Tuesday, February 03, 2009

I haven't eaten in three days.

A month or so back, as I was going into Borders one Monday evening, a woman approached me with: “Sir. I wonder if you could help me? I haven’t eaten in three days.” I gave her a few bucks and she thanked me and said: “I’m going right over to get something to eat.”

Last night as I was going into Borders, the same woman approached with the exact same spiel. I remember clearly the “I haven’t eaten in three days” and the “going right over to get something.” I gave her a few bucks, even though I realized I had been played a bit. I suppose “haven’t eaten in three days” can be effective, and I felt bad for the fact that she had to stoop to such in the search for money. She was certainly no spring chicken. She looked around 60, but I suspect she is younger. Her clothes were not remarkably bad, and though she was thin she didn’t look to be in bad health. She was certainly not attractive, though.

In the past, I have taken people into food places when they’ve asked for money, but the closest place to Borders is the Mall across the street, and I also had a meeting of my Borders writing group in a few minutes. So, I gave her a few bucks and let her go her way. I wonder if she really bought food, or if I actually supported her drug habit. I hope the former.

Such encounters leave me sad. What circumstances led that woman to me twice? I believe some homeless individuals are on the street because they’re lazy or they have drug habits that they’ve allowed to get out of hand. I believe those folks are in the minority, though. Maybe some homeless people made bad choices somewhere along the way. But who hasn't? It's a shame that so many can end up lost in what is still an affluent society.

And as for getting help, research on altruistic behavior does not endear my fellow humans to me. Many, many people do help, of course. But most of that is in a form that doesn't much inconvenience us. And it bothers me to know that people are less likely to help another person if:

1. The person needing help is physically unattractive

2. The person has any unpleasant physical characteristics, even including an ugly birthmark.

3. The person appears to be intoxicated with any substance.

4. the surroundings in which the person asks for help are unpleasant. (Very noisy, for example.)

5. The person in the position to offer help is under any time pressure.

6. The person in the position to help is in a bad mood.

Years ago, I was in Boston with a colleague of mine for a neuroscience conference. We were riding the city busses one night when a woman got on mumbling incoherently to herself. She had also clearly wet herself all down the front of her jeans.

After a couple of stops, the woman got up to leave and fell down the steps, ending up half in and half out of the bus. Besides the bus driver, there were about 15 people on the bus. No one moved. After a moment, my colleague and I both got up to help her. We got her to a bench at the bus stop and made sure she was sitting OK, and gave her back her large shopping bag full of what appeared to be trash. Then we returned to our bus and resumed our lives. I’ve wondered many times over the years what happened to her. I can’t imagine she’s still alive.

I wonder, too, how long the woman who hadn’t “eaten in three days” will last? Will I see her again in a month? Or sooner? If I don’t see her, will it mean she’s doing better? Or that’s she’s dead?

Twice now, we’ve met. She’s become one of my memories. Like it or not, she’s a part of me now. It’s harder to be blind when you can put a face on suffering.


Lana Gramlich said...

You're a very kind person, Charles.

Randy Johnson said...

The one time I've been hit on like that, I offered to take the person into a McDonald's and buy them food. They declined and I didn't offer any money.
Maybe they just didn't like McDonald's, but it made me assume they wanted money for something else.

Mary Witzl said...

You are a kind person. And I can look at your list and blush; I'm far less inclined to give when I am in a hurry, though I always feel awful about it afterwards. I don't want to support anyone's drug habit, but I'd bend over backwards to buy a hungry person a meal.

Anonymous said...

Charles, I get this ALL the time. When I am actually out of The LoveTel I pretty much get hit on at least once for something, usually cigarettes. I live and work in a predominantly African-American area and there have literally been more times than I can count where I am say waiting in the van , smoking, for the wife to come out of the bank or Walgreen's and have been approached for a butt. It happens constantly. Hell, I have even been asked for a cigarette by my server at a Rally's drive-thru!

Now this doesn't just go along racial lines. Many times Gina and I have been out, especially late at night, and have been approached by white people also. We have a little thing where sometimes we get off of work at The LoveTel at 11 at night and we will run out to White Castle or the like and just sit there in the van and eat, enjoying our time away from the motel as we live and work there. I find usually the white people will ask for money. It's so funny too as they always use the same line. "Hey man, I'm on my way home to... (it's always somewhere like 10 - 20 miles away) and I'm almost out of gas, can you spot me a couple of bucks?"

I had a guy approach me at Walgreen's at like 1 AM the other morning using the same line. I told him, "She's inside with our last few dollars, sorry". He said thanks anyway and I watched him go to the gas station across the street. He then exited the gas station and went in the totally opposite direction where he said he was trying to get to. About 20 minutes later he came back from that direction, went into the White Castle next door, came out and went through the Walgreen's parking lot again and stopped a couple of people with the same scam! He was literally just making the rounds like a part time job.

