Out From Under the Umbrella

playing in the rain

Cast-offs at the Cattle Trough


peanutsI’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.


35 thoughts on “Cast-offs at the Cattle Trough

  1. One of the weird things about America is strength of Christian belief combined with the lack of social support. The safety net for people who can’t fit into mainstream society for whatever reason is pretty shocking, and it’s painful to see the results on the streets. I can’t understand why people claiming to follow the teachings of the Jesus character support Republican policies. It’s not that every country doesn’t have its own share of neglected underclass, but at least in most other countries there’s an acknowledgement that centralised support is required, and not evil-government-at-work. It’s classic Golden Rule – if I have a breakdown and family and friends can’t support me, what would I want to happen? Ramble over, on an individual level it’s impossible to know what to do – interesting story!


    • Jesus was a capitalist, don’t you know?

      One of the things I hear a lot is that the Church is charged with charity; helping the poor, the sick, the widowed, the elderly, the homeless. If that’s true, why do we have so many of them? Why isn’t the Church doing it’s job? There is enough wealth in this country that no one should go to bed at night hungry. Yet even with all of our food banks and social welfare programs and church charities they do. I’m puzzled by that.

      It’s so easy to dehumanize people by putting them into groups. ‘Oh, the homeless choose to live that lifestyle’, ‘Get off your lazy bum and get a job’, ‘I work everyday, why should I provide for you when you look able bodied?’ The truth is a lot more complicated and grey than that.


      • Exactly, life is a lot more complicated for a lot of people. It’s just silly to judge other people’s experiences by saying ‘well I’ve got a job’ or ‘I’ve had loads of problems but I worked hard …’ It’s offensive, we’re still never living their whole lives and seeing the obstacles other people face. Individual charities like churches can’t be expected to provide comprehensive care, it’s unrealistic. And in such rich societies, it’s scandalous that anyone goes wanting for basics. Did you see that Switzerland is having a referendum on a standard basic income, whether people are working or not? I hope it passes, just even as a first step for a national experiment of this kind. It’s pretty revolutionary.


    • There used to be relatively few homeless people in the area where I live, but in the last few years their numbers have grown. They were encamped behind the local Home Depot and underneath an Interstate bridge. The citizens were afraid and, for lack of a better word disgusted by their very presence. A local citizen agreed that they could camp on his land so they moved them out of the city onto that piece of dirt. Now, another citizen has thankfully purchased an old hotel that was closed down and is in the process of trying to get some [government] grants to refurbish it so they can be housed there instead of in tattered tents.


    • I detest actions of both Republicans and Democrats. Before you start singling out Republicans you might want to realize that several studies have shown Republicans are far more giving to charity than Democrats when it comes to their personal wallets. Democrats tend to give to the poor with OUR tax dollars not their wallets.

      “”This time of year it’s common for progressives to view Republicans as a bunch of Scrooges. But when it comes to charity, this simply is not true. Republicans are more generous in their charity giving than either Democrats in the United States or Europeans at large.

      As EthicsDaily.com reports, “Red states – Republican-voting states – are more generous than blue states – Democratic-voting states.” Many conservatives are aware of this disparity and like to crow about it – as if they are the truly compassionate ones. The problem with this contention is that it assumes that all compassion is shown through charity. Many Democrats, who well may contribute less to charities than conservatives do, look at compassion as being more than charity. For most democrats, helping those in need is one of several fundamental roles of government. They contend that government should have primary responsibility for redistributing incomes (and isn’t that in essence is what charity is) should best be done by the federal government because it is the most efficient, effectively targeted, and fair way to help others.

      Republicans donate to charity at a higher level than Democrats and the strength of that giving by the GOP propels the U.S. to much higher figures that European Nations. As Investor’s Business Daily reports:””

      I am an “equal opportunity” critic to both parties. There are many policies of the Republicans I detest, but I also have to acknowledge when they do something good. 🙂


      • Is their tithe counted in that charity, Ken?


