Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Reinforcing The Comfort Zone Wall

We have a rather aggressive panhandler at the "Y", the intersection where Highways 2 and 395 split off from Division, who creates some conflicted feelings for me. On one hand, I sympathize with people who beg for food and money. I never give money, but I have handed over food on more than one occasion. The problem I have is this person walks up to the car while pointing to his "Hungry. Need help." sign with a "How 'bout it?" expression on his face. He does this for every vehicle that's waiting at the red light. When the light turns green, he walks back to the intersection and waits for the red light to stop the next batch of potential donors.

I'm guessing he does well since he's there so often. And I've seen him standing at the intersection counting the dollar bills he's collected. But I find his method and actions have helped callous me because he gives me the feeling that those who give are merely contributing to a lucrative activity and not necessarily helping someone who is in need.

But how do I know his situation? How do I know what he uses the money for? Like I said, I'm conflicted.

To put it more precisely, I feel this guy has crossed the line from relying on the sympathy of others to preying on their guilt. Does that make sense?


Lucas said...

That totally makes sense. I do not give panhandlers money, as there are any number of services out there to address their problems. I realize that the public and private organizations that work to fight homelessness can't fix everything, but they are a good start. I have always wanted to come up with a business card-sized "homeless cheat sheet" that listed some of the places homeless people could go in Spokane for help. I wouldn't have a problem handing that out to panhandlers, since it would steer them in the right direction.

I also think the panhandlers don't represent the larger homeless community. I think the aggressive street panhandler is someone who has decided they don't mind begging and find it preferable to whatever other activity they could be doing to improve their situation.

It is a tough one though, because there is a sense of guilt at not doing something to help, especially if you feel like you have been blessed.

Barb Chamberlain said...

Without meaning to sound heartless, I've often wondered how much I'd really be tapped for if I were to hand out gift certificates redeemable at a local restaurant (close to the site where the person is flying sign so there's not a transportation burden involved). I'd set up a deal with the restaurant that I only pay if someone comes there for food bearing the certificate & see what happens.

The "cheat sheet"/resource list is another thought I'd had as well--maybe in particular if you actually donate to those places so you're helping make services available.

Best feeling I've ever had about helping someone down on his luck? I had an apple left over from my lunch that I gave to a grizzled old man I saw going through a garbage receptacle pulling out anything that looked like it might have food. We looked each other in the eye and he thanked me. He was hungry, and I fed him. No barrier, no displacement to a service provider. That was real.


Hank Greer said...


Your gift certificate idea is intriguing.

Shan said...

Back in the day, I frequently saw this man holding up a sign asking for help. I saw him all over the place. But when I saw him "finish his shift" and walk over to his BMW (or Mercedes... I never can keep these cars clear) and pull on one of those popular-at-the-time big sweaters with leather strips randomly placed on it, I never felt bad about not giving to him again.

A month or so ago I saw a young woman with a "homeless and hungry" sign. However, she had dyed hair with highlights (something I can't work into my own budget), so again, I am guilt free.

Conversely, I ended up giving a ride to a woman one day this summer. She didn't ask for it, even indirectly; she had asked for directions to a pay phone. We had the best connection two people who have not much in common can have.

When I run into Deaf people who are trying to sell trinkets at the local malls, I give them information on the local Department of Rehabilitation office and the services offered. Perhaps while shopping I should carry a sign that says I have taught sign language and that my work is getting people with disabilities employed. Hardly seems fair, haha.

I guess my point is that I have to follow my instincts. Sometimes that means giving something non-monetary (who has money these days?!?) and sometimes it means moving on.

Sherry said...

I give cash to beggars when I can. I used to fret that they might be using it to buy alcohol, drugs, etc. but then it was pointed out to me that what they do with the money is between them and God. (the person who said that was a priest) I feel like I've tried to help a person in need.

John Speare said...

I'm with Sherry. If I have a buck and it's easy, I'll give it away. If I were homeless I think I'd rather have a drink than a meal.