Another thing I've noticed is black people will not approach other black people, they always go for the white people. I have actually sat there and studied this, LOL. I am guessing it's cause other black people will just tell them to get lost where as they figure white people will just give it up to make them go away or whatever. I am not sure on this, just a guess.

Anyway, to finally wrap this up, black people will almost always go for the cigarette angle where as white people will go right for the money.

Finally, let me say that this is not scientifically proven and is in no way meant to be racial or prejudiced. I am just telling it like I have seen it.

Damn, this is my longest comment ever, aren't you glad you posted this?

Wil Harrison.com

Lisa said...

You are a very kind person. I don't run into this very much anymore, but I used to. I can never refuse a woman or an old person. Young men I'm much more dubious about, but I think it's often pretty apparent when someone is a regular panhandler and when someone is in real trouble.

Spy Scribbler said...

I used to get this a lot, when I lived in Cleveland. I'll never forget a man, his first night of begging. He'd lost his home, he had no money, and his family was in a car. There are people there ALL the time with similar stories, but this one was true. God, the guy, when I gave him money, he cried. This huge man, tears rolling down his face. And the sad thing was that it wasn't gratefulness (well, maybe partly), but it was mostly shame and despair, I think. He was just doing what he had to do to feed his family that night, and he hated it.

I walked by there every night for years, and I never saw him again. I was so happy, because I imagined it meant he got on his feet again. I hope so. I strangely think of him rather often, at least once or twice a year, and it's been over ten years.

SQT said...

I have to admit that I look at the situation before I give. I have offered money if I see that the person has a bedroll and is obviously sleeping on the street.

There was this one woman who used to beg near my neighborhood who would get dropped off in a car everyday. She saw me looking when she got dropped off and smirked at me as if to say what are you going to do about it? So that left me feeling very cynical about beggars in general. Plus, I live in California where begging is an art in some areas-- especially San Francisco.

But I'm still a sucker for certain types-- people with pets or kids-- for example.

AvDB said...

Did anyone see the article on India's child mutilation ring (as evidently portrayed in Slumdog Millionaire? Apparently, it's so widespread that even priests won't give money to these poor kids, knowing it's fueling a mafia-type operation.

Sidney said...

We used to get a lot of people like that at the newspaper. Everyone has a story. I tend to do like you're talking about, give the person a couple of bucks and the benefit of the doubt.

I suspect this is something we're going to see more and more of as time ticks on.

BernardL said...

After nearly thirty-three years working in East Oakland, I’ll refrain from sharing my caustic view of panhandlers. I will offer this piece of advice though, Charles. I give exclusively to the Salvation Army. They spend over 90% of every dollar they take in doing exactly what they say they do: help downtrodden people. I carry cards I made up myself for the one nearest my shop on 12th Street. When I’m approached I give them the card. The ‘Army’ will help them if they want help. The woman you keep bumping into is a prime candidate for the Salvation Army to help… if she really wants help.

I have a very simple creed about guilt in these cases. I strive to keep my extended family off the street and out of the ranks of the downtrodden. If each of us does that, and supports the Salvation Army’s mission, we’ll have done everything humanly possible to really help. One thing I know for sure: you can't make a person seek help or take it, even when it's only a few blocks away.

Gabby said...

A few years ago, my husband and I were on our way to see a musical (the theater is in State Park, which is where the State Fair is held every year, but off-year it's a little bit of a shady part of town), and we were a little early, so we stopped at a McDonald's across the street to get an ice cream cone (we went in). We came out and this guy approached me and my husband, just asking us how we were doing, if we were going to the musical, and then waited until I had gotten into the card to speak to my husband. He started out by saying that he didn't want to "offend the lady" or some such nonsense by what he was about to say and then proceeded with his story. They stood right by the car, I heard most of it -- dude, it's a car, not a sound-proof room. The story he told was sad (something about a sick daughter and him having to go out of town to look for work, etc.), and needing money. First off, he looked decently dressed, although a little unkempt, and second, he was smoking a cigarette (this was a white guy, btw -- just saying because someone mentioned this earlier ^_^), and it made me wonder if he had bought the cigarette or maybe someone gave it to him. Anyway, there were some inconsistencies to his story, and then he asked my husband for money. We don't carry cash. Hardly ever, and we didn't that night. He then basically tried to tell my husband that the gas station across the way had an ATM. YEAH. Anyway, we did not give him money, wished him luck and left. We talked in the car briefly, and I saw him down the street approaching someone else (with a "friend" btw). Anyway, his story might have been true, but I highly doubt it. It makes me sad because there ARE some people that need truly help. I have given money before, mostly if I just see a sad, sad person on the street -- not the ones making the rounds. Anyway, it's so hard to tell who needs the help, and as a Christian, I am supposed to live my life like Christ, and he helped everyone. Thing is, he was perfect. I am not. And he probably had a little bit better discernment for scammers. Heh. Oh, well, I can try. I should keep food in my card, because lots of people on the side of the road either have the will work for food signs or tell you they need money for food. FOOD should be good enough.

