Sunday, November 21, 2010

Feeding the "Homeless"

I did something kind of stupid yesterday. I fed a homeless guy.

Actually, he probably wasn't even homeless. He wore cheap dirty clothes, but he probably has a place to live. He was standing on the corner by my neighborhood Starbucks. As I passed he asked, "Could I have a dollar? I'm just trying to get something to eat." As someone who has occasionally given money to "beggars" and immediately regretted it, I instead offered to purchase him some food.

"If you prefer that, sure." OK, I said, and as he followed me he asked, "Is it OK if we go to Quizno's?" As that's where I was going myself, I said that was fine. After I ordered my sandwich, I told the lady to get the guy whatever he wanted. He then asked me if it was OK if he got a Combo. I was a little irritated that he was taking advantage of my generosity. But.... I had offered. And really, at this point, what was a couple more dollars? So I paid for his sandwich plus a drink and whatever else he got. He thanked me several times and I was relieved that he never said "God Bless You"...

I did all this, and quite frankly, I felt like a bit of a chump afterward. Why did I buy this particular guy a sandwich? People ask me for change or a dollar every day and I usually pass them by. But this guy had a specific request for food. Other times, when I've made the offer to purchase food for someone, they backpedal and say they need the money for the bus or other random things. But this guy took me up. Maybe he was truly looking for money to buy food. But he wasn't starving. He was by no means skinny. Frankly, he was rather obese. But that doesn't mean he couldn't use the nutrients.

I've never been starving, but I've gone without eating because I couldn't afford to eat. I've had times where I almost passed out because I was trying to stretch my groceries by eating less. But when it's gotten truly desperate, I've been lucky to have people who could help. So I'm sympathetic. 

And yet, I still feel like I was a fool, like this guy took advantage of me. This isn't directly related to religion or the normal topics of this blog, but it still sort of feels like a moral-ish question. What do you think?


  1. The homeless. It's a real problem and one that I've no idea how to deal with. Downtown Raleigh is tiny compared to LA, so the homeless and panhandlers are often familiar faces instead of an anonymous horde. I'm selfish and I know that if I start to give money to some people, I'll become a sponsor, and kind of like a stray cat, if I give once I won't be able to walk past them without giving regularly.

    Interestingly, I'm far more comfortable giving money and food to cats. I do give a fair amount of charity donations to animal causes and shelters. I use this as a (largely ineffective) shield against my guilt for not assisting the homeless as much as I know that I should.

  2. I'm kind of torn on this one. A guy at work (the stupid coffee place I will hopefully soon not call "work") saw another guy digging through the trash so he told him to stop and bought him a giant cinnamon roll and a coffee. This trash digger left the biggest mess I've ever seen on the table outside. It's like he smeared frosting aaaaalllll over the table, and then poured coffee all over it too. And left his trash all over. I was mad, but then I kept thinking about this guy... I always see him out there, and my thoughts always come back to his parents. Who the f were they? In all likelihood Dad was out of the picture, and Mom was young, ill-prepared, or both. This experience has been behind most of my recent "birth-control should be free", (even though I do not personally take pills and will not, they should be available to those who can and would like to) and "you should be required to get a permit to have children" rants.

    I did buy a little boy a slice of pizza at my other work (the good one!) the other day because he started crying because he didn't have a dollar like all of the other kids. I was then told not to do that again because his mom doesn't want him to eat anything at club. Well I've seen his shoulderblades and elbows (the actual bones, sticking out through his skin) and if starving him to the point where he has no energy is her solution for his ADHD, fuck her. I'm happy I did it. He also left a GIANT MESS all over the table and the other kids kept tattling and I just kept telling them that he didn't know better and he didn't mean to do it so please just forget about it and leave him alone. We had a big bullying talk with them the other day so I kept referencing that.

    No definitive stance on this one, just a few thoughts. The world is stupid. It's better than medieval times, way better, but *sigh*... I don't know what the solution is. Short of child-bearing permits lol.

  3. Wow, Delilah, why do you hate other women? Why the assumption that a loser was raised by a single mother as opposed to a single father or both parents? Wow, overgeneralization much?

    And kids can be skinny just because they're going through growth spurts. My grandson has food allergies. Certain foods are literally poison to him. You've no idea what the mother's reasons for his not being able to eat with the rest of his group were and, in all liklihood they were one of two: health reasons or because he's a finicky eater (skinny would kind of indicate this too) and she has trouble enough getting him to eat his dinner instead of junk food.

    Why all these assumptions about other women?

    GOP, why the hell do you resent the dude's actually taking you up on your offer? He asked at every point before taking something more and at each point he did, you could have said no, I can't afford that much. If he was homeless, he probably preferred the fast food because he wanted a hot meal and had nowhere to cook it. WTF? Next time, drop a buck instead of getting pissed off that they actually take you up on an offer for a good meal.

  4. Why all these assumptions about other people based on a simple comment or post? There's no need for such vehemence or for you to project yours onto other people.

    And you're right. Why did I resent him for taking me up on my offer? I didn't RESENT him, I wasn't PISSED OFF... I offered, he accepted, but then for some reason afterward I regretted having done so. I was more mad at myself for not saying, "No, I can't afford that much" because I wanted to avoid an awkward moment. Again, the guy was polite enough, so I wasn't angry at him.

    I was just expressing in the post the awkward feelings that often come (for me) from randomly helping someone on the street. I feel bad if I ignore them. I feel bad if I do give a dollar because they might be an addict and I shouldn't be an enabler. And I feel bad if I end up buying an overweight man a sugary soda and chips because I didn't know how to say "I'd rather not."

    In an ideal situation, I'd take someone in to the grocery store and say, "I'm sorry I can't afford much, but here's what I ate when I had very little." If the person had access to a hot plate and clean water, I'd buy them some lentils or beans or rice. If not, maybe some bread and peanut butter. If they don't have space for that, maybe just some healthy energy bars. It would cost less than a fancy sandwich and would keep them fuller, longer. But that's in an ideal world.

    While some of your points are very valid, we'd appreciate it if you keep the tone more conversational and less vitriolic. Thanks and Happy Thanksgiving!

  5. Here's my take on helping panhandlers (as opposed to just 'the homeless', who don't necessarily panhandle)--you have to ask yourself why.

    Are you doing it because you feel a moral obligation? Because then you are beholden to anyone who asks you for change or food. If you are morally obligated to help one, aren't you morally obligated to help anyone? Where does it stop? The bottom line is your money & time are yours and yours alone, and anyone who says they rightfully belong to anyone else who asks for it has a twisted moral code.

    But let's just say you are feeling 'nice' today and want to help somebody out. Okay, that's cool. But again, why? Is it really because you want to help, or because you want to feel better about yourself in the moment for some reason? Does it help you reinforce your self-image as a 'nice' person? If so, why do you need the reinforcement? Are you trying to prove it to yourself, or to someone else, like someone you might tell the story to later?

    These are the self-reflections that I feel must go into giving to a panhandler. Once you realize that there's no moral obligation and that giving to someone doesn't make you a 'better' person, then you can pass by without guilt, or just give a few cents or buy a meal 'cause you felt like it.

    And once you've given, who cares where the money goes--once it's theirs its theirs, and you have no more say on it than they did on your money when they asked you for it...


This is a place for thoughtful discussion or humor, not attacks. If you disagree, please keep it polite. If you wouldn't say it that way in person, don't post it. We're not that angry here. And lighten up. Thanks!