Susan's Blog

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Home is Where the Heart Is

Today I gave a homeless man $20. I had $40 in my wallet; no singles. But I thought, “What do I need it for? Some Starbux and a sandwich? I have all that.” I gave it to him and he said I was beautiful, so it was worth it. Seriously, it was. Other times I’ve given $5 or $10 and they always say, “God bless you.” And that makes me feel good: the blessings, I mean. I can use blessings. And I walk away feeling like I have made a small difference in someone’s life.

And maybe I have. Maybe getting that much money makes the guy feel like life isn’t bad at all. Maybe it helps him get off the sidewalk and help himself.

I know people scoff and say, “Oh, he’ll just spend it on drugs or booze.” Where did that meanspirited attitude come from? Was there some study that came out with The Facts? Some anecdotal research? Gut feeling? How shitty.

But even my college students say that. They are certain that it is a waste — nay, wrong, even — to give a homeless man money when he asks for it on the street. “That’s why they have shelters,” people say. I think that is cynical. We have no evidence that this is where they all should be.

I once read a book, “The Glass Castle,” by Jeannette Walls. This was a memoir of a woman who grew up in Appalachia, with parents who may have been bipolar or something. She eventually dug her way out and went on to live a very healthy and happy life, even though by her adulthood her parents were homeless. It seemed, from the book, that they were homeless by choice. They saw themselves as the new pioneers, freethinkers not bound by civilization’s “stuck-up” ways.

I do not agree with them and I think that such beliefs are a set-up for a very hard life, of begging and suffering from cold, filth, disease, loneliness, etc. But her parents were happy. I learned a lot from that book, about how to hang on to your sanity in otherwise insane conditions; how to love flawed people without becoming flawed yourself; how to put yourself in others’ shoes.

Being homeless means a lot of scrounging, scrimping, and struggling. It means you have to rely on others’ sporadic generosity and your own wits and luck to survive. There’s probably much more to it that I can’t even imagine — though I do have a rich imagination — because I live in the proverbial ivory tower, like a princess on a hill. Or something like that.

I see some homeless who seem disabled somehow. Maybe they are autistic, and under no one’s care. Maybe they were always poor and so no one in their lousy school system diagnosed them. They missed out on being in The State System and now they are simply out on the streets. One guy I see downtown where I teach speaks with a really weird, raspy monotone, “Eh-nn-y spaaaaya-chaaaange– Miss?” I have seen cops tell him harshly to stop bothering people. I have seen others sneer at him.

Why do people think they can treat others this rudely, just because they are asking for money from strangers? Yes, it is a bit of a nuisance to have a stranger come up to you, especially someone who doesn’t seem clean or “all there.” But it is a human being we are talking about! Possibly with issues near and dear to my heart. Or other struggles. And let’s say there is something about life in a shelter that feels suffocating or somehow wrong? Am I to judge that?

Our society takes care of many who have trouble doing it on their own. What’s with the judgments? Is it somehow more okay if there is a nonprofit overseeing the money and doling it out how they see fit? Why? Why is it better to give $25 to some organization and not to a person who directly asks for it? Why assume he’s on drugs, and if he is, why judge him? Have you ever tried to break a habit, any habit? I have. It is the hardest thing to do. Imagine if your body hurts from breaking the habit. Imagine if you have delusions of some sort and do not know how to get help, and maybe people are a bit skittish of helping you precisely because you look like you need help!

We should just give people a break. Why do we need that loose dollar getting dogeared in the wallet? What is it for, the Tooth Fairy?


You have a good heart. Love from texas, nance

— added by nancemandell on Thursday, March 12, 2009 at 7:04 pm

Great post. I used to not give money to those asking for such donations until I read a quote by someone (can’t remember who) who pointed out, in essence, much as you did, that anyone who can stand in public and ask for change by definition needs the dollar more than I do, regardless of the ultimate use.

It is also good modeling for the kids.

— added by Randy on Thursday, March 12, 2009 at 8:00 pm

Your blog made me think. I like that. I think the next time I see a person asking for money, I will not judge, I will drop what I have in my pocket into their cup! Thanks for the lesson!

— added by Anonymous on Thursday, March 12, 2009 at 8:02 pm

I flipped a couple of bucks to a guy standing at an intersection. When i mentioned it, people responded “Oh, he probably bought drugs with it!” or “They plant those people there!”. If your job is to be planted somewhere to seem poor and beg for money, then I believe you deserve it, as that is not a pleasant job!
Oddly, I had planned on buying lottery tickets with those dollars. Maybe I won in a different way!

— added by Bonnie on Thursday, March 12, 2009 at 10:12 pm

good for you-pay it forward-many blessing sent your way-you are wonderful-thank-you for sharing this story-from san francisco

— added by Anonymous on Thursday, March 12, 2009 at 11:41 pm

Hear hear.

— added by Anonymous on Friday, March 13, 2009 at 11:35 am

The giver always receives at least as much as the receiver. It’s what we are here for, to help each other. Knowing this truth I give what I can to everyone, and I am therefore full up and running over with blessings!

— added by Anonymous on Friday, March 13, 2009 at 12:07 pm

You are right, Susan. We are all God’s children, that is for sure. I read the Glass Castle several years ago myself and thought it was a real page turner. I have actually recommended it to several friends who also loved it. I see Jeannette Walls on TV from time to time and she seems to be such a happy, productive person.

— added by Sharon L. on Friday, March 13, 2009 at 2:18 pm

Well, we don’t have many homeless people here in my little corner of F’field County, but for years I lived in NYC.

One time I saw someone walk into a restaurant and pay for a meal to be given to a homeless person outside. The homeless person went in and DEMANDED the CASH — he did not want the food. I guess that sticks with me, that the cash was likely to be used for self-destructive purposes and not a freshly prepared warm meal. — Cathy in CT

— added by Anonymous on Friday, March 13, 2009 at 8:17 pm

Yeah, but maybe he felt patronized having someone buy him a meal that he didn’t ask for. He has a right to decide when and what he wants to eat, right? They say ‘beggars can’t be choosers,’ but he certainly can choose not to be given food if that was not what he was wanting the money for. I also don’t think it’s so terrible if he was buying drugs with it. Why not anaesthetize if he needs to? He leads a very hard life. As long as he is not hurting anyone else, who am I to judge?

— added by Susan Senator on Friday, March 13, 2009 at 8:23 pm

If the person is an addict, of course they will buy whatever it is they are addicted to. But they would have bought it anyway. It’s always nice to help people out and it’s always nice to be helped out.

— added by VAB on Saturday, March 14, 2009 at 2:44 am

Great post! I agree that we should not be cynical about homeless people. Yes, some may be frauds or people who’ll waste the money on drink and drugs, but most seem genuine and are on the streets through no fault of their own.

As well as cash, I think you can also buy them a snack or sandwich, not take them to a restaurant or anything )where they may feel awkward) but hand them a few dollars, a sandwich and can of drink.

— added by Chun Wong on Friday, March 20, 2009 at 12:59 pm

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