Gabby said...

(Wow, sorry for the long comment. ^_^)

Aine said...

Bernard's got a great point.

I'll always think of the staff I met when interning at a "state hospital". Some of these mental health professionals were working there back in the early 70's, before deinstitutionalization closed 75% of that facility. They still see their previous patients on the streets in Philadelphia today.

I tend to believe that most of the homeless folks I've encountered are either mentally ill or addicts (or both). I do wish our society had a better system for helping these souls.

Shauna Roberts said...

Interesting about people being less willing to give to the ugly and disfigured. In the Middle Ages, people used disguises and tricks to make themselves look pathetic as a way to get more money.

My beggar story that haunts me happened on a trip my not-yet-husband and I took to Mexico City in 1981. Even though neither of us is tall, we could look out over the heads of most people and that, combined with our German features, made it clear we weren't Mexicans and we attracted lots of people to talk to us. Some wanted to practice their English, some wanted to sell us something, and some wanted money. One small girl I still remember. She must have been only six or eight, but someone had taught her well how to flirt, and she could turn it off and on at will. I saw her first approach an older couple, who thought she was just adorable. We gave her money when she came to us, but I felt so sick to my stomach, knowing that her family was so poor that they had to send her out to beg and that in a few years, they'd be wanting her to use her sweet and pretty act to prostitute herself, and there was no amount of money we could give her to change that future.

Steve Malley said...

I'm a sucker for beggars. Even when they're lying to me, even when they feel like they're putting one over on me, even when my money's going to be spent on a little something that numbs their pain, whatever.

To me, nothing good leads a person to beg from a stranger. It's a terrible position, and one I'm grateful not to be in. I'm not going to begrudge a couple of bucks to those who need it enough to ask, and I'm not going to try to screen their problems through my own prejudices.

Of course, I did move to a place where the social safety net (shelters, treatment programs, etc.), you know, *work*...

Charles Gramlich said...

Lana, not always.
Randy, I’d guess you were right.

Mary Witzl, I’m the same way about that list. I don’t even think about it most of the time, just react to what’s going on in my world without thinking much of someone else’s.

Wil, I think I fell for the “I’m only about 10 or 20 miles from home at the gas station not long ago. The guy did drive off after I gave him some gas money, though and I saw him putting gas in his car. As near as I can tell I get asked for stuff about evenly where the races are concerned, although come to think of it I don’t think I’ve ever had an Asian person ask me for something. It’s a matter of where I live and work probably.

Lisa, I’m afraid I’m not very good at telling the difference between folks in genuine need and panhandlers. I suspect women may be better at that. I seldom give money to people who ask in the French Quarter because I’m pretty sure most of them are panhandlers, but elsewhere it’s hard to tell for me.

Spyscribbler, some people make that connection with you that makes you remember them. I hope that fellow and his family landed on their feet.

SQT, I know what you mean. I read a story about a guy who drove his fancy car to some place, parked in the high rise parking lot, then put on trashy clothes and went begging and made considerable money before returning in the evening to get back into his good clothes and his car. I remember it was from a psychological study of begging where they followed some beggars and found it was basically a job for them.

Avery Debow, I did hear about that. So horrible. I know they used to do that in the middle ages but man you would hope the human race had bettered itself. Not so much, it appears.

Sidney, it’s a harsh world and getting harsher.

Bernardl, that’s a good solution to the problem. I should look into doing that here. I also want to make sure no in my family ever has to go through this kind of thing. It’s unfortunate that some don’t have families.

Gabby, yes, it would be great sometimes to get food directly to the places and people who need it. There are so many layers to go through and most of us aren’t detectives who can read the folks that approach us. We don’t know whether the money we give will be used wisely or not. Christ was definitely a pretty tough act to follow.

Aine, Yes, I remember studying the effects of deinstitutionalization on the homeless population. Pretty clearly the woman in Boston was mentally ill. I’m not so sure about the woman outside Borders, but certain problems are not always apparent.

Shauna Roberts, one of the things that research doesn’t necessarily talk about is the helping distance. Do you have to touch them, or can you drop money into a hat or a box or something. I imagine the distance makes a difference. Sometimes it does seem that we can see the future written for the people we encounter, and it’s not a pretty one. I can only hope that, in these cases, my imagination is wrong.

