Monday, November 10, 2014

Homeless and panhandling

"She will most likely just spend it on booze."

I run the gauntlet several times a week.  The drive between Riverbend and I-10 on Carrolton provides an opportunity for me to clear out all of the change I hoard for paying for parking or the extra dollar in my wallet I keep for the mid-afternoon Snicker's craving.  If I make it through the gauntlet with all of the lights green, I get my candy bar AND I have some change for the meter.  Otherwise:

The Carrolton and Claiborn intersection:  There is a guy there who is on crutches.  He has a sign that says "ANY AMOUNT HELPS.  GOD BLESS!"

The next intersection is Earhart Blvd.  This is where the kids dart in and out of traffic, each with a bucket.  They are dressed in their uniforms (basketball, cheerleading, whatever) and are raising funds to support the team.  At least, I think that is what they are doing.  Most of the time, but not always, you can see an adult supervising the collection plate as it is being passed.

The next big intersection is in front of Costco, where there are entrances coming from five different directions, and each is manned by an interchangeable homeless person with an identical handwritten sign. 

A couple of intersections later, I go past the latinos hanging out at what used to be the Home Depot.  Waiting for someone who needs help with carpentry or painting or weeding or whatever.

Do I give money?  Is it a bad idea?  Do I make eye contact and try to communicate love without giving?  Do I pretend I can't see them (check that cell phone for a message....)?  Would Jesus pull out his whip and turn over some tables, or would he invite himself home with them for dinner? 

A class I am part of discussed this yesterday, and I am fascinated by how passionate we are about a world we don't understand.  The fact that we are so uncomfortable means that it is something we should try harder to understand.

I have a friend who gets fighting mad about the issue every time it is discussed.  "If I were out begging, in the 95+ degree heat, without water or shade, in clothes that haven't seen a washer in weeks or months, with teeth that haven't seen a toothbrush and a crappy cardboard sign I had to steal from a dumpster, and I managed to scrape together enough to spend the night in the shelter and buy some food and maybe some medicine (you know, for the migraine I have from being dehydrated in the heat every day; or maybe for that UTI I have from not being able to keep up proper hygiene), I'd take that leftover $2.50 and buy myself a damn tall boy, too. In fact, that's what I do nearly every day. Reward my hard work with a beer. You think it's easy to beg for a living? You think that's not hard ass work with no reward and endless agony and a sinking sense of permanent hopelessness?"

CS Lewis had a similar (but much more quotable) response when asked about why he was giving money to a beggar.  "He will just use the money to buy ale!" his friend exclaimed.

"Well, that was all I was going to do with the money, too."

Our reaction to panhandling seems to be tied with a sense of accountability - the money should be used only in a manner in which we believe that is constructive, lading to a sense of improvement.  Which is right, on one level. Charitable giving without accountability leads to abuse. 

But as a Christian, I am given pretty direct instructions on how to behave, and it doesn't come with the disclaimers that I would like.  He just said, "Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you."

Wait, what? 

Obviously, JC didn't seem to understand about abuse of charity, or modern panhandling.  Or drug use.  Or poverty.  Or the concept of a 'hand up, not a hand out'.  Or any of the clever pithy sayings we come up with.  For him, the approach was simple.  Ask, receive.  Be asked, give.

So I guess I just drop the judgement.  Drop the condescension.  Drop the paternalism of 'I know better than you how you should be helped.'  And just give with a cheerful heart. I have a job, I have resources, and I can afford to avoid the stingy. I can do this, and I am told that I should. 

1 John 3:17 But whoever has the world's goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?
It doesn't. 


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