Monday, April 13, 2009

Internal Conflict Dealing with the Homeless on Easter

I live in a relatively upscale and safe neighborhood. Most of my neighbors are University students or young professionals. I've rarely seen homeless people in my neighborhood and I've certainly never come face-to-face with any.... until yesterday.

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Yesterday at noon, I decided to treat myself to a nice (gluttonous) Easter brunch by picking up some ready-made food at the gourmet market, Bristol Farms. I ordered honey glazed ham, wild mushroom risotto, scalloped potatoes, spring veggie sauté, duck pâté and an easter egg cake.

Since it was a beautiful day, I decided to walk to the store. As I approached the parking lot, I noticed a homeless man sitting underneath a tree, looking down. I hesitated -- "Should I give him some money? No, he might use it to buy drugs. Besides, he hasn't asked and he doesn't have a sign asking for money." I decided to ignore him and go on with my day.

After I purchased my brunch, it gnawed on me that it's Easter. "Should I go back into the store to pick up something to eat for the man? Nah. Just go home and enjoy your gourmet meal."

As I kept walking, it still bothered me. "It's Easter, for cryin' out loud!" I was now in front of McDonald's. "Oh, what the heck. I'll get him a burger, fries and a bottle of water."

But by the time I got back to the area where I first spotted him, he was gone. I guess he was just resting a bit before he moved on. I also noticed there were several police cars patrolling the area and perhaps that spooked him.

I returned home and ate the quarter-pounder with cheese and fries that I intended to give to the homeless man instead of my Easter brunch. Re-enacting the whole scenario in my mind, I can't help but to feel that I've failed -- On a day where Christians celebrate Christ's resurrection after he made the ultimate sacrifice, I couldn't spare an ounce of benevolence to a fellow human being when given the opportunity.

Should I have offered him some money? Should I have asked him if he wanted something to eat? Was I being cheap by getting him food from McDonald's rather than from Bristol Farms?

Although I'm ashamed of what took place (or didn't), I'm still not sure how I should deal with homeless people in my neighborhood. I'm conflicted.


Ms. MoneyChat said...

Dealing with the homeless is not an easy thing so I understand why you're conflicted. I don't have an answer, all I know is you're not alone there.

444 said...

First, I want to thank you for your support on my blog. Not many people have commented recently, and we appreciate all the support we can get.

Now, I don't think you were the least bit cheap, nor did you fail to do anything you should have. In fact, you really were not obligated to even contemplate doing anything for that person. The fact that you did indicates how kind your heart is. The fact that he was gone when you returned was outside your control.

The truth is that you can't ever really know what is going on with a person like that. Their story could be completely and totally different than you imagine. My neighbor had (still has, I hope) a son who was in another state, in and out of drug rehab. He had "more money than God," she said, having received an inheritance from his attorney father, and was presumably pissing it away on drugs and all the accoutrements that go with that, even putting his life in danger with his habits. The habits were entrenched well before receiving the windfall, I am sure. In fact, it sounded like he may have inherited an addictive personality from dear old dad.

But this guy was 20-something and living in some kind of halfway house, forcing mom to have to call around to try to locate him and find out if he was still alive or not. I really felt for her. My point is, the person who appears homeless may possibly be shunning ample resources to sit around in a public park looking like heck warmed over because he is fighting demons that his own mother can't help him with, much less you being able to help me.

444 said...

dang it, I didn't proofread and I am distracted today. I meant to type, "help him," and it was not a Freudian slip or anything. :o)

Bouncing Back said...

Nope, you were not the least bit cheap. As 444 said, you don't really know what is going on with a person.

I guess the only suggestion I have is maybe make a charitable donation to a local soup kitchen a couple times a year. All too often, food pantries and soup kitchens only get donations at the holidays and people need to eat year round. You can support a local food pantry by buying a gift card to a grocery store, sending them cash or buying a bunch of food and dropping it off at the pantry. I prefer to send my local food pantry money because they know what they need to restock their shelves. I also do buy a couple extra cans or boxes of whatever and do drop them into the donation boxes at the grocery store every few visits, but prefer to send money so they can get what they need and want.

J. Money said...

awww, well i think it shows that your heart is still big just for THINKING and feeling bad about all this stuff :)

sometimes i give, and sometimes i don't (i get asked 2-3 times every day working in the city - no joke) and i never have a real method down as to what causes me to do this or not.

i think our gut tell us something and we just listen to it. maybe in your case it was just SAFER not to for some reason? people are crazy and he could have very well been a dangerous person and thus your instinct was to move along.

either way, i think it's good that you're thinking about this stuff instead of just brushing it off :)

paranoidasteroid said...

I think the fact that you actual went and bought him food is a really nice thing, even if he wasn't tehre anymore. It's easy to toss money at someone, but you don't know what they'll use it for. At least with food, you give them something they need without worrying that tey'll harm thmselves further.

I never know what to do about homeless people either. I try to set aside my charitable giving money for soup kitchns and homeless shelters.

Abigail said...

Sigh... I actually had a similar situation recently. I bought a few things in a grocery store for a couple, but by the time I came out, they were gone. Upsetting.

I think that your hesitation is normal. You don't really know how someone will use money. That's why some folks keep their donations to organizations they trust.

I try to give food, rather than money, to people when I do donated to individuals. Still, when money's tight all around, it's hard to have that argument with yourself. I know from experience.