Steve Malley, I think like that quite often too. I feel like I’ve done what I’ve supposed to do, shown some care, and if they misuse it there’s little I can do about it. I wouldn’t knowingly give money to a panhandler but even some of the ones who are giving their spiel may in fact be in genuine need.

Cloudia said...

"Maybe some homeless people made bad choices somewhere along the way. But who hasn't? It's a shame that so many can end up lost in what is still an affluent society."
Lana is right! Aloha Charles

Issa's Untidy Hut said...


Up here in Pittsburgh we get quite a few people that are homeless, real and otherwise. The folks that are on the take spot you and hit you time and time again, often forgetting that they are using the same spiel with the same person.

I remember one guy I gave to regularly - usually change - I gave him a buck a couple of times. One day, he told me his birthday was coming next week and he was trying to go see family, so I gave him a couple of bucks.

A few weeks later, it was his birthday again.

I still give to the same guy - and many others - and am probably known as a soft touch. But, like BernardL, I choose to give to the local food bank, that I know is actually feeding those same people who panhandle for a drink or a fix.

I've had colleagues read me the riot act - I'm causing the problem - but it seems to me giving the serious money to a reputable institution that you know is putting it to immediate good use, plus some other money day to day, isn't a bad way to go. Charles, you taking them somewhere to eat certainly is also an excellent solution.

I don't think you can error on the side of compassion, but I know there are folks who would say that's wrong. You still have to use judgment and common sense, but temper it with compassion.

It is a harsh world, indeed.


Greg said...

i try to help out when i can, but the fact that i can't even afford my own house doesn't help. usually if i give someone food or money, they appreciate it, but one time i bought a homeless man outside the grocery store a turkey sandwich, and he turned it down. he said he "didn't like turkey." i'm not sure i could be picky if i were in his situation.

Crushed said...

I think to be fair, they do swap siels as well.

There was a time when all the down and outs around New Street all came up with 'Hi, I wouldn't bother you, except I'm a friendly guy, my name is...'

Not sure WHY they thought that one would work, but that one lasted a few months.

I must admit though, I was saying to mate, one of the things I feel most guilty about is this; One sees them there and one HAS got the change, but opne knows one can't give change to all of them. It's avoiding eye contact I hate. I feel such a fraud within myself for it. Because you aren't being blind to it, it's worse, you're crossing over the road.

And yes, it's true, the few times I have given money or stopped to talk- once I even took her for a burger- but yes, they were young and pretty.

david mcmahon said...

There are so many layers of discussion on this topic, Charles.

You have a great heart.

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

We've got the same problem in the UK. In the modern world there should be no homelessness, poverty - whatever. It's a failing with society

the walking man said...

Wow that was a lot of reading for one blog.

Let each and everyone give as they would themselves determine and once the giving is done go on knowing that how a gift is used is not yours to determine.

ME? When or how do I give...well that's no ones business now is it?

Miladysa said...

"I wonder, too, how long the woman who hadn’t “eaten in three days” will last? Will I see her again in a month? Or sooner? If I don’t see her, will it mean she’s doing better? Or that’s she’s dead?"

You're a kind man Charles.

I am touched every time I meet someone like this. I always give - a silent prayer I suppose that I never end up this way - it could happen to any on us given the right circumstances.

Filed away in my mind is a list of all the people I have met this way. I wonder what their stories are - if their circumstances have changed since.

I remember a young girl a few months ago outside a supermarket. I had no cash on me and I went to the cash machine. It crossed my mind to help her find somewhere to stay. When I came out she had disappeared. I hope she is well and safe today.

Charles Gramlich said...

Cloudia, thanks.

Issa/Don, that's the thing about this woman, too. Because I have such long hair, most folks will remember me. But either she didn't remember she'd hit me up for money before, or she's really not changing her spiel at all. I don't see how giving money to someone in this situation is "adding" to the problem. It might bring more homeless into that area if a lot of people gave money. But kindness is important.

Greg, there've been plenty of times in my life when I couldn't really afford to help much either. I'm lucky to be in a bit better shape now. Katrina could have been devestating for us but we somehow managed to land on our feet.

Crushed, young and pretty sometimes need help too. I've bought food for a number of folks in the French Quarter. Some were teenagers.

David, thanks. There are defintely a lot of things could be said on this subject.

Archavist, I believe everyone should have a chance for sure.

Mark, I agree, let people give as they can. I usually don't discuss the issue either but on occasion something really engages my writer's mind and I want to sort of explore that.

Miladysa, thanks. I too wonder about their stories, and I hope my imagination paints them worse than they really are.

Virginia Lady said...

I rarely see beggars of any sort where I am so I have little experience lately with them, but your post reminded me of a show.

