holds out.

"Don't give him money," Jocelyn, a junior teammate warns her. "He'll just spend it on alcohol."

"If everybody would stop giving these freeloaders a handout, they would go hang out somewhere else," adds Ella. "They're scary."

"Oh, Jack's harmless," Meg, a senior, chimes in. "I give him something when I can."

"You just do that to salve your conscience," Jordan says. "Giving money to individual panhandlers doesn't do anything about the root causes of poverty in this country. You should join Students Act Against Homelessness if you really want to make a difference."

Do you think students have a responsibility to help the homeless? If so, should they give money to anyone who asks? Should they buy food for the panhandlers instead? Should they not give to individuals but make donations to charities instead? What can students do about the root causes of homelessness?

Useful Resources

A Framework for Ethical Decision Making 
National Coalition for the Homeless
Swipes for the Homeless
 
Photo Credit: http://www.shutterstock.com/pic-12227485/stock-photo-asking-for-help-a-homeless-man-panhandles.html?src=lb-16096948>

 

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