Teaching kids about helping the homeless

With homelessness on the rise, panhandling is on the rise, too. Which means you are more likely to pull up next to a panhandler at intersections in your community. This creates an especially tricky situation when you are in your car with the kids.

So what should you do? Should you roll down your window and give the person money? Should you ignore the person? Should you report the person to a homeless shelter? These are sticky issues, especially as winter approaches and times get tougher. 

Here are three easy tips for putting your mind at ease on this "doing good dilemma." 

1. First and foremost, do not feel guilty if you don't want to give. Doing good is highly personal. Studies indicate that philanthropy as an industry will grow beyond its current $355 billion annually only if people give to the causes they care about--in the ways they care about. Whether you choose to "do good" by sharing a granola bar or a $5 bill with a homeless person, give money to your favorite charity, volunteer for a favorite cause, or recycle, it is all good. 

2. Second, anything you can do to empower another person to help him or herself is a gift. People who are in trouble or in despair need to know that they are still valued as human beings. Philanthropy, after all, is a love of humanity that should benefit the giver and the receiver. So, if you are not comfortable rolling down your window, you might consider offering a smile of compassion and respect that says "you matter." Inspiration and hope is often the best gift of all. 

3. Finally, if your kids are with you in the car, use the opportunity to offer a little education. Of course, you can share with them how important it is to be safe and careful in the presence of strangers. You can also share information about the needs of others in your own community. For example, according to the Mid-America Regional Council, current estimates put the number of homeless in the five-county Kansas City area at about 13,000 individuals with almost half of them in families. It is important to note that it is not just single men and women who are homeless. Area school districts identify nearly 5,000 homeless school-age children. That's a big number--and your kids will relate to it.