ABC has been running a series "What Would You Do?" In it they use actors as both the perpetrators and victims and see what innocent bystanders will do. They haven't specifically dealt with beggars, but it is an interesting view on whether others will help someone who needs it.

The last one I watched dealt with a blind customer getting shortchanged by the clerk. Amazingly enough, people were much more likely to let the blind man be shortchanged than a blind woman.

For whatever reasons, people tend to be more likely to help women than men in any situation.

Heff said...

I HAD a comment, but I'm worn out from reading all these existing comments. Sheesh, longest ever !!!

I generally don't help people that beg for money, as I just feel I'm getting screwed. The few times I HAVE given in, they usually come back and hit you up again pretty quickly, with a slightly modified version of their previous story, so I quit "helping" altogether.

Danette Haworth said...

I was backing out of a McDonald's parking spot with my little boy in the backseat when someone pounded on my window.

I was so startled I rolled the window down, but only partway--she looked scary. Then she started some story about how she needed money for gas, but the story morphed into needing $4.95 for a bus ticket.

Though my window was only partway down, she stuck her head through as I leaned over and opened my purse. I handed her a five. Having always talked to my son about Biblical concepts, I didn't want him to think I would turn away someone who needed help. But to be honest, this lady scared me.

When I put the van into gear, she said, "This isn't enough. My baby needs a ticket too."

I told her babies don't need tickets.

"My baby's nineteen," she said. She was getting agitated. I was getting more scared.

I gave her another five and got out of there.

Lauren said...

I used to be very good at giving money to people that I saw on the street. When I lived in Indianapolis and Brisbane I used to always keep a little snack--like ritz crackers--on me just in case I saw someone who needed it.

But now, in Chicago, I am surrounded by homeless people. I can walk six blocks and be asked three times for money. If I have extra snack food on me I will still give it to them. Or if I have leftovers from a resturant I will give it to them. Half the time if I turn around I can see them throw it away. But the other half (the half when they eat it) is the reason I do it.

Mostly I make time to work at places that will give back to people in need or I donate to a charity--typically with a focus on children, but I never give people cash. Maybe I am just desensitized. I don't know.

I think that since there are so many shelters and programs in Chicago for people down on their luck (verses Indianapolis or Brisbane) it makes me even more cautious. Why aren't they with those programs that I donate to?

Chris Eldin said...

You have a big heart, and you've made a difference in her life. Whether it was just for an hour or two, you stopped and cared.

Merisi said...

I rarely give cash nowadays.
The city has social services for virtually everyone, no needy person needs to be out on the street.
There is a problem with organized begging, making it impossible to know if somebody genuinely has fallen out of luck or just put there by some handlers.
I do make an effort to speak to people who look as if they could be helped if they only knew where to go. I have not found anybody who would take me up on the offer to look with them for the right social services. One case in particular still haunts me: a young woman sitting at a street corner, a paper cup in her hand. She sat there so forelornly, I stopped and sat down next to her and tried to talk to her. She would not talk in any of the languages I tried. I had the sensation that she was being watched and afraid to engage in a conversation. In desperation I slipped her a bill in such a way that it nobody around could notice it, hoping that she would be able to hide the money away for her own use. To this day I keep wondering about her whereabouts. She reminds me of the young protagonist, Norah, in Carol Shields' last novel, "Unless". Norah suddenly leaves college and her family to sit begging at a street corner, a sign with the word "Goodness" around her neck. She refuses any contact or talk with her family: No one know what happened to her.

Recently I had an encounter with a homeless man, at a hot dog stand. I had not had lunch and it was already evening and I was really hungry, so I decided to buy a hot dog before taking the metro home. While eating the hot dog, a man came up and searched for food in the waste basket. The woman behind the counter knocked on the window, to get his attention. She then filled a cup with coffee and handed it to the man. I was so touched by her gesture of kindness, I handed her the change she had just given me and asked her to wrap a hot dog for him. The gentleman was very gracious, thanked us profusely and stayed with us until I had finished eating. There were three people at that hot dog stand that night, all three with a smile.

Shauna Roberts said...

As several other people have mentioned doing, we give to social service agencies that can use our money effectively to help people down on their luck. But there are many reasons why people don't go to these places. Some take pride in fending for themselves (even if it's by begging), some are mentally ill, some don't want to hear lectures about Jesus, some don't want to follow the rules of the organization ("get up by 8 am"), some have pets that aren't welcome, some are addicts who can't get into the small number of treatment programs and need money for drugs or liquor . . . the list goes on and on.

I want to fend for myself, too, and I don't want to hear lectures or be treated as a child who needs rules. I certainly don't know what the answer is, but there must be some way to help these people while preserving their dignity and not getting scammed ourselves.

Shauna Roberts said...

