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the girl with violets in her lap [userpic]

April 23rd, 2014 (01:01 pm)

A guy just came into Burger King when I was eating there and asked people at each table if they had money for him to buy a hamburger. Everyone turned him down, naturally. Everyone always does. I had no cash smaller than a $5 so I told him no as well, adding for some bizarre reason that I only had a debit card -- I guess so he wouldn’t think I was lying about having no money when I had clearly bought a meal with some. He asked me if I’d buy him a hamburger with my card. Piqued, I immediately said no, I wasn’t going to go through the line again. Belatedly, I glanced over and saw there was no line whatsoever. He looked at me for a second, sighed, and then went on to the next person. Shortly afterwards, the manager kicked him out, saying that there was a soup kitchen on so-and-so street where he could get three meals a day.

I know everyone assumes all street people are drug addicts whom you should never ever give money to because they will spend it on booze or heroin or whatever. This guy just wanted a hamburger, though -- he wasn’t asking for the money for it, he was asking me to buy him an actual hamburger. I mean I suppose he could sell the hamburger to someone on the street and use the money for drugs but somehow that doesn’t seem particularly likely to me. He just wanted me to buy him a hamburger that would probably have cost 89 cents or something, but I didn’t want to get up and get him the burger. I would have had to leave my package of half-eaten apple slices and my two remaining chicken nuggets on the table! Someone might have stolen them in the two minutes it would have taken me to buy the guy a burger!

I hate, hate, hate the way I feel about this. I get so very tired of people pompously telling me the best thing you can do for homeless people is to look through them like they don’t exist. I am always telling those people that if I give a homeless person some spare change my point isn’t “I trust that you will use this to buy food instead of something self-destructive -- look at my naivete!” My point is “Hey, I see you, you are a person, sorry you’re getting such a shit deal in life.” The fact that I’m bipolar certainly influences that -- I know that nothing but a lot of luck has kept me from winding up in the same place they are in -- but I’d like to think it goes deeper than that. I’d like to be nice to homeless people because they are people too.

And then one of them asks me for a burger and I refuse him because it would be mildly inconvenient for me to get him one, and because on a certain level I’m annoyed at him for asking me in the first place. I WAS AT A GOOD PLACE IN MY BOOK. HOW DARE YOU INTERRUPT ME JUST BECAUSE YOU’RE HUNGRY.

I started this post with the thought that I would ask you, my readers, how awful I am for having done that, but of course I know that a bunch of you would tell me I’m not awful because there’s a soup kitchen which is there specifically to cater to his needs and, I don’t know, people sitting in Burger King aren’t responsible for homeless people. And if you don’t think that you’d just stay quiet because telling me I’m a bad person is not a nice thing to do. So I don’t actually need to ask the question; I know what the answers (and non-answers) would be.

I just feel like shit about it. Maybe I’ll remember that next time something like that happens, I don’t know.

Damn it.


Posted by: eglantine_br (eglantine_br)
Posted at: April 23rd, 2014 05:35 pm (UTC)

I know what you mean. I have had people in NYC ask me for the remains of food that I had finished with.

I usually give money, if I have it. I have given neat halves of sandwiches away too. (Instead of carrying them home to eat later.)

I often have no money-- but I would rather be wrong sometimes than fail to help when I was able.

I haver done ther looking through thing before-- when I had nothing to give, or sometimes when I got a very bad vibe from someone.

IDK, whatever we do, we might be wrong.

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: April 23rd, 2014 05:47 pm (UTC)

It’s interesting that people in NYC have asked you for the remains of food you’ve finished with, because my understanding around here is that people are actively insulted when you give them leftover food -- I don’t know if it’s a hygiene issue or what, but I know I’ve annoyed (apparent) homeless people by offering them remains of my food from restaurants before. I don’t know, maybe a clearly untouched half of a sandwich would be better.

I went on a date years ago with a girl who was with me, walking to a T stop, when a homeless guy asked us for money. I ignored him, and my date went into expostulations about how she hates it when people act like homeless people don’t exist. She said she didn’t feel the need to actually give them anything, she just didn’t like the ignoring-their-existence bit. To be honest, I didn’t even realize she was talking about me for a minute; I had just kind of stepped around the guy without thinking. It was a good wakeup call for me when I actually realized what was going on though. Since then I’ve always tried to acknowledge homeless people, even when I have nothing to give. (There’s an issue in downtown Boston, too, where you tend to encounter about five homeless people begging for change in the span of a five-minute walk. I’d run out of money pretty fast if I gave something to all of them every day. One guy asking for a burger is different though.)

Posted by: electric misfit love machine (eyelid)
Posted at: April 23rd, 2014 07:41 pm (UTC)

i don't know, do they really want to be looked at if you're not going to give them anything? Seems like ignoring them might be the politer thing to do.

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: April 23rd, 2014 07:51 pm (UTC)

I feel like it’s better to acknowledge them and tell them I don’t have any money when I don’t (or can’t spare any; see the thing about five homeless people in a five-minute walk). I can’t imagine totally ignoring any non-homeless stranger when they asked for a favor, so it doesn’t feel right to ignore homeless people.