      • I think you’re falling into a cultural mindset trap. Setting up a consistent and equally available safety net across society has nothing to do with personal donations to random charities of choice. It’s about society accepting that if we all give a portion of our income to support people who need it across the board, we can all be entitled to it in times of need. I don’t think fat cats who mainly got rich as part of the system giving public donations to select organisations they get contracts from (okay, maybe pushing it a bit here) even approaches the kind of support that a reasonable welfare state gives. Your whole opinion sounds like cultural indoctrination to me. Just hope you don’t tell me you’re from Sweden now. 🙂


  2. Lovely story. There are far too many desperately poor in Brazil, so my policy is only give money to those who have rescued a dog. If i see them with a dog i’ll run across 4 lanes of traffic if need be to give them more than they could “earn” begging in a few days. “Take care of him/her, and good on you” is all I’d say, pointing to the animal. They all understand.


    • John, I would have disagreed with you until I took the time to “think it through”. My initial thought was why would they have a dog if they can’t even take care of themselves ? Having thought longer, they might well be living the ultimate sacrifice that many christians only claim to do in caring for your neighbor with what little substance you have.

      I’ve always said giving to those less fortunate is not a sacrifice if you have a 6 figure bank account. Helping those less fortunate is a sacrifice when you have a 2 figure account. 🙂

      Thanks for provoking additional thought on my part. 🙂


      • Ken, unfortunately there are more stray and abandoned animals here than stray and abandoned people. We’re involved with a number of rescue shelters, but’s it’s an uphill battle. There’s no such thing as an RSPCA (ASPCA) here in Brazil so it’s just the heroic efforts of these small groups who can’t “look away.” If a homeless person has a dog with them they’ve rescued them from certain death and care for them, despite their settings.


    • So many poor all over, eh? Seems like a good system. There are many here who have a dog with them. I don’t know how they came to have the dog. Doesn’t matter, really. Good companionship for what seems a lonely existence.


    • Aw, that’s lovely John!


  3. “Your whole opinion sounds like cultural indoctrination to me.”

    I hope you were looking in the mirror when you said that. 🙂

    @Ruth, I will be happy to review the report and get back to you on the tithing. I feel it was probably included because this was most likely based on tax returns.

    Again, I am not taking sides here. I was merely pointing out that there is plenty of blame to point to both parties.

    @violetwisp, “I don’t think fat cats who mainly got rich as part of the system giving public donations to select organisations they get contracts from (okay, maybe pushing it a bit here) even approaches the kind of support that a reasonable welfare state gives.”

    Name a reasonable “Welfare State” that isn’t on the verge of bankruptcy ?

    Marguerite Thatcher once said,” The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other peoples’ money.”

    I am all for helping people less fortunate than me and I do it year around out of my wallet. I don’t necessarily like politicians being generous with my wallet instead of theirs. That’s all.

    I’m not arguing with the idea of helping people. You just can’t blame the “lack of it” on 1 party, that’s all.


    • I suspect it probably does include tithing. I wonder if you took that away what the numbers would look like. Some churches do have benevolence funds but they’re a drop in the bucket to their overall administrative costs, so while church is considered a “charity” I’m not sure, for the purposes that we’re discussing here it does much good in the scheme of things.

      I’m not taking sides either. I’m a bit left leaning, but consider myself moderate. I also think, being married to a Brit, that the U.S. largely misunderstands and vilifies the NHS and other social programs that work pretty well overall in favor a free market system that, IMHO, doesn’t work that well if you don’t have much money.

      Part of the problem, as I see it, is that everything as pretty much set up on a system of free market. Getting from that system to, say, an NHS-type system would and will be a long and painful process with much “fear-mongering” of a socialist state in between.


      • “I suspect it probably does include tithing. I wonder if you took that away what the numbers would look like.”

        We both might be surprised , Ruth. An empty tomb, inc. report found that evangelicals give churches about 4 percent of their income (and all Christians only 2.43 percent), far less than the biblical 10 percent tithe.

        I consider myself a “Moderate” although I lean to the right when it comes to Fiscal Responsibilities and I lean a little to the left when it comes to “Social Issues” .

        I don’t think my position is much different than yours or violetwisp. The only thing I was trying to point out is we can’t point the finger to a specific group and say they are 100% responsible for this.