To clarify my last sentence, as Americans, we each are entitled to determine our own destinies, including beggars (although people argue whether that's a good idea for people who are mentally ill and repeatedly make unhealthy or dangerous choices). We might disapprove of their choices, but their inherent worth as individuals is the same as ours.

G. B. Miller said...


Because of where I work (Hartford, just outside of downtown, but near the courthouses), I avoid most people like the one you came across like the plague.

This is an unfortunate fact about where I work. I work in a low to medium crime area, with public housing and the hospital surrounding the neighborhood.

While I sometimes I'll go out of my way to help someone in need, as a matter of personal preference, I don't give money to strangers.

I value my sanity, my peace of mind and most importantly, my health.

Working in the city has made me gun shy when I'm approached by strangers for money.

That said, like everyone else has stated, you're a decent person who has a heart of gold.


ivan said...

I once did an article on homelessness for The Globe& Mail
here in Toronto. I think I started a trend.

Here is what a better reporter did:

"After a day of working the downtown streets, a 30-something panhandler dressed in a tattered bomber jacket and dark tuque makes his way home to Toronto's Nathan Phillips Square. Even in the city that radiates prosperity, the face of homelessness is everywhere. The man crawls inside his sleeping bag and prepares to bed down for the night, lodged under a concrete pedestrian ramp fortified with cardboard boxes, his only protection against the frigid December winds.

But this is no ordinary homeless man. This is Globe and Mail reporter John Stackhouse, who spent seven days and six nights on the street to find out about homeless life firsthand. The result was a controversial three-part series published in December 1999 called "Living with the Homeless."

Among other startling revelations, Stackhouse said he made abut $640 a day at his panhandling, and he upset a whole lot of current thinking on the homeless by governments and editorial boards.

Somethilng else is going on and a lot of it points to rackets.

Yet as I see by the comments above, there are real people in desperate straits that seem to mingle among the con men.

What a corrupt city seems to sometimes be under our feet!

pattinase (abbott) said...

You are my hero. I hope should that moment strike me, I can find someone like you.

j said...

It is heartbreaking.

As a woman, I have been taught to be 'careful' of men I don't know. MOST of the less fortunate people that I come across are male. It is frustrating when I want to reach out and help but am hindered by self protective measures. I have bought food and shoved it through my cracked window to a homeless gentleman. I have passed an umbrella to a hitch hiker walking in the rain the same way.

Glad that you have a brave and compassionate heart Charles.

Travis Cody said...

"It’s harder to be blind when you can put a face on suffering."

Yessir...that pretty much says it.

Sarah Hina said...

This might be my favorite post of yours, Charles. The idea that she's a part of you now touched me. It's true. A connection, no matter how slight, was forged. Whether she's "at fault" in some way for her condition is less important than whether we're still willing to help. I think I'd rather take the chance on helping, even if she was gaming me in some way. It's only a couple bucks to us, but it could be the day's meal for her.

Sandra Cormier said...

We had a well-known woman in Toronto dubbed 'shaky lady.' She wobbled and shook while sitting on her pile of rags over a ventilation grate on the sidewalk, and people gave her money.

Later, someone followed her. He discovered she lived in a condo in the downtown area, and owned a big screen television.

She was busted in our daily newspaper. I don't know what happened to her after that.

In our medium sized town north of T.O., a young fellow asked me for money to buy some food. I said I didn't carry cash, but offered to bring him a sandwich when I was finished my grocery shopping.

He was still there when I came out with my shopping cart, talking to a friend. I gave him the sandwich and his friend received a candy bar. When I pushed my cart across the parking lot, I noticed him answer his cell phone.

Yeah, outta luck.

Still, there are people who really need help. It's hard to tell which ones, but random kindness doesn't hurt, even if it's unnecessary.

Charles Gramlich said...

Virginia lady, yes, research shows that men get helped less often than women. I suppose our ideas of the “fairer” sex still apply at some level. I’ve watched that show. It’s really quite interesting.

Heff, yes, I see a lot of folks had quite a bit to say on this topic. I’m sure I’ve been taken advantage of quite a few times. I guess it doesn’t bother me that much. If I was struggling more myself it probably would, but when I’m doing OK I don’t sweat it much.

Danette, I can see what that one would bother you. Obviously when you gave her help, instead of appreciating it, she saw you as an easy touch for more. Those kinds of folks really put one off of giving to beggars.

Lauren, I have given people leftovers from a restaurant before. I never thought about the snacks. I’d probably eat them myself. And yes, there are a lot of shelters that can provide some care. It does help to point folks in that direction. Many don’t seem to take advantage of what’s there, though.

Chris Eldin, I pass by plenty of times, I assure you.

