I Lectured Him A Little

We used to go to downtown with my dad when we were little. The cement benches were host to sleeping homeless men (I don’t recall seeing homeless women in my youth). The homeless men of my youth were Vietnam Veterans and drunks, almost without fail.

I don’t remember how the discussions begun, but they always ended the same way. My father would say to me, “That man was someone’s baby. Someone rocked and kissed him when he was a baby, and someone still loves him.” I was never taught to be afraid of homeless people, nor to pity them too much. I was weaned on a steady diet of compassion. Perhaps that’s why I’m drawn to the work that Mark Hovarth and Matthew Barnett do. It’s like they set the table for dinner and invite people to join, they give folks an opportunity to work things out.

Today when I went to CVS there was a man out front holding a pack of cigarettes. He was in his 20’s tall and unremarkable, except that he needed a shave. He asked me if I smoked. “Nah,” I chuckled, because he was just so hustle-y (shaddup it’s a word!). He continued, “Well, would you mind giving me some change for food?”

It took me a moment, and then I realized that he was standing in front of a drugstore, selling single cigarettes at a markup in order to raise money, and that he was probably homeless. I only had big bills so I told him I’d get him on the way out.

I spent a hundred dollars on something, odds and ends that our house needed. On the way out I stopped to give him two dollars (I’m a sucker during the holidays), and I took a closer look. He was a young, articulate man, broad shouldered and appeared quite sober.

“You’re too smart for this.” I said.

“I know.” He replied. “I’m going to get a job, next week. I promise.”

“You don’t have to promise me, if you’re smart enough to make money selling cigarettes people could buy 10 steps away, then you’re smart enough to work. Do you have a home?”

“I’m staying in my car right now.” He put his hand on my shoulder and I saw that his knuckles were scarred. He wasn’t clean, but I let him make the connection. I think we both needed it.

We talked a little more, I told him that the Dream Center might have some resources for him. He told me that he had dreams.

And then I gave him ten dollars. Because he told me that he was a good guy, and I believed him. And if he wasn’t? Well, he was a good enough salesman to have earned it.

It probably wasn’t the right thing to do. It’s just what I did.

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  1. I give money to the homeless, disabled panhandlers and even people who come up sort on change at a check-out. I have been lucky in this life and though maybe sometimes I am conned, I’d rather err on the side of acting on my better instincts.

    We were in Victoria during the week of Remembrance Day. The climate is such that there are a lot of homeless people. Some are kids who look pretty able to work to me but chose to sit on blankets along the busy streets with used paper cups sitting in front of them. They don’t even bother to ask for change. They just expect it. But there were quite a few middle aged and older men in wheelchairs, severely disabled. They would park themselves outside of the Starbucks that littered the downtown. The majority of people went in, came out with their drinks and a pocket of change and walked right past. Every time I stopped at a Starbucks (yeah, I like chai latte’s. it doesn’t make me a bad person), I looked about as I came out for one of these men to give the change to.

    “Why are you doing that?” my husband asked.

    It was because I could. One fellow would talk with everyone who gave him change.

    “What did he say?” husband inquired.

    “I couldn’t understand a thing but the last part,” I said. “God bless you.”

    You too.

  2. This post hits home Jessica! I love it. It’s the kind of thing I really would like to see more of. My first experience with homeless people and panhandlers was when I visited Las Vegas. It was something else, I felt horrible. I gave alot of change away. The other day we seen a man holding a sign outside the grocery store that said “Will work for food.” It’s very cold here in the midwest and he had a coat and hat, but no mittens. It was sad. I had my husband stop at the gas station and I ran in and got a sandwich, Gatorade and $2. I walked across the street and handed it to the man. He thanked me and said this was the first meal he had in 4 days. I couldn’t imagine. I am too soft, so I didn’t ask his story. I just Merry Christmas & that I hoped something came along for him, and referred him to the church that does meals daily for homeless. He thanked me, bowed his head, and said “God Bless You.” It was all I needed. I felt humbled. But I still feel sad for this man. Just as your post said, he is/was someone’s baby, someone’s son, someone loves him and here he is in this situation, whatever it is, not able to eat. *sigh* Breaks my heart!

  3. awesome post. awesome awesome awesome!

    when I speak one question I can guarantee from an adult crowd (kids seem to ask different questions based on solutions), ” should I give homeless money?”.

    official homeless services response is a flat out NEVER

    my response is – IT DEPENDS!

    there are things (tampons, diapers, cough drops) that a half-eaten sandwich won’t buy. We all eat at Cheese Cake Factory and no one can finish those portions. We get a “to go” box and seek out a homeless person as we walk to our car. People on the streets get so much of our leftovers as a primary donation it’s sad!

    we also use “they’ll buy a beer” as an excuse to not give money. The guy is going to the bathroom outside let him have a beer! No, I don’t encourage drugs and drinking, but let’s be real. People in society drink and use. Some do so responsibly. We don’t judge them, yet a person who is literally living in Hell we have issues buying them a beer! Point blank – when I was on the streets if I didn’t get drugs I would be dope sick. that would make me vulnerable and very bad things could happen. At times I needed drugs more than I needed food or air. It is nearly impossible to stay sober without permanent housing. The people who gave me money on Hollywood Blvd 15 years ago saved my life!

    that all said I don’t always give money. In fact, it is rare for me to give money. it really depends. Twice this week I opened my wallet and took out every dollar and handed to a homeless family. Yesterday I gave $60 to a homeless man. My work in homeless services only pays my rent so I have negative income each month. That amount is huge too me. But the man I handed it to has two little babies and a wife – nothing else!

    It all depends on the situation. First be safe! Never give if you are in an environment that pulling out a few dollars could cause trouble.

    If you feel it in your heart to give money than the answer is simple – always follow your heart!

    Jessica, you are awesome. This morning I needed a smile and you gave me a huge one!

  4. When I have cash on me I do give to the homeless I see when walking around and have done this for years. There have been times when they have asked for cash for food/coffee and I have bought them lunch/coffee. I’ve also bought and given water to people panhandling when it is very hot. Lately I have made a point of helping people out (cash donations to certain causes, presents for kids who need them) since we are doing so much better than so many other people out there. We aren’t doing totally fantastic but we have a roof over our heads, secure jobs, health (and health insurance), reliable cars. We are very lucky and so many are not right now.

  5. I make a point of giving a couple of bucks to people who are down on their luck every so often provided that they appear to be sober. If they are not I prefer to give them a bottle of water or soda.

    And at least once a year we take the kids along to volunteer at a shelter. Active participation makes a big difference in how they relate to this topic.

  6. Was it the right thing to do? In a scalable public policy sense you already know the answer. But in a human “who knows what might happen” sense, it was right because it felt right in that moment.

    If he ends up putting it toward drugs then it didn’t push him there.

    But possibly that one act of impulsive humanity sparked something in him. Or it could have sparked something in you. Not sure what the odds are of either, but I put them above the Lottery or Vegas.

    I remember sitting and eating lunch with some of the (long-time) homeless people where I went to college. The staff had gone on strike so the university had hooked us up with meal plan credits that could only be spent at certain restaurants. I didn’t have much money, but those credits always bought more than I could eat…so I just invited the first person who asked for money to lunch. Probably did more for me than it did for them–but maybe?

  7. “That man was someone’s baby. Someone rocked and kissed him when he was a baby, and someone still loves him.”

    I’m a puddle. I promise I will teach my kids that kind of compassion.

  8. Pingback: What Went Wrong? | One Scrappy Mom

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