Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Whose Money Is It Anyway?

Anytime you visit a city with a good-sized population and, perhaps, even better weather, you are likely to also encounter a swelling homeless population.

My first night in San Francisco, I bought a copy of a homeless newspaper, got another guy a pack of cigarettes, and withdrew a small sum of cash for a third.  When I mentioned it to my colleagues the next day, they didn't really respond.  When I observed the locals walking from place to place the next day, they ignored the homeless all around them.

I am, I suppose, a sucker, an easy mark.

What if, I wonder, your money wasn't really yours?  What if you didn't actually "earn" most of it?  What if, instead, most of the paycheck that came your way each month was more the result of the good fortune of your upbringing coupled with the good fortune of your education in conjunction with solid nutrition and the good fortune of the myriad unknown circumstances that have contributed to your well-being, your personal growth mindset, and your stability?

What if most of the salary that came your way was the result of this comprehensive background rather than your performance on the job?  Would you, would we, be willing to ponder the plight of the homeless more deeply, to give more deeply?

I am well aware of the many arguments against this:

"They're just going to spend it on alcohol."
"There are plenty of places that they can go to get a free meal."
"There are all kinds of services in this city for them."
"I gave them some food once and they just threw it away."
"I'm tired of being hustled."

All may be true, who knows?  If someone asks us for money, does the giving of that money really hinge on our ability to discern what said money will be spent on?  Or, worse, should it hinge on our assessment of how much they actually "need" what we think they are going to spend it on?  

I like the way my brother-in-law handles this.  When he lived in San Diego, another obvious haven for the homeless, he makes it a point to carry around a stack of $1 bills so that he can easily support the multitude of requests for money that he gets and not be overwhelmed.  Yes, there is more he could do, but this does allow him to carry on an ongoing social relationship where both sides feel okay about the transaction.

I like the way my neighbor handles this.  Each Friday morning, he is part of a program at the Salvation Army where he and some other men provide biscuits, drinks, and Christian music for a regular crowd.  After the performance, he helps various "regulars" with some of their problems in navigating the complex system of services somewhat available to them.

Of course, what I'd really like to do, and yet do nothing about, are the long-term plight of the over 600,000 homeless that travel the United States each year in varying conditions of stability, health, and sanity.  It seems like a solvable problem, but I'm not seeking the solution.  I'm offering bandaids for deep wounds, perhaps fatal ones.

Like you, unless you have some hard and fast rule of refusal that you live by, I continue to dole out money sporadically, based on whatever whim or convenience of the moment--if I have change, I probably give it unless I need it, same with smaller bills, not as generous with larger ones.  I might stop for a person standing at an interstate exit ramp, but I might, just as likely, be frustrated by something completely unrelated and not want to be bothered.  

I think what keeps us from doing more for the homeless is that when we look in their eyes we see that we are not as good as we think we are.  Our dollar bills are buyouts for the conversations we seek to avoid.


troutking said...

Well said. Also:
Show me a prison, show me a jail
Show me a prisoner, man, whose face is growin' pale
And I'll show you a young man with many reasons why
And there but for fortune, may go you or I

Show me an alley, show me a train
Show me a hobo who sleeps out in the rain
And I'll show you a young man with many reasons why
And there but for fortune, may go you or I

Show me the whiskey stains on the floor
Show me a drunken man as he stumbles out the door
And I'll show you a young man with many reasons why
And there but for fortune, may go you or I

Show me the country where the bombs had to fall
Show me the ruins of the buildings once so tall
And I'll show you a young land with so many reasons why
And there but for fortune, may go you or I

Anonymous said...

Indeed. said...

This is a good act of charity. There are many people who are against it but the point is there are many who are actually needy and we may not be able to identify them because of others who are asking for alms without any reason. So by doing charity to all you may benefit the real needy people.