Today I got a voice mail message from a local corporate foundation. It said they were very interested in funding the grant proposal I submitted, and that they wanted to do a site visit to check the organization out, talk to staff, and so on. Well, in the last year I have applied to this foundation twice, on behalf of two different organizations. The woman didn’t say which organization she wanted to visit, but I correctly guessed the answer. Let’s see if you can guess.
Organization 1 serves homeless people. It offers shelter and food and some other services. Some of the clients have significant issues with physical and mental health and with drug addiction. The clients are women and their children.
Organization 2 serves homeless people. It offers shelter and food and some other services. The clients have HIV/AIDS and some of them have significant issues with mental health and drug addiction. The clients are mostly men.
Did anybody guess Organization 2? I’m betting you didn’t. Nearly everyone views women and children as more sympathetic than effed up middle-aged men. Besides, AIDS is passé and no one cares about it anymore, even though people are still getting sick and dying from it.
I’m told that the politically conservative among us are not without compassion. They believe in charity, I hear. (I am not disputing this point.) But they feel they should get to decide how their charitable dollars—all of them—get spent. I am not unsympathetic to that argument, but I can’t go along with it. I have the same problem with that idea that I have with the idea that someone’s right to get married should be put to a vote. Voters should not have the power to decide whether someone else gets rights, and they shouldn’t get to decide that some people, like effed up middle-aged men with AIDS, should be left to die in the streets.
If the Republican fairy came along and returned the safety net portion of your tax bill to you, first of all, it wouldn’t be as much money as you think it would be. And secondly, even if every single person turned around and donated every penny of that money to charity, some charities would be rolling in dough and others—the ones with the less-sympathetic clients—would be forced out of business. That might be an okay result in market terms. If there’s no demand, the business should fail, right? But charity is not a market.
Organization 2, like every charity, does everything it can to maximize private contributions. There are appeals, events, and grants written by yours truly. In addition, it relies on funding from the government, to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. If that funding vanished, Organization 2 would shut its doors and put sick and vulnerable people out of their homes and into the street.
The government is lame and stupid and wasteful in so many ways, it’s no surprise that many people don’t want to entrust their charitable dollars to it. I get that. What no one has ever explained to me, though, is who is going to take care of “the least of these,” the ones who don’t so easily pull the heart-strings, if the government doesn’t coerce the general public into doing so?
And if the answer is “no one,” what kind of people would that make us?