Merisi, I suspect the social services there may be better than here. And you’re right, there is organized kind of begging that you’d be better off not to support. It’s very hard to know. I’m kind of naïve, I think. I usually take people at what they say. I know that means I get taken at times. That story about the guy at the hotdog stand really touches me, though. You’d like to know that what you did was appreciated like that. I think we’d all give much more if we knew it was being put to good use.

Shauna, you make a good point. I gave a guy a ride once and we talked on a rather long journey together about his life on the roads. And he said much the same thing. He sometimes did take advantage of services, but mostly he preferred to be independent, and if he went hungry, well he’d been hungry before. I also know that some shelters do put something of a hard sell on their services. They’re not quite free in a psychological way. Good point about their inherit worth. I feel the same way.

Georgie B, I’ve definitely been in a few uncomfortable situations where I felt like the request for money wasn’t quite just a request. It scared me, and angered me. Like any other group, beggars are varied. Some are assholes, others genuinely in need.

Ivan, wow, 640 bucks a day. That’s pretty good wages. I know of a few other cases where individuals have basically used begging to make a decent living. It still wouldn’t be worth it to me. That’s a lot of dough though.

Pattinase, once in Texas, when I was pretty much broke, I was in a restaurant. I ordered a pretty simple meal and had enough to pay for it, but a perfect stranger picked up the check for me because he overheard me say to someone that I didn’t have much money. He just did it. That has always stayed with me and is probably part of the reason I helped that woman with some dollars.

Jennifer, yes, you definitely have to be careful. You can get yourself in something serious. Years ago I picked up a hitchhiker who threatened me if I didn’t take him further than where I was going. At that time I was young and probably stupid and just said, no. He didn’t do anything but he had me scared for a while. You must take care of yourself, and especially when you have family depending on you.

Travis, I see from the comments here that almost everyone has memories of such faces.

Sarah Hina, I think pretty much the same way. The money I gave her won’t really be missed in my pocket, but maybe in hers it might make a diference.

Chumplet – Sandra, I heard about a guy in Austin who made begging his day job and drove a very nice car. Such folks really make me angry. They are definitely parasites on society when they’re doing those kinds of things.

JR's Thumbprints said...

I've had my share of folks doing the hustle and I'm not talking about dancing.

Erik Donald France said...

Absolutely right on.

There are now more every week in need, it seems. God help us all.

MarmiteToasty said...

Your compassion is a wonderful gift...... many have lost that gift.... fank you for being you.....


Charles Gramlich said...

JR., I imagine you get more than your share.

Erik, Well, I hope some changes will be made, although I don't imagine there is a perfect solution.

Marmite Toasty, thank you. I appreciate your kind words.

Anndi said...

My Honey and I were walking in Atlanta when a man walked up to us. He talked about a landmark we were looking at. After a while he asked us for help, if we could spare some money so he could go buy some food for himself and his family. We gave him a couple dollars and wished him well. Later on, we saw him walking with a bag with a KFC box in it.

It doesn't always turn out like that but when it does, it makes me feel a bit better.

Josephine Damian said...

Hey Charles, long time see. Luv the new avatar. That hat looks good on you.

Most of the death investigation cases I worked were homeless people - sadly the very means of shelter they sought was the thing that ultimately did them in.

They are not only older than their real age on the outside, but the road ages them to the bone - yes even their bones are that of a much older person.

Still, I always wonder if I gave someone $ are they spending it on booze or dope?

Chris Benjamin said...

It's true, many homeless people suffer addiction and/or mental illness, but that's no reason for lack of empathy and concern. It's good of you to try to help, regardless of where the money might have gone. Knowing the right thing to do is rarely so clear as black-and-white.

L.A. Mitchell said...

What a kind soul you have, Charles. I'm teased sometimes for giving when it's obvious to others how gullible I am. I don't think we can let the scams/bad habits of a few get in the way of our humanity.

Anonymous said...

I gave up trying to figure out if people needed the money or not. I usually give money. I now live in an area where there are more people asking for money, but it hasn't become too much, yet.

You make good points with your list.

X. Dell said...

There are a lot of homeless people in this area. Working for the Commerce Department, I learned that there were an unusually high numbr of vets who were homeless (far above their percentage of the actual population), the bulk of them from the Vietnam era. There were a ton of kids too, either born into it, or forced into it. There were also a lot of people who had lost institutional funding, people who had lost their jobs because of long debilitating illnesses, massive layoff, or some other kind of economic upheaval. There were a few winos and druggies too, but in many such cases these weren't causal factors.

Donnetta said...

Ironically, this kinda ties in with my little 55er of last Friday! Just wanted to say thanks again for awarding me the book! I can't wait to get it. D

Charles Gramlich said...

Anndi, that's a great story. Glad he did indeed get the food.

Josephine, I kinda like that hat myself. hides a lot of my face. lol.

