Wednesday, February 20, 2008

How do you deal with homeless beggers?

My son was in the back of the minivan playing his Nintendo DS, and my wife was helping my daughter get into the bucket seat behind the driver's seat. I opened the passenger side door and emptied the hairs from my electric shaver and, as I was shutting the door, I noticed the man approaching.

He is not coming at us. He's walking this way, but it's only my imagination that he's about to approach the car. He's gonna walk around the car and be on his way.

I pretended that I didn't see him and made a quick effort to lock all the doors. And, just like in the movies, I fumbled with this task. I didn't need to say anything to my wife, as she slid the sliding door shut before KK even had her seatbelt on, and slammed her door.

Rap. Rap. Rap. Was the sound of knuckle on glass. A queesy feeling rushed through me. Yes, I am a whimp. I live a sheltered life in a small town. People like this don't just approach you in a small town, at least not normally.

I rolled the window about a third of the way down. "Can I help you," I said, making good eye contact with him, thinking that perhaps I had mis-stereotyped him at first. He was a middle-aged man with rosy red cheeks. Of course, it was freezing out. I didn't smell alchohol.

"Can you spare a dollar," he said.

Now I have no problem giving a man a dollar, but I had no idea where one might be. My wallet could be in the glove compartment, or it could be in my backpack, or maybe even in my wifes purse for all I knew. I certainly didn't want to prolong his visit at my window while I spent the time to look.

"No. I don't have any money." There, that should get rid of him. Right? He'll just do the honorable thing and walk away.

He didn't. "Well, the other thing, and this is probably more important." My wife started the car. "Would it be possible to get a ride?"

If it were just me, I still wouldn't have given him a ride. But, considering I had a car full of people, two of them being children nine and four, there was no way I was going to even consider giving him a ride.

"I have no room I said." So please go away.

"Okay," he said, "Thanks for your time."

He walked away and my wife drove off.

"I have a dollar right here," my wife said, grabbing a buck from between the seats. "I would have given it to him."

I had no idea it was there. "I was just afraid of what else he would want."

"I've heard stories of people like that pulling out a gun and blowing up everyone in the car."

"The idea certainly crossed my mind."

"I was told in school," my son chimed in from the back, "that people who do that are usually reporters undercover."

I laughed. My wife didn't. She said, "I doubt that."

"I don't," I said, for no other reason than to build my son's ego.

My wife said, "He was probably just a regular homeless guy in search of something." She paused before adding, "The funny thing is, there was a help wanted sign on the McDonald's window."

"Good point," I said.

"Then again, if he got a dollar from half the people who stop at that McDonalds, he'd make a good days wage."

With that the man was forgotten, until this writing.

So, does not helping this man out make my wife and I incensitive? Did we set a bad example for our son by not at least giving him a buck?



Nikki said...

Hey great post...I remember one time my son started crying because I didn't give a beggar at the grocery store parking lot some money so I buckled under the pressure and gave him some. Then everytime I went he came up to me recocgnizing me as the person that gave him money before. I had to explain to my son that sometimes it isn't safe. I didn't want this strange man approaching me everytime I needed to buy milk. I think our insticts are always right on and if you had an uneasy feeling the best rule of thumb is to follow that feeling. There are other ways to teach our children to be charitable. I used to work in downtown Salt Lake City by Temple square and it is panhandler heaven to stand outside the walls of the Temple guilting people into giving. There were signs posted saying "please do not give to the panhandlers. there are foodbanks in the area that are wasting food" or something to that affect. So gladly I would give them a flyer with addresses to the local foodbanks or a church for a hot meal. enjoyed the read!!!:)Nikki

travelingseth said...

Well written.

I think the fact that you're from a small town explains a lot about your conundrum. I live in San Francisco where you get this every day, and after a while you have no problem saying no or just ignoring them. It's natural. Not to say you shouldn't help the homeless. But giving them cash is usually not the best way to do it. Most of the time it just goes to booze and drugs. If you're still feeling conflicted save your dollar and donate it to a charity that does good work with the homeless.

Anonymous said...

well i have to differ not all homeless people are drunks or druggies,if youve got a job you better thank god,because in todays econmy,layoffs,there are alot of normal folks that are homeless,and these agencys you give to,dont help everyone,my unemployment benefits just ran out i still havent found work,ill be homeless soon,so i have to disagree with you completely!!!

Rick Frea said...

The point of my post here was to note that it's scary having some stranger walk up to your car, especially when you have kids. It's also hard to have sympathy for a man who's begging under a help wanted sign.