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FF Sparks (Casual)

[Rambling] Homeless musing...

Years ago, when I still lived on the Eastside, I used to go the Safeway and grab a bit of deli food for my lunch break while I was at work. One day, I encountered a homeless guy outside of it, asking for change so he could get a bite to eat. I rarely have change on me, but I offered to let him pick something from the deli and buy it for him. He was very grateful, and called me his 'angel.' While he ate, we talked, and I admit I learned a lot more about the homeless world than I had ever expected to.

More recently, I've gotten to know these two homeless Vietnam vets, who make the rounds by our local QFC (that's a supermarket, for those not from the area; used to be independent, got bought by Kroger, but they kept the QFC name and look/layout for brand loyalty). I used to give them a bit of change, but lately when I spot them while shopping, I'll ask if I can pick up anything inside for them. Sometimes it's just 'a package of tissues' or 'a cup of yogurt,' but usually they'll ask for something like a cold deli sandwich or whatever. I know the one guy likes a turkey sandwich on rye and a bottle of water, the other likes a roast beef on french with a Sobé green tea. It's easy, it doesn't cost me much, and it means a lot more to them than just some change hurriedly dropped in a hand or cup.

So as I was picking up a roast beef and Sobé for the one guy tonight while shopping, I started to think about this. People view homelessness as a stigma, and in some cases it /is/ due to people just being lazy (or drug addicts, or whatever). These two vets, though, have injuries which actually make it hard to work (one has a really bad knee, the other's got something seriously wrong with his arm), and so they never quite can get their lives back on track easily. People walk past homeless folks so often, make excuses, tell themselves that 'well, I'd give them the money but they'd just spend it on booze.' I've seen it happen. Heck, when I stop to talk to one of the Vets, I've seen people glare at me as if they think I'm bad for buying them a bit of food or giving them a friendly word or two.

And it seems like in times past, when a person was down on their luck, that's just the sort of thing those around them would do; you didn't expect praise or anything else, it was just part of being there for others. Doing the right thing, as it were. Somehow, modern society seems to have pulled away from that; it's the exception rather than the expectation, if that makes any sense. I suppose modern society has really pushed the 'everything for me' as opposed to 'everything for the community' mindset; some folks want power, fame, riches, acclaim, whatever, while others just want... well, a sandwich and a Sobé.

There wasn't really a point to this post, just a bit of rambling thought.

Comments

I heard a suggestion years ago that if you wanted to be sure it didn't jsut "go to booze" that you should carry McDonalds gift certificates with you. They come in really small denominations and maybe aren't the healthiest thing, but better than nothing.
There wasn't really a point to this post, just a bit of rambling thought.

Good story, though. You're right. Some folks want a bazillion bucks... some just want a sandwich and a Sobe... I think I'm a lot farther towards the latter.
I think part of it is numbers. When there’s one beggar in your neighborhood, everybody chips in a bit to help him out. When there are a hundred, it’s just overwhelming, so nobody wants anything to do with them. I vaguely remember running into some research that bore this theory out, something about people being less willing to give to beggars the more beggars they encountered.

Another part is the Reagan-era turning out of mental patients.
Around here, there is a double-pronged approach. On the one hand, one of the major local newspapers has a setup with a number of the local shelters; they provide free t-shirts with the newspaper's logo and stacks of papers every day. The homeless folks sell them on streetcorners and at red lights and keep whatever they make.

On the other hand, the local supermarkets are very finicky and any homeless who go near them to ask for change or the like get shooed away (under threat of arrest, I suppose).

Most homeless folks only beg for change as a result at red lights such as on the turnoff from the highway. I imagine they would pick other places, but that's where they're least likely to be harassed...
You're not alone in the world, hon. I've been known to go into Tim Horton's to buy a few hot chocolates, then hand them out to some of the homeless I walk by in the winter. I've always been greeted with a smile and genuine appreciation. But I don't do it for that reason... I just figure if I can, I will.

But I haven't done this in my city in recent years because there have been some really aggressive types on the streets lately, who walk up and get in your face about money and nearly bully you into giving them something. At 1am in the morning in the downtown core, that can be very unnerving for a woman -- enough to make me yell, "NO!" and back away really quickly. Usually they back off at that point because you're making a scene, but I've had some actually come out and grab at my arm harshly... it gets scary.

