Last night, TC and I braved the rain and snow and wind and walked ourselves to the Trax station, hopped on a train, and rode the few stops to the Gateway, where Tucanos lives. We overate and it was wonderful. We had an extra buy one get one free birthday card (since we both have birthdays in March, we both get a card, and we only needed one) so we gave it to a family of four that was sitting at the table next to us. That gave me a warm fuzzy.
What didn't give me a warm fuzzy was this: Once we got off the train a panhandler stopped us to ask for money. We told him we didn't have anything to give him (who carries cash these days?) and I, thinking I was being helpful, told him that there are a variety of shelters nearby that he could go to. It WAS cold and snowing after all and I certainly don't want him to be out in the cold. The man was offended, visibly, audibly. He told me, and I quote, "I will give you a million dollars right now, a million dollars, if you let one of your children go to one of these shelters." He went on explain that those shelters are rife with drugs, and anyone who sets foot in of those shelters will immediately become a drug addict.
He became pretty belligerent, so I just started to walk away. That made him pretty angry, but neither of us were about to stand in the cold and argue with him about whether or not we could or wanted to or would give him money.
That interaction got me thinking about the billboards I've seen recently around downtown declaring: Support shelters, not panhandlers. We do that. We donate money to charitable organizations that help the homeless, impoverished and needy. Is there more we can do? Sure! But giving money to a man on the street that yells at you isn't the way.
After we walked away, TC commented to me how ironic his statement was, "I will give you a million dollars..." How, buddy? You were just asking me for change.
We have lived and walked downtown now for nearly six years. You can bet that I have seen the same people over and over again asking for money. One man asked me everyday for money for a chicken dinner for his wife and child. Finally, tired of him asking me, I told him I would give him money if he would just leave me alone (bad precedent to set, I know) and never ask me for money again. He agreed and I gave him some of my lunch money. However the next day he asked me again for money. *sigh*
Then there are the people who tell these elaborate stories, like the guy who told us how he had driven here from Wyoming, and ran out of gas, and had no money to pay for a fill up, and just needed enough money to put a little bit of gas in his car to drive to his friend's house in Bountiful. The logic there was lacking. Plus, we had just seen him hang up his cell phone before he came over to us. Call someone, like maybe your friend?
There was one lady that made me laugh: she came up to us explaining that she was very drunk (and one could see that she was not lying), and that she had gambled all her money away in Wendover, and that she took a bus back to SLC and now she was stuck. She wanted money to buy more booze. I appreciated her honesty.
The other night there was a man who stopped us in a parking lot and told us a whole story about how he was a hard-working man, and he had a wife and he took care of his woman, but that they had fallen into some bad luck, and if we could just help him he could stay in a hotel across the street that offered rooms for $20 a night. He already had ten dollars, and he just needed ten more. He appealed to TC saying, "Imagine you were out in the cold with your woman. Imagine your woman ain't got no place to sleep. What you gonna do? You gonna be a man and do what it takes so she has a comfortable bed to sleep in? I'm doing what it takes right now. I don't like being out here. Do you think I like asking strangers for money? No. I don't wanna be begging on the streets for money, but that's what I got to do. If it was just me, I'd go hungry and sleep in the cold. But I got my woman to take care of." We spent a good five minutes with him as he explained that he wasn't able to go to nearby shelters (I can't remember the reason now, but it vaguely made sense at the time) and that he was a veteran and had served this country. He explained why so many other options for the homeless didn't work for him or his wife. His story was good. If nothing else, we enjoyed talking to him. He was kind, and appealed to our sense of empathy, and he won us over.
The whole issue puts me at odds with my senses. I feel sympathy for those who are suffering. My mind gets to thinking, "What if this person is really going to go hungry and cold tonight? What if they truly need help? What if I could have been the person to help them?" And then I feel the irony of the situation: TC and I are going to a restaurant specifically to overindulge and we are denying help to someone who may not have eaten in days. It's taxing to think this all through, and to feel all through it.
So what's the point of this? I'm not really sure what I want to say in the end with all of this. I think I'll stick with the advice to give to charitable organizations, rather than individuals. Hopefully they will take advantage of the resources around them.