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How do you give lasting help to those who most need it?

If you see a man passed out drunk at the side of the road, or a woman in distress in the street, what can a person do, right then and there, to give meaningful help? Give money? Take them home and feed them? Give them a job somewhere? Does that even work? So many people are suffering as institutional systems to help them break down, but what can ordinary people do to fill in that gap? So many people are suffering for very complex reasons that a single meal or a day's wages can't solve, and a mere kind word can't even touch, and I believe that's one reason why so few people even try to effect a change, and yet our economy is throwing more people into this situation by the day.

What can we do right now for the next person we see suffering that would be truly meaningful?

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    Nov 4 2011: There are some key points already presented on this comment thread...
    "Giving people resources is a short term (but sometime necessary)...approach".
    And..."The best way to help them is to prep them to help themselves..."

    I believe it helps to be aware of each individual's situation and balance our "help" in a way that may support them in the short term AND long term. If we continue to simply give them resources, we actually take away their ability to support and sustain themselves, and that is disempowering and controling.

    So many times, while talking with women on the hotline of a shelter for abused women, I wanted to simply go pick the person up at her house and bring her to the shelter or my home (which was also used as a safe house) because I wanted her to be safe. However, I knew that action would be controling, and not empowering her to make her own choices. The best thing I could do for that person at the time, was listen to her particular story, provide information as to what her choices were, encourage, verbally support her in her quest, and be there when/if she made choices to pursue more "help".

    We really need to listen carefully to those we are trying to "help", and provide whatever they need to support them in the short and long term.
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    Nov 4 2011: like Peter pointed out, giving people resources is a short term(but sometime necessary)and less meaningful approach.One thing to add is to be aware of what are some of those beliefs I have in my mind about a woman in distress in the street and how those beliefs speak through my behaviors towards her(or them). And I would think to treat them equally as a human being not a passive helpee is very important.
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    Nov 4 2011: The worst thing to do for those people is to spoon feed them. The best way to help them is to prep them to help rather than giving them money show them or teach them a skill that will earn them money so they can be productive members of society. I will give an example...In australia...where i am currently living, the government basically gives its natives everything...rather than educating them and giving them skills that will be a benefit to their society. As a result of this approach, the natives are still impoverished, if the governement was to stop its weekly monetary assistance to the aboriginal groups, they wouldnt survive and would most likely die off. I am all for helping people and i have my own charity project, but i believe in teaching the people how to make a table by instructing them rather than me doing it for them. That way they dont need me next time and they can teach each other. (thats just an analogy).
    • Nov 4 2011: That's interesting and makes me wonder. Once upon a time, people had these skills. They were allowed to die off as people became more specialized. Nowadays, so many people who used to work in highly specialized jobs are unemployed because those jobs went away. Perhaps it's time to get back to being good at lots of things?
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        Nov 4 2011: Yea times have changed...especially with the world's population increasing the way that it has been. Leaving in the United States, one has to be good at a lot of different things. But in australia where the population is 22 million, every specialization has a place and as long as you have a skill, you will be employed. Even if you are self-employed you will be successful. I am currently a student but i am considering opening a business in Melbourne's center and with how everything is here, i am sure it would be a success if its set up in the right way of course.

        And with today's things, i would say if someone is specialized in a specific area, they should be afraid to travel to different parts of the world to find work. I mean i understand the fear, but with the right connections (as in forming international friendships) it could work out.
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    Nov 4 2011: Colleen,
    I know you mean well and do good. However when you take part of a thought/concept and not the whole, its problematic if you will get it right. My statement is, "Although extending a helping hand to the needy is a direct act of compassion, it doesn't do a thing toward changing the structural inequities that abound in our country."

    So please tell me how your helping hand changes the structural inequalities of which I speak. Assuming you understand the structural inequalities in the first place.

    A perspective. When I grew up and came of age there were no beggars on the streets. Then in 1967-68 I went to India with College. One saw beggars everywhere including people who may not have lived through the night. Now in America, just 42 years later one sees people begging on many street corners in most cities everyday right here. So tell me how the personal kindness is impacting the larger dynamics that seemingly go unnoticed or unchecked?
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      Nov 4 2011: Craig,
      I read your previous comment very carefully, several times, and I'm sorry if I did not "get it right".

      I do understand the "structural inequalities", and as I wrote, "each and every "helping hand" is part of the whole". As part of the whole, we can change the "structural inequalities" my humble opinion.

      I too notice beggers on the streets and I don't think it goes "unnoticed" by some of us.
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    Nov 4 2011: Colleen,
    Although extending a helping hand to the needy is a direct act of compassion, it doesn't do a thing toward changing the structural inequities that abound in our country. Without dealing directly with the cause (too much greed at the top) the effects of dealing with one needy person at a time will be overrun by the greedy 1%.

    We need structural change in the tax code, in the use of deductions and shelters and most fundamentally in what we culturally believe constitutes 'success'. There is a direct connection between the poor and the rich that must be brought to light and changed. Until then, all the feel good acts of personal kindness are valiant and kind but do nothing in changing the context of the problem. We need structural changes at the source/core.

    Until then, little will change.
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      Nov 4 2011: Craig,
      Each and every "helping hand" is part of the whole. When we say "it doesn't do a thing toward changing", we are reinforcing the existing reality.

      "The effects of dealing with one needy person at a time" NEVER overrun by anything, in my opinion. Each and every act of compassion and/or "help" we can offer, is valuable, even if for only one person.

      It is thoughts like the ones you express Craig, that keep people immobilized. Thoughts like...whatever I do will be overrun by something doesn't do a thing...whatever I do won't matter...etc. etc. etc. If we, as individuals can encourage and support one person, it is valuable to that person, and to the whole.

      You say Craig..."Until then, all the feel good acts of personal kindness are valiant and kind but do nothing in changing the context of the problem". I don't agree with that. I am part of the structure, and as an individual, I have seen many changes in the systems I have been involved with for many years. Each and every one of us is part of the systems, and if each and every one of us sit back and wait for others to change the systems, then you're absolutely right Craig...nothing will change. Be the change we want to see in our world.