DEAR HARRIETTE: My elementary-aged children have asked me why I don't give money to people on the street. I don't know how to explain to them that some of these people are drug addicts, and that I do not want to support anyone's life-ruining habit. I usually say that we don't have cash to give them right now, but as they get older, I know I will have to explain homelessness to them more. What do you think is the right age to get children thinking about devastating issues like this? I do not want to depress them. -- No Money for Homeless, Dallas
DEAR NO MONEY FOR HOMELESS: I started talking to my daughter about the conditions of people with whom we interact on a regular basis from the start. When we pass homeless people, I do not typically give them money, but I do greet them on occasion. For example, if someone speaks to me, I acknowledge him or her. At your children's ages, you can definitely talk to them about the reality that some people struggle far more than your family, including not having a place to live. You can tell them that some of these people are mentally ill, while others may have lost their jobs and their homes. Tell them that you feel compassion for them, but the way that you support the homeless is through charitable giving. You can engage your children in saving money that they can donate periodically to homeless shelters or other organizations that support those in need. In this way, you show them by example how they can help others.