Thursday, October 29, 2009

Breaks My Heart

There's no good way to talk about this without making myself sound pretty bad and most likely offending at least a few of you. I apologize in advance; I realize now that my opinions may have been overly harsh and unfair and that by holding them I was perpetuating an attitude of ignorance. I am sorry for that. Here goes.

Homeless people used to really bother me; on a number of levels. (See? Told you it was harsh). Not that I was ever approached by that many in Lexington but there were a few times and I was cornered and asked for money and it always left me feeling more than a little uncomfortable. I was uncomfortable in part because it was usually strange men coming up to me at night and in part because I guess the thought of anyone living in such conditions was unnerving to me in general. I used to get frustrated too (and this is where is gets really bad) because I felt like, with few exceptions, we all have to work for whatever we have in life. "Here I am, working my butt off to get through school so that I can hopefully one day earn a decent living and you have the audacity to ask me for money?"; " Why not go out and get a job yourself?"; These are the kinds of things I thought. I rarely every carried cash anyway but on the rare occasion that I did have some, I'd have chewed on rusty nails before giving it away.

I have no idea why, but my mindset has completely changed since moving down here. Now I give money to just about anyone who asks me for it. Again, I still rarely carry cash but if I do happen to have some on me and someone asks if I can spare some change, I will. I rarely have more than a few dollars, or maybe a $5, but I dunno; for some reason it no longer bothers me to give that away. I don't know if its because in the people here I see a true desolation unlike anything I ever saw in Lexington or if maybe I'm just getting kinda soft in my old age but either way, something inside me has changed.

The other night I had to run by the drug store to pick up a prescription. The Rite-Aid I use is in a decent and safe enough part of town but for whatever reason, it also happens to be a very popular place for people to panhandle. I remember the very first week I was in New Orleans I gave $5 to a guy who was sitting in his wheelchair right outside the door. He had no legs, and I had just finished running a couple miles at the park. Looking back I think I almost felt guilty that I was able to stand and walk around while he wasn't, so I gladly gave him the few dollars I had. Now whether he actually used that money to buy food (like he claimed) or drugs or cigarettes or whatever I don't know. But he was so genuinely thankful when I handed it to him that his gratitude alone made it worth it to me. I talked to him briefly; he told me his name and asked how my run was, then thanked me again, said "God bless you," and rolled off. Annnnnd...I don't really know where I was going with that story, other than to share it with you.

Back to the other night when I went by to get my Rx. This time there was a young guy standing outside who asked me for money as I walked by. He couldn't have been much older than me but the thing was, he was standing there with a little girl who couldn't have been more than five or six years old. At the time I assumed she was his daughter, but maybe she was a sister or niece or something like that. Regardless, seeing her standing out on the sidewalk with him, begging people for money kinda broke my heart a little bit. Or maybe a whole lot. What kind of life must that little girl have if she has to do things like that? Little girls should be at home playing with Barbies and dolls when they're that age; not standing on street corners in the middle of the night asking strangers for money. The guy told me they had run out of gas and just needed enough money to get home on, so I gave him what cash I had. Driving home afterwards though, I couldn't get the thought of that poor girl out of my head. It still makes me sad to think about it.

I guess maybe I do have a point to sharing this story after all. I know there is pain and suffering all over the world and even at the worst, people in America still have it better than some people who live in third world countries elsewhere. But that doesn't mean that things are by any means ok down here and that doesn't make the things people have to do to get by acceptable or alright. So I guess what I'm asking is, if you have any extra prayers laying around that maybe you could send one up for the people down here in New Orleans who are still suffering so much?

1 comment:

  1. The homeless are kind of an iffy topic for me. I deal with them quite frequently since I live in downtown Louisville near the hospitals and walk most everywhere. Usually, I get asked for money between 1-3 times whenever I step outside of my apartment. It's gotten to the point that I rarely eat outside (or inside of certain restaurants) since much of the time a homeless person will sit at my table and nag me for money for about half an hour. I've also learned that a knock on the door late at night is usually a panhandler.

    Obviously, I can't give money to everyone, and I've since regretted giving money to the few that I have since I've later realized the method by which they conned me. So now, my policy is to never give money to any. This applies to a man practicing his knife throwing on a poorly lit street at night, or to a crying woman hauling around a small child which ought to be in bed. If they claim to be hungry I do give them walking directions to a homeless shelter about a mile away (wet or dry, 70% success rate at pulling people out of homelessness, no outside donations accepted since it's fully funded by graduates). So far all of them have already known about it and none have done anything but give a dismissive sigh.

    One misconception is that the homeless are poor. Realistically they make quite a bit and it's tax free. In New York, some panhandlers make over $100,000 a year and live in Manhattan flats. It doesn't take much, only about $300/day which is pretty doable in high traffic areas. I am sympathetic towards the mentally ill, but fortunately they are a minority (major illness at least). For the majority, it's substance abuse that eats their earnings and keeps them in destitution. That's also why they don't take advantage of the resources designed to pull them out of their bleak situation.

    OTOH, perhaps my lack of sympathy comes from constantly dealing with the professional panhandlers around the hospital that take advantage of emotionally distraught out-of-towners. They also are rarely nice when they collapse and are brought to the ED. Apparently dodging punches is a quickly learned skill for medical interns.


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