A couple weeks ago I listened to a podcast from a fellow who mentioned that he always gives money to homeless people when he has money to give them. It got me thinking, because I’m the opposite and rarely ever give to the homeless.
This turned out to be a humongous post that goes in a couple different directions. For that reason, I’ve decided to split it up. For this week, I’m gonna tell you why I usually don’t give money to homeless people. It will probably offend you, but hopefully not so much that you don’t come back next week. Because next week’s post is going to blow you away.
Next week, I’m going to tell you about three different homeless people with whom I’ve spoken over the past years. You might be very surprised, as I was, by what they have to say.
But first, this week’s post, which I don’t think is going to make me many friends amongst the bleeding hearts out there, but fuck it. This is how I roll.
Why I don’t give money to homeless people
1. I don’t know what they’re going to do with it.
What someone does with their money is their business. If they work 40 hours a week and want to buy a bunch of shovels every payday, cool. If they want to buy alcohol and drink themselves silly, that’s their right as well. America, baby.
But when I give others my money, it then sort of becomes my business, and I don’t know where my “donated” money is going. I don’t do drugs. I hardly ever drink alcohol and when I do, it is not to the point where I am walking through plate glass windows. I don’t support intolerant alcohol abuse or street drugs. That’s it. Case closed.
If I give my money to a homeless person it might very well go to drugs. That means I’m an indirect supporter of drug use and/or drug dealing and/or other illegal things. Sorry, I’m not playing.
And yes, I know not all homeless people do drugs and drink. But it’s often fairly obvious which ones do, and lots of others are iffy. I refuse to support that scene with even a dime and wish to err on the side of caution.
2. I don’t like being duped
When I moved to Seattle in 2000, there was a homeless fellow outside one of the big movie theaters downtown. He had a gas can in his hand and said he’d run out of gas and needed to get back to his family. He looked fairly clean and tidy and I guessed he wasn’t going to go boozing with it and gave him some money.
Now it’s 2011 and guess where this guy is? Outside the same movie theater, with the same empty gas canister. I know gas is expensive, but 11 years to fill a gas tank? Basically, he’s making a living by lying. For politicians, this would probably earn a second term (ouch), but I’m not gonna donate to that particular cause.
3. Do they really need it?
When I lived in Portland, I used to daily walk by a bunch of young kids along the park blocks who looked like they were in need. I’d pick one or two and give them some change on a fairly regular basis. And this was a time for me that was quite lean. I wasn’t doing well financially…not at all.
A little bit later, a local paper ran a story and I saw this same group of kids pictured. Turns out these weren’t street urchins at all, but rather kids from a rich suburb of Portland. These were private school kids who were very well off and very well taken care of. And they were in the park panhandling partly as a goof, partly in rebellion to their folks.
So, at a time when I actually really needed my own money, I was giving it up to some kids who were using me for a science experiment.
4. It’s criminal exchange
NO, I’m not calling homeless people criminals. I’m calling that type of exchange criminal, at least in part.
You and I have jobs. We work and probably work very hard. We put in the time and we get paid for it. That is called fair exchange. In our current society, right or wrong, we have to exchange a product or service for money. That’s the game.
There are other associated ways money can be made to switch hands, like lottery, theft and altruism.
Well, it ain’t a lottery and panhandling isn’t theft, since one donates by choice.
So it must be altruism.
But is it altruistic? While giving someone five dollars might silence the roar in their belly, what does it really do? Better yet, what would a homeless person say it actually does? More on that later.
5. Does my money really help?
I can buy Bob a sandwich and it’ll fill his belly. That is somewhat helpful. But then Bob is going to need another sandwich. What happens after that? I have to keep buying Bob sandwiches…or at least someone does.
Bob stays the same. He does nothing, produces nothing, changes his stars not at all. The potential for growth is increased by roughly zero and he doesn’t learn anything by the process, other than he prefers pastrami over turkey.
This is a never-ending process and one that is inherently destined to fail. Sort of like giving money to a drug user who has run out of junk. He’s about to go into serious withdrawals and you’ll feel bad knowing he’s going to suffer. So you “help” him by giving him more drug money. You sissy out because you can’t confront the short-term pain he’s going to experience, and instead prolong the agony because that edge is just a bit duller. It isn’t help at all. It’s becoming an accomplice to a broken way of life, a broken system, yada yada you get it.