        I think the Republican Party is living in the Stone Age when it comes to Social Issues. But I also think the Democratic Party is grossly irresponsible when it comes to Fiscal Issues.

        Neither side seems to lead by example and this is why I vote against the incumbent no matter the party. I am a strong believer in term limits.


        • Me too, Ken. I think that term limits are a necessity as well as reform on lobbyists. The term limits will do little good as long as big corporations can line the pockets of whoever is elected.


      • I totally agree Ruth. Lobbying should be illegal.


    • What about Denmark, Sweden and Norway? Here’s link to post that disproves the ‘lazy welfare state’ misconception:
      Sure, there are down sides to welfare states but we don’t have to pass quite as many people with mental health problems abandoned on the streets as you do in the United States. The sense of individual responsibility in the USA is admirable in some respects, but the fear of everyone contributing to provide for each other via elected officials is rather puzzling. There’s an underlying insecurity, self-centredness and almost panic about life that we don’t suffer from so much in countries where we have a stronger welfare state. I fully acknowledge I suffer from cultural indoctrination. 🙂


      • “This paper discusses the conventional wisdom that unemployment benefits create a disincentive to work, the so-called “welfare trap”.

        I have no problem with unemployment benefits. This means they had a job , then became unemployed.

        My problem is with 3rd generation welfare recipients here in the USA who never had a job nor did their parents or grandparents.

        This year marks 50 years of President Johnson’s “War on Poverty” . Poverty has NOT gotten any better here over the past 50 years even though we have all been taxed to provide the money to fight this problem.

        Money is not the entire solution. I think ethics or the lack of contribute heavily to our welfare problem here.

        Where are you located violetwisp ? I hope you read my previous comment.


        • “My problem is with 3rd generation welfare recipients here in the USA who never had a job nor did their parents or grandparents.

          I agree with what you’re saying in principal. However, welfare were cut off the government would find a place to spend that money. Our taxes wouldn’t be lowered in all likelihood.

          Ethics may be to blame, and I’m speaking as someone who lives in an area replete with welfare recipients – 3rd and 4th generation – but I also think that by the time it gets to the 3rd or 4th generation education is an issue. This is what the recipients know. They have no idea that there are better opportunities out there.

          I have a friend who made the off the cuff remark that she’s like to get some of that, she’d just quit her job and go on welfare and get food stamps. My reply was quite simply that’s not a life I wish to live. These are told what they can own, how much of it they can own. Most of them rent fancy cars, rent their furniture, rent a home. They can’t buy a house or a car or they lose their benefits because they then have an asset. It’s a whole mindset and I have no good ideas, other than somehow inspiring the children when they are very young that there is more out there and it’s good.


        • Ken, what do you see as an alternative? I agree that welfare reform is in order. Do you have suggestions on how to go about it? I don’t think it’s as simple as cutting off benefits to people receiving them. Whatever happened to Bill Clinton’s ‘Welfare to Work’ initiative?


  4. Ruth, I wish I had the answer. I was broke and homeless just a mere 20 years ago. I had to live with friends just to survive. I did not sign up or receive any gov’t benefits because I was raised differently. Much of my demise was my own fault. I couldn’t manage money. I was reduced to buying $1 hotdogs for lunch out of change I had left in a change jar.

    Now to the “light bulb moment”. Learning to manage with what little I had, I came across an opportunity and was able to take advantage of it and get back on my feet. One opportunity evolved into another and in 7 short years I owned my own company and achieved a very large income.

    Please do not think this story is to allow me to beat my chest and show what I accomplished. I tell it to show that the way I was raised as a child finally sunk in during my despair . I finally applied principles I was taught as a child and along with opportunities was able to achieve more than I ever dreamed.

    For years I kept that change jar on my office desk as a reminder.

    What is even more important, is paying back to society for your success. I still cling to the scripture from Luke 12:48 which says, “To whomsoever much is given….much is required”

    This is one thing I can keep from my previous experience in Christianity and say , “This is good”

    When violentwisp says, “But I never gave money to poor people. Wouldn’t have known where to start.” If you keep your eyes open, those giving opportunities are right in front of you. And it doesn’t have to involve money. Giving of your time can make a big difference too. You bought a poor ladie’s meal for her. Nice gesture but also smart. Had you given her money she might have bought a bottle of wine instead.

