Sunday, April 10, 2011

H is for the homeless, I is for idealism

Once, when a friend and I were planning a trip into D.C., she said, "But seriously, I'm only going in without you if you promise not to talk to the homeless people."

I don't remember what I'd done before to bring that on. I have an admittedly low capacity for resistance to people asking me for food, though, which may make me a sucker. I've volunteered with homeless teenagers before, so I know sometimes people are trying to get money for things that are... not food. But still.

Yesterday I was in Baltimore by myself. I parked my car in a lot and as I walked out,  there was no one around except a young man with a beard and worn-looking clothes. He came over to me, said, "I don't know if you can help me..."

"I'll try," I said, thinking he was going to ask me for directions, which was just going to be bad for both of us. I can barely give directions to my house, forget a city I don't live in.

"I'm trying to buy some food," he said.

"Oh, sure." I pulled my wallet out of my purse and opened it, and then realized - and I'm sure he saw too - that I had around a dozen $20's. I'd just picked up cash the day before to pay a friend for a piece of exercise equipment for our home gym.

I couldn't help but think... man, this guy is probably a nice guy who's down on his luck, but the nicest guy in the world who's hungry has got to be thinking he could punch me in the face and walk off with my wallet right now, even if he never would.

That didn't happen. But I thought two things, afterwards. One, maybe I'm dumb for stopping and opening up my wallet when I'm alone and there's no one else around.  Two, I wish I'd walked around the corner with him to the Subway and bought him lunch instead of giving him a few bucks and hurrying off to my meeting. It would have been a bit more meaningful of a gesture. So what if I'd been two minutes late?

And those two thoughts are completely contradictory.

I know we all have our own philosophies - some people give to panhandlers, some only give to charities that help the homeless. I don't think there's anything wrong with any of those different perspectives.

But personally, when someone asks me for food, I don't see any reason not to give. I guess I'd rather be a little dumb sometimes.


Trisha said...

I'm a sucker, and I'm okay with that - when people who are obviously already drunk ask me for a few dollars "for the bus", I'll give it to them. I'm privileged, and I know it. They are not.

Summer Frey said...

My parents gave money to homeless men because they said "you never know who might be an angel in disguise." It's a little religious-y for me, but I've always appreciated the sentiment.

Rachel Stark said...

I agree. I prefer to buy someone food or put them on a bus to a shelter rather than just handing out money, but I try to believe everyone has the best intentions until/unless they prove otherwise.

Eliza said...

It probably is better to buy the food. I'm never sure if people are just going to buy alcohol or drugs with cash. It must have ben a bit scary when you opened your wallet!

Old Kitty said...

Awww beautiful Guinevere! If some poor soul came up to me asking for monies "for a cup of tea" I'd be fishing in my pockets for change to give. I think someone who goes around begging has reached a low point whatever their circumstances but it cannot be their preferred choice and it cannot do them good to be brushed away and treated with suspicion. I'd like to think that anyway!

Take care and may you continue to be warm-hearted and generous - a little kindness really does make the world a better place! Take care

Lynn Colt said...

One of the ways my bf impressed me when we first started dating was by giving away his leftovers (after we'd had dinner at a restaurant) to a guy on the street who asked for them. Maybe the guy was just opportunistic and not really homeless (couldn't really tell), but the gesture said a lot about my bf. Compassion and generosity are hot :)

Hannah Kincade said...

I usually give what I can but I'm also a very distrustful person so I'm always leery of pulling out my wallet. I'll most definitely give if it's within easy reach. The Man always keeps change and a few dollars on him for just that purpose, so I rely on him.

Lynn said...

I love this post. I am a bit guarded when it comes to giving directly to those who ask as I'm unsure of their intentions, but have been known to offer left overs and change if easily accessible in a pocket. Otherwise, I definitely participate in charities and love it! Great post!

Carrie said...

I stopped giving money after a couple bad experiences. Now I try to make sure I give to organizations like The United Way. I donate to the food shelf too. Most the people who panhandle where I live don't seem interested in food.