Tonight, loaded down with Christmas shopping, I walked by 3 homeless men, all of whom asked me quietly and politely “can you spare some change?”
I tend to give them my “I’m too absorbed in that shop window to hear you properly” smile, and answer back equally politely and quietly, “No, sorry”.
Worse, I’ve been known to pretend I don’t hear them, and continue walking as if they’re invisible.
Each time I do this, I feel my face tighten, my hands clench and my lips beginning to purse. I feel guilty.
I walk on, rationalizing to myself why I don’t stop to help these men out:
1. I don’t happen to have change sitting in my hand as I walk. It’d take at least a minute of juggling my bags to get to my change purse and pull out enough to look generous but not too much to look a target. (Just keep a coin or two in your pocket, Wendy. There, problem solved!)
2. I give to charity already. I can’t give to every street beggar I see or I’ll be broke. (So, giving a £3 a day is going to break the bank? I don’t think so)
3. I don’t have the time to stop. (Why, where are you going now? Oh, that’s right: home. How ironic)
4. That one guy who dresses as Santa and even has a costume for his dog…surely he can’t be that hard up for money! I’m not giving to him. (Are you saying that because he’s showing ingenuity and a bit of humour, he’s not needy? Wow, you’re tough)
I saw a little girl wanting to slow down and read a man’s homemade sign the other day; her mother pulled her hand and rushed her on her way.
The sign read, “I’m Hungry, Need Food”.
I wonder what message that little girl learned from her mother’s actions?
This isn’t a letter with a nice, pleasing ending, where I buy everyone a turkey and rain dollar bills down from my window onto the street below. I have no answers.
anyone can become homeless and it happens almost without you even realizing it.
The author of the piece was employed as a shift worker, working one week in the woods, one week off, one week in the woods, etc. He depended on his roommate to hand in the rent cheques, but sadly for him, one month the rent was due, the roommate’s cheques were bouncing and the landlord was unhappy.
When he came home after a week’s absence, he discovered all his worldly possessions had been put on the sidewalk by the landlord. He’d been kicked out.
Without a place to live, he couldn’t get a new job. You need a permanent address to put on your application. He slept in his car. He kept his forestry job, which gave him room and board for 2 weeks of the month. He discovered friends don’t mind taking you in, but not on a permanent basis. He bought himself a camp stove to cook his food but he couldn’t use the stove in the city limits, so had to drive to a campsite to cook. This journey took a lot of gasoline, which is expensive. He had no fridge to keep his food, so had to buy meal by meal each day as there was no place to store it or keep it fresh.
He states that a lot of homeless people don’t become homeless because they’re addicts, but the other way around. With no internet or TV to entertain himself, drugs were a welcome relief to the tedium of long days with nothing to do and nowhere to go.
He also said that a friend of his told him that the first thing he did when he became homeless was to buy a gym membership. Access to a gym meant he could shower every day, a definite plus for someone who wants to look (and smell) presentable for job interviews.
He lived like this for 6 months. I couldn’t imagine living like that for 6 days.
I think of this story every time I pass one of these men on the street. Each of them has a story to tell, and perhaps one of them is similar to the one above – or not. Who am I to judge?
I’d like to think I’ll keep spare change in my coat pocket this winter, and maybe I will, for a day or two, until I forget to replenish it.
Then what? Will I go back to ignoring these men, tightly smiling at them as I whisk by, doing my best to ignore them?
I don’t know.
- Is This a Great Charity Stunt or Not? (mediabistro.com)
- Our heroes on the streets – veterans among rising homeless in Brighton and Hove (theargus.co.uk)
- Los Angeles Considering Proposal To Ban Feeding Homeless People In Public (thinkprogress.org)