June 26, 2006


I am much more inclined to give a beggar a handout when I'm in the city rather than in my own area. I almost typed "neighborhood" instead of area. But I don't run into beggars in my own neighborhood per se, but rather at places near my home. Does that qualify as my own neighborhood? I'd rather it not.

I've been seeing more homeless people close to our home of late. Well. I don't know for sure they are homeless. Perhaps I should say "people down on their luck." Hell, I'm not even sure they are down on their luck. But their actions and circumstance indicate something along those lines.

There was a man sleeping on the sidewalk of a strip mall, the same strip mall that houses one of my usual grocery stores and also my preferred CVS. I'm not altogether sure he was sleeping either. He may have been passed out. There was a bottle by his side. And me in my suburban state of mind? I wondered where the cops were and why they hadn't rousted him.

Another was a white woman outside a 7-11. Short, round, wearing a dirty t-shirt and no shoes. Her long blonde hair was unkempt. She was not young. She stepped in front of me and asked if I had any extra money. I brushed right by saying, "Not today." Such compassion will surely earn me a place in heaven.

Saturday we were at a different 7-11. The place was hopping. I was waiting in the car for Wendy to make her purchase, car running, windows up with the air conditioning on full blast. An hispanic man with a mustache in a red t-shirt and blue jeans exited the store. He was carrying a small paper cup in his right hand. He stood in front of my car looking around. Then he wandered over to my driver's side window. I glanced up. He was talking then made a motion like he expected me to roll down my window. I looked at him, raised one eyebrow, shrugged my shoulders and mouthed, "No." He kept talking and gesturing. I put my hands over my ears, shook my head and mouthed, "I don't want to talk to you." He threw up his hands in apparent disgust and walked away. But not before he banged the trunk of my car lightly with his fist.

Lest I forget, there is also the McDonald's Man. We have dubbed him that because he can often be found seated on the curb by our local McDonald's. His clothing is filthy, he carries a large bulging satchel and has a beard like Santa Claus. Except I always imagine Santa to be well-groomed. McDonald's Man is anything but well-groomed.

The truth about why I don't give handouts close to home shames me: I don't want to encourage them to hang around. The guy panhandling downtown at the Metro station? Sure, I have and may again give him a buck or two. But put the same guy at my suburban Metro station? I'll walk right by without a second look.

I don't much like that side of me.
But evidently I don't not like it enough to change.



SassyFemme said...

I can't remember the last time we gave money to someone on the street asking for it. It just doesn't feel right. Fran and I will give money to the soup kitchen, or agencies that help homeless, but not directly to the homeless.

Elizabeth said...

Damn. The guy hitting the trunk of your car, now that's a bit scary.

I had a guy a couple weeks ago come up to me at an ATM. It was during the day but it scared the shit out of me.

If I had kept my cool I would have told him it wasn't proper begging ettiquette to approach someone at an ATM. Instead I said, "What the fuck are you doing? This is an ATM! Don't you see it's an ATM? What the fuck are you doing coming up to me at an ATM! Don't you know not to fucking come up to someone at an ATM?"

He walked away in terror.

Deb Heller said...

Wow, don't ever go up to eb at an ATM, she's scary.

wordsrock - what you're seeing, IMHO, is the legacy of Ronald Reagan's presidency. It was his administration that opened the doors of mental institutions by drying up their funds, then shutting them down once they were empty. Of course, and yours may know more about this than I do - I'm not in that industry, but I do know many who are.

I've seen the same kind of people and behaviors around here. There is the woman who takes up her post every day at a stop light leading away from Safeway and the hardware store. She seems to have enough money and resources to occassionally color her grey hair a strawberry blond.

When I was visiting my family up in Washington State, we were in a Target parking lot and were accosted twice for money. It seems to be a regular feature of that lot, because everytime I go back, there always seems to be someone bothering folks as they go to their vehicles. Their secret weapon seems to be surprise - they could be any shopper, until one turns to you with a sob story which ends in request for spare change.

I think I would feel good about giving a helping hand if I knew it would really make a difference?

I wonder, though, if that really matters? Doesn't a kind heart mean more? I guess fear for my own or my children's safety means a whole lot more.

Yeah, you hit a nerve.

Middle Girl said...

Some people are dangerous, being cautious is prudent.
Some people are hurting, being compassionate is human.
Some people are homeless,being as as generous as you can afford to be is right.
Some people are scamming...
How do you know? How do you choose?

Anonymous said...

When I lived in Missoula, MT, there were lots of supposedly homeless people asking for spare change in certain areas. I never gave any because I was going to school and fairly broke myself. The city took care of it, though, because as I read in the newspaper, a lot of these people weren't actually homeless and made a good living begging for change. Missoulians were asked not to give change to people on the street asking for it. Businesses put out jars for "Real Change." Money donated for Real Change was given to soup kitchens, homeless shelters, etc. People were asked to give money to Real Change instead, to be sure that it was going to people who really did need it. People stopped begging on the streets. Personally, I think this is the way to go.

Gunfighter said...

Generally speaking, despite my "compassionate" nature, I don't give money to people on the street.

I'll give them food, I'll give them water, but not money.

Nothing wrong with being wary.

weese said...

i read this and realize how cloistered we are here in our little CT town. I have never put much thought into it, but i realize now - you just don't see that here... at all.
the only one looking for handouts in this town - is Ferri$. and really - i wish he would approach E at the ATM.

