Someone heading toward me that I know is going to ask for money, I tense up. Why? I’m not physically intimidated. Certainly, giving them a dollar isn’t going to break me.
Then there are those at freeway entrances holding cardboard signs asking for… well, money. I feel uncomfortable close by them and sometimes make sure I’m good and locked in as I look away. Why?
Most look clean and capable. And in Phoenix at least, we’re close to places like Andre House and St. Vincent de Paul dining room. And there are places like St. Joseph the Worker which do all sorts of things to help men and women find full time work. And there are day jobs which almost every street person seems to know about. What’s with their begging? Except that to get paid you have to work. Maybe that’s it.
I suspect mostly alcohol and drugs. And there’s other mental illness. They have left their group homes, quit their psych meds and follow ups. Some are “self medicating” with street drugs. It’s usually warm outside in Phoenix, and the firemen will pick them up if they pass out. And care is free in any emergency department.
I don’t want to facilitate this lifestyle.
What do saints do?
The problem is not new. Stories abound of saints who spent the dwindling and meager funds of their family or monastery on those begging alms. And how they suffered criticism for not recognizing the difference between helping the poor versus enabling drunks.
The typical response of the saint? “Yes, I know, but what if they’re actually hungry?” Refusing alms which might be used for an unworthy purpose was to chance refusing a hungry Jesus. Not worth it in the saint’s mind.
You don’t have to be a saint to be afraid of that. It’s what I’m afraid of. A man who hasn’t eaten all day doesn’t look too different from one who has. Besides which, even if she is an alcoholic or drug addict, might the money be spent on the food she really needs to keep from getting seriously ill? And who am I to judge her addiction? Surely, but for the grace of God there go I… Will the real Jesus please stand up? It would be very helpful in these beggar situations.
So I hand out granola bars. I keep a big box of them in my pickup, and whenever I see anyone I think might be in need, I give them one. And I have yet to look in my rear-view mirror, and not see them wolfing it down. Is this good enough?
Andy’s really good day and more insight
Recently at a grandson’s game, I ran into one of my son’s friends. Andy spoke of how coming into the center of the building complex he owns, he saw a man – obviously a street person – sitting at the picnic table there. Upon finding out he was the owner, the man apologized and said he’d be on his way. Andy reassured him, told him he was welcome to stay, even sleep there, just please don’t leave a mess for the tenants.
The man relaxed and Andy found he had been employed, lost his job, and was now on the street. He was veteran, had served a tour in the Marines. Everything he owned was in a backpack hidden in the bushes.
They chatted awhile, and Andy offered him a $20 bill, “If you need it.” The man accepted gratefully. He pulled out a business card and wrote the name of an associate. “This guy might be looking for someone. Go see him if you want.”
As he walked away, he turned to wave good-bye, and the man snapped him a sharp salute.
Andy allowed he hadn’t done much, but it left him joyful, and indeed, I think he got the greater gift. I thought if he had done nothing else but sit and talk with the guy a little, he still would have done a wonderful thing, and said so.
I think I’ve been too afraid of being taken advantage of. Of being a sucker. Looking stupid. I need to get over it.
Andy’s son and my grandson finished, the flags and footballs were rounded up, and we left. Thanks Andy, have a great Thanksgiving. Benedicamus Domino.