Wednesday, October 25, 2006


... I'm not really sure where I'm going to go with this post, so bare with me.

A Helping Hand
The church group that I'm active in has put together small bags of food (cup o' noodle, granola bars, etc.) for homeless people, and we hand them out as the spirit moves us throughout our travels. Seeing as I work downtown, I tend to see a lot of homeless people in my daily travels. So, I've started carrying a bag with me every day to work and handing it out as I walk to and from the bus, etc. Within the last week, I would say that I have handed out 5 or so bags to homeless/needy people. The last two hand outs, however, have left me feeling a little more cynical than I would like.

Here's a scenario: I'm waiting for the bus on Monday afternoon, and a clearly homeless person comes up to me and waggles a fast food cup in front of me
Spare some change?
they ask me.

I reply, "Are you hungry?"

They say, "I don't want to take your food from you... but if you could spare some change..."

Meanwhile, I'm digging in my bag and pulling out the Ziplock full of goodies.
"No," I reply, "This is especially for you. Enjoy."

The person takes the bag, says thank you, and turns to walk away. (And here's the kicker...)

They turn back around and say "Yeah, but can you spare some change?"

How is one supposed to respond to that?

Flash to this morning... I walk out of my standard morning Starbucks stop, coffee in hand, and see a homeless person seeking shelter in the doorway of the Banana Republic. I cross the street, pull out my bag, and ask him if he would like something to eat. I failed to notice the other homeless man asleep under the blanket.
He hears me giving food to the first person and says, "Can I have one of those too?"
I only have one bag with me, so I politely back pedal. That's all fine and dandy.
But then the first person says, "You know, I could really use some money instead. Can't you give me money instead?"

So here's the question: how do I respond to something like this? I feel like these people are ungrateful for what I am giving them, and are wanting to take advantage of me. I don't expect them to throw a ticker tape parade for me (after all, it is "just" a bag of food), but it certainly doesn't make me want to help people out if they're just going to brush aside what I've done for them already and expect more out of me. It's not like money grows on trees, and I feel like I work pretty hard for what I have. (It's the old debate: why can't these people go out and get jobs too, instead of asking me for my money...) Anyhow, I don't want to stop doing good works, but I just want to figure out how to not walk away from these encounters feeling cynical and bitter. Any thoughts?

Random sidebar comment: I was told by my out-of-town coworkers (one from Texas and another from Minnesota) that Seattle seems to have an inordinately high population of homeless people. I wonder how true this comment/observation is... when I was in junior high school (back in the dark ages, right?), I did a report on homelessness in Seattle, and there was a theory that because many (most?) homeless people are mentally ill, they tend to follow the sun -- which rises in the east and sets in the west -- therefore, they start to migrate to the West coast, and ultimately end up in places like Seattle and Santa Monica because there's no point further west.


Tom Vander Well said...

My job is to help people improve their "serve". Sometimes I encounter people who want me to tell them what they want to hear, not the truth I have to share. I can't make them hear it, believe it or apply it. So, I just do the best I can to help and encourage them. Maybe they'll come around.

Don't be weary in doing good! Some people don't want what you offer, and that's sad. But, some do and will be blessed. If you let the former keep you from serving the latter - then everyone loses.

Thanks for a very thought provoking post!

KermitFan said...

Good point, I shouldn't let a few "bad apples" get me down. Using that as my mantra, I decided to "get back on the wagon" a few days later, armed with my homless help bags. It was a particularly cold and blustery Seattle day, and I stopped by a woman huddled under a blanket as I was making my way to the bus. I asked her if she would like some dinner, handing her the bag.

"Thanks, but can't I have your jacket instead?" she replied. "Or do you have a sweatshirt? I'd really like a sweatshirt!"

Again, I ask, how does one respond to this? You give them an inch (out of the grace of your heart), and they want to take a mile... or all of your clothes... !