Catholic social teaching tells us that what we have in this life is not ours alone, but is entrusted to us for the good of all. Basically, to withhold something from someone who has greater need of it is as good (or as bad, as the case may be) as stealing.
I don’t always give to those who beg on the street, though I do always feel that I should. Having done a fair share of volunteer work with agencies that support the poor, I know the good they can do — and I know they can’t do everything. People do fall through the cracks, and there will always be more need than resources to meet them. Sometimes just giving a dollar to the guy who’s asking for it is the best, most efficient form of charity.
So I try, in the spirit of Saint Francis of Assisi, to “give to all who ask.” My faith, my conscience, my sense of basic human decency all agree that it’s just the right thing to do. But I’m human — I’m flawed, and as much as I try sometimes I don’t do what I know is right.
But those signs — signs like the one pictured above — they are both a curse and a blessing. A curse, because they oversimplify the issue. They play into the natural prejudices we like to tell ourselves, making it easier to deny our fellow man the basic human dignities that are his birthright. They are dehumanizing, demoralizing, and wrong. And every time I see one of these signs, I’m prompted to give to the next beggar I see just out of spite. So there is, I suppose, some good to come out of it.