We also have a staggering number of 'street folk' in our downtown core, ranging from teenagers all the way up to seniors. It's hard to tell who is actually homeless and who is there just to grab some extra pocket cash.

I wish for the days gone past when it was easier to tell who really needed it and when you wouldn't be accosted for money.
See, I know these two. They've been begging change at this particular corner by the supermarket (one or the other, or both of them) for well over a year, so I know they're safe. (I mean, heck, I know what sandwiches they prefer.)

But you're right that it can be bad, in some places.
About a month ago I used to live about 15 min. away, which was far away enough to make a difference in the neighborhood. A -big- one.

People would lie -all the time-, giving sob stories how their baby needs shoes, their mom is sick etc... and I know they were really lying. Of course one time I gave a guy $10 when I was flat broke because I finally broke down and was thinking "What if this time someone is telling the truth?" I really and truly believe he wasn't but I couldn't help myself. I can't really explain how you know they are but it was such a common trend.
I also have to note I hope my reply made sense and didn't sound totally ignorant. I'm on Vicodin and I just woke up. :p I was babbling in relation to part of your comment.

It's hard to tell who is actually homeless and who is there just to grab some extra pocket cash.
I'm glad to find there are some people in the world who feel the same way I do. The scornful looks I get when I mention I've helped a homeless person only serve to infuriate me. There but for the grace of God go you or I, and that's something I'm never going to forget.
It is mixed.

I generally don't give money or anything to homeless folks. As someone else said... there are just /so many/ around here. And I've been witnessed at and bugged even after we said no one too many times.

However, I know the one guy I did talk to a lot when I lived in DC was a pretty nice guy. I didn't give him much -- I was a very poor college student without anything to spare -- but I gave him some money even though he admitted he'd spend it on beer. I thought that was beautifully honest.

Now, when my car overheated on me, the two homeless guys who helped me refused to take anything, and I would have bought them a meal. Offered several times, in fact, and they shook their heads... even though they'd worked on the car for 15-20 minutes with me. I gave them five bucks anyway. The woman at the gas station counter knew them and said they were good guys, too.

So yeah, you get all types.
When I was younger (between 5 and 13) I spent a LOT of time in Downtown Kalamazoo, and like any downtown there are the homeless people (fortunately the number is quite small here) and we also had the Rickman Place just around the corner from where I was, which was a shelter for mentally instable people. Uncle Sam, for example. Perfectly harmless old man, just wasn't completely there in the head... and he walked around in full-scale Uncle Sam outfit. Red and White stripped pants with a blue star belt, red and white stripped shirt with blue star lapel things.. white shirt underneath, with the hat.. and he had a beard.

He would come up to the desk at the museum and complain that the kids were staring at him. You're just not sure what to say in that situation.

But anyway, I would go and wander around downtown at the age of 7.. Mom didn't /really/ know I was doing this alone or else she'd've had a cat.. but I didn't KNOW any better, and I'd just start talking to these people. The stories that they would tell you, the things they /knew/... it was fun. I thoroughly enjoyed just sitting on a bench with one of them and chatting for an hour or two. I didn't have any money, and the concept that they didn't have any money either didn't hit me until I was closer to 13.. but when I went out I'd stop and pick up a bag of chips and something to drink before I went to sit with them, and let them munch while we were talking and gave them the drink to keep.

But yeeegads. I never really noticed it when I was younger either, but the people downtown.... I got looks that were part fear mixed with shock and sometimes anger and suprise and a woman actually came up to me one day when I was 9 and grabbed me by the shoulder, pulled me off the bench and asked me if my mother knew who I was talking to.

I don't get it. I guess its the few bad eggs ruin the bunch thing.. but these people aren't all bad. I met a guy who had to have been a genius- he would sit at a table with an old worn out briefcase and an old tape recorder and just talk into it. And I'd sit and listen. And it was.. brilliant things he was saying. But when I got him to talk to me (it was hard to get his attention sometimes) he told me he'd lost his job because he was too smart, and he'd get too wrapped into things.. and it just didn't work. Now he's homeless. Its SAD.

Sigh. Anyway, I guess your rambling touched me. I think I got a wee bit carried away there.