“Do you have any change for the homeless?” He asked this over and over again, of almost everyone who passed. To a person, they kept walking, only a few acknowledging him, saying sorry, they didn’t have any change. So did I.
And we were all lying. Sure, most of us pay for purchases, even small ones, with debit cards these days, but don’t we all have some change rattling around? The point wasn’t that we didn’t have any change, it was that we weren’t willing to give it to him. This man who didn’t have a home to go to, didn’t have a bed to sleep in, and was depending on our change for his next meal.
Or his next fix. Or a bottle of cheap liquor.
That seems to be a problem for many. People don’t want to give money to the homeless because they don’t want them to spend it on intoxicating substances or other things they deem worthless. So they don’t help. Or they help by buying a homeless person a meal at the nearest fast food joint.
I couldn’t disagree more with this. My grandfather on my dad’s side strongly believed that if you give or lend money to someone, it is up to that person to spend it however they want. That if you decide to give someone money, you have no right to specify how they should use it. And that it is absolutely none of your business whether they want to spend it on a mortgage payment, a Caribbean vacation, or blow it all on an underground cockfight.
It’s about respecting other people’s choices and allowing them the dignity to make their own decisions.
Which gets us back to the homeless guy. I was waiting in the area for a little while before going home and watched person after person passing by, so many of them treating him as if he were invisible. I took a look in my wallet and discovered that the change I had was small and piddly, but I did have a five dollar bill. So I gave it to him.
I do that sometimes, when funds are not too tight and I feel overwhelmed by my luck and privilege in the face of those who have nothing. Because I have a roof over my head, food in my fridge, and nice clothes.
He hadn’t. And no, I will not get into that debate about how people who are homeless “choose” that way of life. I could point out that there isn’t much choice when the programs that supported someone’s mental health have been closed down, leaving them up the creek, as well as a number of other facts about homelessness.
Back to me sitting on the corner having given the homeless guy five dollars. And I was pretty sure that the money wasn’t going to food, but that was none of my business. Because I had chosen to give him money and that money was no longer mine. It was his to do with as he pleased.
He offered to hug me. I have to admit I declined. It was a bad pain day.
And then he wandered off, back into the park to join his friends, also homeless.
As he walked away, a raspy and incensed female voice rang out from the group of homeless people behind me,
“You’re taking money from the crippled to buy your drugs?!”
That made me smile the whole way home.