I’m fortunate, financially. Don’t get me wrong I’m not rich by any stretch, but I have enough. I have never had to wonder where I was going to lay my head on any given night and I’ve never had to wonder where my next meal might come from or if I might even get one.
I know this is a somewhat controversial issue, especially given that some ‘beggars’ might make more money with their sign on the corner than I do going to work every day. And tax free, at that. But I don’t know which ones they are or if that’s even true. Maybe for some that’s a chosen lifestyle, but I doubt that’s true for a very high percentage of those who are in that situation. Besides that I’m sure there are statistics on how many of those who are in that situation are unable to hold a regular job due to some sort of disability, be it physical or mental.
When I see these people sometimes I give and sometimes I don’t. It depends on whether I have cash in my pocket or not. Most of the time I don’t. With the advent of debit cards I rarely carry cash anymore and when I do it’s only a little. Sometimes I feel guilty about not giving a little something and sometimes I don’t. I can’t say why exactly that is.
Several years ago, around Christmas, there was an older lady, with obvious problems standing on the sidewalk outside a very popular American steakhouse asking people for money as they walked by. There’s no telling how many people I watched walk past her, just ignoring her as though she weren’t there. She wasn’t being pushy or belligerent. She was humbly and softly asking, “Hey, ya got a dollar to spare?”
I got out of my car and proceeded inside, walking past her just like the rest, and then the guilt washed over me. When was the last time she’d had a hot meal? A nice meal? At a table in a restaurant? What the hell, it’s Christmas! So I turned around and asked her if she was hungry. She replied that she was and I asked her to come inside. “What, me? Come inside? I can’t do that,” she replied. “I don’t have any money.” “Don’t worry about that, I’ll pay for your dinner. You can get off this corner and sit down for a bit, out of the cold and have a nice meal,” I reassured her that it would be okay. So she followed me in. I told her to order whatever she wanted. “How can you do this,” she asked me. “I’ve got a job and I’ve been fortunate. How can I not?” Her eyes widened, “I used to have a job, too. But I had a breakdown and lost it.”
I told the hostess I was paying for her dinner and asked them to seat her. They seated her at the very end of the bar and acted as though they were troubled by her very presence. I was there with some other people and we, too, were at the bar. We decided to eat there instead of going to a table. She ordered water to drink. She ordered a modest, but filling, meal. And she was ever so polite and appreciative to the staff who treated her as though she were, literally, the dirt she was covered in. She hadn’t had a proper bath in some time. That much was obvious.
I called the waitress over and asked them if they could be a bit nicer to her. They needn’t worry that they weren’t going to get paid, nor that they’d miss out on their tip. Shortly after that the manager approached me. “Are you the woman who invited her in? You’re paying for her dinner?” “Yes, I just couldn’t pass by her out there in the cold, knowing I was coming inside for a hot meal,” I replied. “I really wish you hadn’t done that. She’s running off our customers standing out there begging. Now we’ll never get rid of her,” came the manager’s cold response. “Please, don’t do that again. We don’t want her in here.”
I suggested, politely, that she was a human being and that perhaps they could be a little more compassionate. I suggested that they could strike up a deal with her if she was running off customers. They could bring her in early, give her some of those free yeast rolls they were going to throw away at the end of the night, and some tea in exchange for her not begging on their corner and not telling all her homeless friends. That wasn’t part of their plan. They asked her to eat and leave.
And I went back to my life of privilege.