    I find opportunities to help people all the time. I keep my eyes open. I rarely give them money just because many times they are in their condition because they can’t manage money just like the problem I had. That’s why most Lottery Winners go broke after 2 years. If they couldn’t manage their money when they had little, how were they suppose to manage millions ?

    So to finally answer your question, Ruth. It starts at home. Just as we are convinced children are indoctrinated in religion when they are young, I think this is also much of the problem with 3rd and 4th generation welfare. They have been indoctrinated into believing it is ok and they deserve it.

    Education, education, education. And Role Models are very important as well.


    • Agreed. Many in this area are raised by grandparents and have no idea where there parents are. There’s no involvement in their education, nor any emphasis placed on getting an education. No matter how hard their teachers try, it really does start at home.

      Now, to the lady whose meal I bought. She clearly had had some type of mental breakdown. Probably not to the point she couldn’t function, at least not at the point I met her. She lost her job due to the mental breakdown she had. Now, for whatever reason – whether she had no family or what I don’t know – she was on the street. At the point I met her she may have been able to hold some simple job – maybe bagging groceries or something. The question in my mind, having pondered over it, was would anyone have hired her on. Probably not. And that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms altogether. To be honest, I felt so badly about how she was treated I wished I had had the money to give her instead of paying for her meal. I approached her and asked her if she wanted to stay, but in her mental state she seemed oblivious to the fact she was being treated rudely. She was just so happy to have a real meal in a real restaurant, I think.

      It is quite clear that many of the homeless adults in this area, at least, have some mental challenges. I’m not sure to what degree.


    • Hi Ken, I did read your previous comments, and I understand your concern. I think Ruth makes a great point that education and education about opportunities is key to reducing the amount of generational welfare families. Children learn so much by observation, and if no-one around them is working, it’s difficult to condemn them for not understanding the routes to another way of living. I don’t fear government intervention on this, I think it’s imperative.

      I live in Scotland, and it’s easy to give money here via charity shops, or magazine selling schemes for homeless people. My point about not knowing where to start relates to John’s comment about the level and breadth of poverty in Brazil, which is similar in Argentina, where I was previously living. I’ve also lived in the USA (dual citizen) which is why I feel I can comment on the shocking state of people on the streets there and the horrors of a lack in decent welfare system encompassing health and social needs. I see you’ve been there, but you at least had friends you could count on, and you come from a background that gave you tools required to do something constructive to get yourself out of that situation.


      • Scotland, the home of my paternal ancestors. Lovely country. I’ve visited several times. I especially enjoy the Highlands. 🙂

        “I don’t fear government intervention on this, I think it’s imperative.”

        Here is where we disagree. I believe our gov’t has become so inefficient let along corrupt there has to be a better way to help those in need.

        Where we agree is the need to help people less fortunate. 🙂


  5. I have nothing intelligent to say about politics, economics, or sociology. However, what you did for her, treating her like a human being worthy of respect, was a beautiful thing. If that is our daily intention, to be aware of each other’s presence and worth, this will be a world less broken. Hopefully at least a few of the details of how to address poverty will work themselves out in the process.


    • Hey there, DoOrDoNot!

      While I think a lot more could be done more efficiently and better politically, one thing I know is that it’s going to take each of us doing our part to heal the broken – with or without the government. I know I fall woefully short.


  6. This is a terrific story – and I sympathize with you. Can I tell you a story with a bit of a better ending? I worked as a cook at a high volume restaurant in the late 80s – early 90s time period. We had a guy who lived under the storefront marquis. Sometimes us cooks would sneak the guy some leftovers that would otherwise just been thrown in the dumpster. (we took lots of leftovers home ourselves as long as management did not catch us!). Like your story, management was concerned that they were chasing away customers. He looked like he was in his 50s, and lived like he had no chances left. Well management did the right thing in this case. They gave him a job. He held on to it for about a year. Nothing fancy – he just washed dishes and kept the job long enough to get back on his feet again before he moved on. Sometimes the right thing really does happen.


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