6. Homelessness isn’t the problem, it’s a symptom
I wish homelessness were cured by money. Then you and I and the government could throw a pile of money at it and it would be solved. And honestly, I’d be all for that.
But obviously that’s not the solution.
One can wind up on the streets for many reasons: bad luck, rebellion, lack of money, bad planning, trauma, divorce, neglect, or even just a decision. “Fuck it, Ima go out and be homeless.”
Regardless of the cause, the duration and longevity of that homeless condition comes down to responsibility and a “what am I going to do about this?” attitude on the part of the homeless person.
Meaning…there are homeless people who will sadly die on the streets. There are homeless people who will change their stars and get off the streets right quick. And there are rich executives and CEOs who were once homeless themselves.
There are resources everywhere. Free libraries with free internet, cheap clothing at Goodwill and Value Village, places to stay for cheap or free, government programs to help…the list goes on. One thing is certain, homelessness is NOT incurable. And the biggest part of the cure is not waiting for handouts, but deciding the condition one is in must change and taking advantage of the resources available.
7. Giving People Money is Sort of a Bullshit Pansy Way to Avoid Real Help
That’s right. You heard me. Giving someone five bucks is never going to change what has happened to their life and why.
But I know people who give money to homeless people for all sorts of awful reasons:
- “If I give them money, they’ll leave me alone.”
- “There’s nothing else I can do for them.”
“I feel guilty for making as much money as I do.”
And I’ll be honest, I’ve felt like this too at times. But that inability to confront the homeless condition, and throwing money at it instead, isn’t going to do a damn thing.
If we want to actually HELP, it’s going to make more than money. And that’s obvious, ain’t it? I mean, homeless people make money. They do. But if they’re still homeless then there must be some other problem.
No, I’m not a total asshole
I’m not a heartless shell of a person. I do understand that a sandwich can save a life. I don’t like to give cash for the reasons stated above, but I’m not going to ignore someone knocking on Death’s door.
A guy in Cape Cod asked me for change once and he looked so sad, so horrible. He looked closer to death than anyone I’d ever seen. Well, except for an actual dead guy.
I told this fellow, “I really don’t want you to spend money on alcohol.”
He said, “I’d love some alcohol, but right now I’m so hungry.”
I said, “Let’s get a lunch then.”
He and I sat down in this little cafe looking out at some harbor. We spent a half an hour in there, being stared at by other patrons of the place. We sat in silence, and I watched this poor soul lay into a soup and sandwich. I had to tell him to eat slowly so he wouldn’t throw it all up later. He slowed down a bit and ended up taking half a sandwich for the road.
No, I didn’t change his life. At most, I prolonged it by a day.
Doesn’t that go against the philosophy I outlined above? Yeah, probably. But I don’t care. It’s likely my philosophy will change any time a guy looks like he’s about to die right at my feet. That’s when you lift the car off the baby, pull a lady from a burning wreck and give CPR to the guy who looks like he’s got rabies. Fuck it. A life is on the line and you do what can.
It was humbling and horrible and wondrous and I hated it.
Also, I know there are ramifications to what I’m saying. I’m aware that if everyone immediately stopped giving money to homeless people right now, there would probably be a few dead homeless people tomorrow.
I don’t know what to say about that. But what if we all stopped giving money to homeless people and started talking to them instead? What then I wonder? Next week’s post will touch on that.
And this isn’t about the money. I’m not a stingy bastard. I donated $18,000 to charity in 2010. So, this is not about the money in the slightest.
Money’s a bitch. I know. But we’re pretty powerful beings, aren’t we? Just stands to reason there might be something under that street grime that goes deeper than money.
Before they got homeless, the homeless person was a kid or teenager or adult with aspirations. We all start somewhere, and some of us fall and fall hard along the way.
I’m a very curious fellow by nature. And I like to talk to people. And I really like to talk to strangers. Mix those together and the result is a person who isn’t afraid to talk to homeless people about why they’re homeless.
I’ve got a few stories to tell you, straight from the mouths of three homeless people, The Unicycle Guy, The Joke Guy and Paul Bunyan. Surely not a large enough sample to mean anything scientifically, but I think you’ll be amazed at what these homeless people had to say about being homeless. I certainly was.
I’ll give you a hint. It’s not about the money.
See you next week. Prepare to be humbled.
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