Definitely a hard life for folks who live on the streets.

benjibopper, I agree. We don't know what struggles led them to that place in their lives, and cannot know how we would have coped differently.

L.A. Mitchell, I'm confident enough in myself that others making fun of me for getting scammed doesn't bother me. If it happens, so be it.

Jack, You're like me. I'm not good at recognizing the cues.

X. Dell, It's certainly a shame when people have given much for their country and the country can't be troubled to give a little back.

Donnetta Lee, I saw that. And glad you won. I'll mail the book toot sweet.

Barrie said...

I had an older woman approach the window of the car while I was waiting my turn at a fast-food drive-thru. She wanted to sell me some very used kids' VCR tapes. It was so sad. I gave her money. It was just so sad. What people are forced to stoop to.

laughingwolf said...

good stuff, charles

the only time i refuse to help is when they get in my face, yell, and say i MUST give them money....

Michelle's Spell said...

Hey Charles,

You are kind -- that's apparent in all your posts and generous comments! I also find it incredibly difficult to turn anyone down when they ask for help. I usually do it when I can and if they use the money for something other than what they say, well, I figure it's between them and God. I can only do what I do. I suspect that a lot more of this will happen as the economy continues to be rough. For the grace of God . . .

Barbara Martin said...

You are a good man, Charles, no doubt about it.

I have given charity to those less fortunate on the streets, ones that have that haunted overly lean look to their faces and hands. Once in London at the Charing Cross Railway Station I gave a poor guy a sandwich, an orange juice and some loose change in the bottom of a paper bag to ease his embarrassment, and ended up catching his pneumonia for which I was hospitalized (I'm very susceptible to pneumonia). What appalled me was, there was a doorman for the Charing Cross Hotel waiting for the passengers from the black cabs and he ignored this poor fellow, as did the London Bobbies who were present. This man was very grateful for me giving him what I did.

As for Bernard's comment about the Sally Ann organization, well...I know of several incidents in Montreal in 1984 at two locations: one for homeless women and one for teenage girls who were in a variety of bad circumstances. At Christmas the staff picked through the donated food and clothing before passing on the remainder. When Provigo donated turkeys for the poor, most of them went to the staff. Also, the Sally Ann gets paid from the federal government for each SIN number they provide of a person staying at their shelters. After encountering this I refuse to give the Salvation Army any donation. I give to the local food bank instead.

Akelamalu said...

You have a kind heart m'dear.

I too wonder what happened to people that brings them to begging. :(

I'm here via David's after reading your intereview. :)

SzélsőFa said...

This is so very true Charles: It’s harder to be blind when you can put a face on suffering.

And your list is thought-provoking.
I never, ever give when I see/feel the signs of substance on the claimer - be it alcohol or drug or even cigarette !

Merisi said...

social services are generous here, but there are situations when they cannot reach the most vulnerable. Drug addicts and mentally ill people among them: they cannot be forced to submit themselves to proper care and treatment. The city seems to have a policy (unwritten, probably) that alcoholics and drug addicts will be allowed to gather at a certain underground metro station, Karlsplatz. They rarely beg, but if somebody asks me for money, I offer to buy them food (there's a food court). Looking at this young kids almost breaks my heart. Who knows how they came into such an unfortunate state, helpless addicted and literally left to vegetate until they either die or some miracle happens and they manage to commit themselves into rehab. I am always conscious of the fact that they are somebody's child, sister, brother and that but for the grace of God one's own children will manage to escape such a terrible fate.

Charles Gramlich said...

Barrie, sometimes it breaks your heart.

Laughingwolf, yes, I'm that way myself. I don't like to feel pressured, even by places where I've worked, where they sometimes put pressure on people to give.

Michelle's Spell, my son's girlfriend recently lost her job. It's already touching those I care about.

Barbara martin, thank you. It's so unfortunate when those who we depend on to help actually help themselves first. I'm sure it happens far too often. Those who are pretend beggers aren't the only ones fleecing us.

Akelamalu, a million stories out there. Most of which we'll never know. Thanks for coming by.

SzélsőFa, yes. Thanks.

Merisi, there will always be those who fall through the cracks, no matter how hard we try. But we could do a lot better here in the US for sure.

Lisa said...

I usually give something to people who ask for it... I've had friends tell me I'm getting duped, but the way I see it, so what? If I have a few extra bucks and can spare it, what if that person is telling the truth? Then I've helped. If they're lying, that's their problem, not mine. I can sleep at night. Their scam is their problem... they have to live with themselves.

Good for you. The world needs more kind souls with big hearts.

Charles Gramlich said...

Lisa, that's much the same way I think about it. I wouldn't give to someone I knew was scamming me, but I do like to give folks the benefit of the doubt. Thanks for visiting.