WenWhit said...

lmao at weese.

tiff said...

There are people here in the Raleigh area that stand at random stoplights in the suburbs with wee cardboard signes that say "Been sick" or "out of work." I have NO idea who would give these people help, and in my crazed mind I wonder "how the heck did you get all the way out HERE?"

I provide fundage to charity, an that's that, by and large.

Oh and - the only daughter? Good question.

jordanrep.com/10522 said...

Only daughter, you said it all.

the only daughter said...
Some people are dangerous, being cautious is prudent.
Some people are hurting, being compassionate is human.
Some people are homeless,being as as generous as you can afford to be is right.
Some people are scamming...
How do you know? How do you choose?

I live on a street in a fairly poor neighborhood with people walking through all the time. I don't know if these people are homeless or without non-ped transportation. I imagine they have a place to live, because they usually carry grocery bags with them from the nearby market.

But, I have 'my own' homeless person. He's an aquaintance now with a familiarity that is surprising for someone I don't actually know.

He approached me the 1st time at my post office and asked for money for food. He scared me, because he came right up to the car door, and he looked a little wild with a bushy beard and hair.

I bought him food instead at the dollar store next to the P.O.. The second time we met, he was drinking water at a restaurant where I was having lunch with a friend. I bought him a sandwich that day.

We met two more times in that restaurant, but I didn't buy him anything, b/c I knew they were taking care of him. About that time, we introduced ourselves. He told me his nickname and said it's the same as his grandfather's nickname.

He cut his hair and trimmed his beard. He said he was looking for work, but he needed $16 to get a new government issued ID. He asked if he could work for me for the money.

I teased him about always trying to get money from me. I told him there's a guy who hangs around on my street who's always asking if he can weedeat or mow my yard for cigarette and beer money. I mostly just didn't want to take him to my house, so I told him no. And, I did not give him any money.

At the restaurant, we talked about his living and working situation. I still don't understand. He appears to be able-bodied. He told me he used to earn a good wage as a painter. I never got the connection to why he's in his current situation.

This past Sunday, I took some blankets to a nearby laundrymat. He saw me and approached me with a big smile. His hair and beard still looked okay, but his clothes were dirty and he looked like he'd been out all day.

I called him by name. He now seems like a friend who's always trying to borrow money that you know will never be repaid.

He tried to sell me things he'd dug out of a dumpster. I told him I didn't need any belts or hair products. He begged me to buy something. "Please!" he said. I said I only brought enough money for the washer and dryer. He begged, "I'm hungry!"

I said, "Don't you have a house you live in?" Because he told me once that he had a place he stays, people he stays with. He said, "I live under a bridge."

I went home and brought back two bottles of water, three cans of soup with pop-top lids, a metal fork and spoon, a couple of cans of vegetables (without pop-top lids, I now realize) and some heavy duty paper towels.

I looked around for him, but he was gone from the place he'd been standing with the box of dumpster items. Then, I saw him running towards me. I guess he's not used to people doing what they say ("I'll bring you some food.").

He looked so happy when he saw the food and the water. I thought about what a brief time that amount of food will last. I still don't understand why he doesn't work. There is no obvious reason I can detect (by looking at him or talking with him). But, I do believe him when he tells me he's hungry.

"Where's your bridge?" I asked as he was leaving with the food. He told me the cross streets. He lives a mile from my house under the bridge next to the ice cream store.

sporksforall said...

My mother has worked with the homeless for years and I have never seen her give out money when approached.

There was an interesting article in a New Yorker magazine a couple of months ago that advocated a permanent shelter system.

Teresa said...

Sometimes when I get a real visceral feeling of connection with someone on the street I'll give money on the spot, but mostly I'd advocate handing out cards with information about local shelters.

Career Guy said...

Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. Lately I've noticed something very peculiar. On two occasions, men who were obviously working, since they had hard hats and work clothes on, have asked me for very specific amounts of money. One needed ten dollars to get his car back from a repair shop down the street. Another needed precisely sixteen dollars to fix his gas tank. How he knew the patch would cost just that, I don't know. Anyway, he was disappointed that I didn't give him all sixteen dollars. The first guy was ecstatic with whatever I gave him. I tell them to pay it forward.

Hey--my word verification is "summmr"!

jordanrep.com/10522 said...

It's been bothering me that I said "'my own' homeless person." It sounds too much like an ownership phrase or some kind of claim to fame.

I meant it more in the way you'd say 'my friend'. He's not actually my friend, but we acknowledge each other as someone we know. We have been introduced. We have had conversations. He's not just someone whose eyes I try to avoid when I'm at the red light next to his 'Will work for food' sign. (btw - I've not seen him do that.)

I keep wanting to find a way to help in some way other than what he's asking for (money) or what I'm willing to provide (occasional food items). We're on a first name basis, so what can I do to make a difference in his life other than being someone he approaches for a handout?

I feel like treating him with dignity and respect is really important. That's how I want to be treated. But, what can I actually do for him?

I don't want him to have to come to me from a position of need and see me as someone who is his benefactor (however small that might be). What if he really does want to work? Wouldn't that be the better gift (helping him find the right connections to get work)? But, I don't really know how to do that.

Has anyone ever helped a homeless person find a steady job? Do you know what steps to take? deb