Monday, July 31, 2006

How Homeless Are They?

The other day, I was walking up Michigan Avenue and stumbled across, literally, a man who looked very dirty laying on the sidewalk - or more to the point, reclining up against the building at Water Tower Place. I immediately sized him up as being a vagrant and homeless. And just as immediately, I felt sympathy, as I always do, when I see someone in that situation. "There but for the grace of God go I", I say to myself. After shelling out a little over $15,000 last year for expenses not covered by my insurance company for my surgery, I found that I had to start all back over again. There were times when I was just a paycheck or two away from being that man that I stumbled across.

Or so I thought.

Upon closer inspection of the man laying in the street with outstretched cup for donations, I read the sign he had propped up against himself. It was a cardboard sign, written in black marker, asking for donations to help him out. The last line on the sign read,

"...your helped is appreciated".

And I thought how on earth did he correctly spell the word "appreciated", but misused a first grade word like "help", especially when the word "help" is written so often by those who are in need of it? Every other word on his sign was spelled correctly.

Another block or so up the street was yet another man, assumably homeless, with the word "unfortunate" spelled correctly, and the word "pleese" tacked on at the end. And then I suddenly felt like a fool. And I wondered how many other people who seem to be living on the streets are posers and how many are the real thing.

Of course, seeing this story didn't help matters.

For me, it is admittedly a short drive to the town of Cynical. I tend to NOT believe more than believe. I am not a pessimist -- I have been fooled just enough times to be more wary. I would never give money to someone on the street anyway, because I have volunteered in shelters before and was told to always donate to a shelter or organization rather than give money to a person on the street. For one thing, you never know how your money is going to be spent (I don't want to unknowingly support someone's alcohol addiction or crack habit). I have actually offered food to people on the street before - sometimes it was accepted graciously, sometimes it was taken without so much as a thank you, and sometimes it was thrown back at me.

In the book, Etiquette for Outlaws, it says to never give money to a panhandler, and when approached and asked for money, one should respond with "not today" rather than "I'm sorry", because the latter is too condescending to those who really ARE homeless and in need. But for those who aren't really authentic (be it a sociology student doing a project, a college kid pulling a prank, or just a lazy person who doesn't want to actually work for a living), a condescending word is just not enough retribution.


  1. I always respond to panhandlers and homeless with "no thank you". Essentially I'm thanking them for giving me the opportunity to give them money. In my mind I'm trying not to be condescending.

    However, there was once here in DC one guy that was direct and told me he just wanted something to drink. It was a day like today with the actual temp reaching 100 and humidity out of control. Since he was honest I appreciated it and gave him a $10. I had to appreciate the direct approach.

  2. When I lived in Seattle, there was a "homeless" high school girl that the city fell in love with. She was always downtown, dirty, sad, the works. There was a big move to help her, until someone figured out she was from the wealthy city of Bellevue across Lake Washington. Her friends were taking her downtown every day after school for "fun." I was asked by a 20-something in Vancouver BC for money for a dimebag. I gladly forked over some cash. At least he was probably being honest.

    Last Christmas, we were on the Circle in Indy listening to carolers and looking at the lights. We were approached by at least 10 people looking for handouts for shelter and a meal. The irony is that 2 blocks away, the largest mission in the city was putting out a huge Christmas dinner and providing shelter for the night. When we suggested they walk down the street for a large hot meal, several of them flipped us off and went off to annoy other folks.

  3. This crap kills me. I never know what to say and am often the idiot who gives them something. I have to stop this as I will get mugged, I am certain.

  4. I just read this on today:

  5. I'm bitter and from NYC.

    I just walk by and pretend they don't exist.

    I mean really... I have to get up and go to work. Why do they get to hang out all day and accept money from strangers. Any strangeres want to send me money?

    I didn't think so.

    So I offer them soap so they can wash and get a job. Now I realize I may sound harsh and uncaring, possibly even Republican, but I'm not. I'm just suffering from Acquired Compassion Deficiency. The sooner they all die off, the easier it will be to perform daily tasks for the rest of us.

    Now where are those horrible gangs from the 80's that used the homeless for target practice?

  6. Walking down Bryn Mawr yesterday afternoon (in all of that heat) I was asked by 5 different people for's getting out of hand!

  7. Dop: Of course, one can always buy the mendicant a sandwich, if one has time. I used to think that there were shelters and haelp available; there is not.

  8. In college once I was at a food truck getting my dinner of Cheap Chinese Food. Literally, it was $3.50, and that was all I could afford on my student's budget. A homeless guy approached me and said he really wanted a few bucks so he could get himself a kung pao chicken (or something). I offered to buy him an egg roll ($1), but he insisted he'd rather take the cash to save up for the kung pao chicken. I declined, citing my general policy against ever giving homeless people straight-out cash. Besides, being a poor student, I had no intention of spending more on the homeless guy than on myself. Sound selfish in writing, but still true.

    Me personally, I won't even violate the "no cash" rule even, especially for "honest" folk. Sorry, but just because you admit that you're feeding a drug habit doesn't mean you get bonus points....