Also, now that I’m aware of it, it feels kind of creepy to stare through a human being, like I’m denying reality or something. It has a vague similarity to the feeling I get when I’m around someone who appears cogent and sane but then starts hallucinating and pointing to something I can’t see: what’s happening here, why can’t I see this thing that’s real to this other person? I don’t know, it just feels weird. I’m aware that’s not the most logical argument, especially since in the first case I’m not responding to something I am seeing and in the second case I’m not responding to something I’m not seeing. So it isn’t a great parallel. But that’s how I feel.

Posted by: electric misfit love machine (eyelid)
Posted at: April 23rd, 2014 08:22 pm (UTC)

it feels kind of creepy to stare through a human being,

Hm, maybe this is a cultural difference, because I never imagined staring at them. In Minnesota staring at people (or even looking at them for more than a glance) is extremely rude and creepy, whether you are acknowledging them or not.

Additionally, I can't imagine ignoring someone if they asked me a direct question (unless it was threatening or something.) Again, that would be considered extremely rude in Minnesota. When a street beggar asks me for money I just automatically answer with "no, sorry."

By ignoring them, I mean that, unless they addressed me, I would simply not look at them and proceed on my way. Just like I do with the vast majority of non-homeless people every day.

To me, "acknowledging" someone by looking at them or addressing them merely because they are homeless seems rude, like pointedly addressing a disabled person just because s/he is disabled.

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: April 23rd, 2014 08:29 pm (UTC)

Oh, I see what you’re saying now. Here homeless people here sometimes edge into your line of sight, so you have to stare through them if you’re going to ignore them. And I was defining saying “no, sorry” as acknowledging them, because most people here just sidestep them without saying anything. If they don’t speak to me I don’t speak to them.

Posted by: Chris Schmidt (crschmidt)
Posted at: April 24th, 2014 02:00 am (UTC)

Staring through someone is the approach I use for people who seem to be mentally unwell. It's a shitty approach, but I haven't found one that works better and still leaves me feeling moderately safe. Just general people panhandling, I follow the same approach as you do: Acknowledge, even if it's just to say "I have no money" (which is usually true; I don't carry much in the way of cash.)

Posted by: nelc (nelc)
Posted at: April 23rd, 2014 05:41 pm (UTC)

I've done almost exactly the same thing: interrupted while reading a book in McD's, not feeling charitable, tells the bloke to get lost. Felt immediate and terrible guilt afterwards, cause it is a shitty thing to do. And it was only a cup of tea he wanted!

Fortunately, I was able to make it up to the guy later. I've been told that he spends some of the money I've given him on heroin by someone who might know. But I decided a while ago that it doesn't matter what he wants the money for: he needs money, either for food or cigs or heroin or whatever, but the point is, he needs the money to get through another day, somehow. He's responsible for himself, and I'm not going to audit his needs before I give him money.

I'm a filthy atheist, but the principle of caritas does not involve being any more patronising than you can help, as far as I can tell.

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: April 23rd, 2014 05:53 pm (UTC)

That's good that you ran into the guy again. I don't know if I'll see this guy again, but if I do I'll definitely give him something. Within like a minute of his talking to me I had changed my mind and wanted to get him a burger but by then he'd been kicked out and went away.

...he needs the money to get through another day, somehow. He's responsible for himself, and I'm not going to audit his needs before I give him money.

I really like the way you put that. I know that on level I should care about whether street people are using the money I give them to buy drugs or whatever -- I have a cousin who works with that population who gets beyond-furious when people give them money because she says their specific needs are cared for by programs like hers but if they can make money panhandling they can buy drugs and there’s nothing she can do about it -- but honestly... I don’t know, part of me feels, like you said, that a lot of them are doing what they need to do to get through their lives. Certainly a lot of them who struggle with mental illness are self-medicating, and I’m sure as hell not going to blame them for that. And I really like the phrase “I’m not going to audit their needs.”

Posted by: Greetings Fellow Comstoks! (fengi)
Posted at: April 23rd, 2014 05:42 pm (UTC)

I've had the disturbing realization that doing the right thing can be a matter of chance if the situation is unexpected. Our ability to process information, let alone make moral decisions, fluctuates wildly over time and so it's a matter of luck if our brain is ready for a moral quandary at the moment it occurs. Even people who are true to their values once may be flummoxed the next.

The problem is our narrative minds want to make every moment a defining one. There are decisions which outweigh all others, but with the smaller moments one's character is an average over time rather than a single point.

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: April 23rd, 2014 05:55 pm (UTC)

That’s a really good point. Behavior and reactions vary wildly with the time/day/situation/etc. There are definitely times when I would have made a different decision. I hope that next time it happens I’ll remember the way I’m feeling/thinking now though. That would be a good takeaway. Might help me to up my average.

Posted by: electric misfit love machine (eyelid)
Posted at: April 23rd, 2014 07:45 pm (UTC)

I think everyone gets this feeling sometimes? We don't like to have people demanding that we give them stuff. It's really annoying - on a very primal level. Frankly, strangers demanding stuff is just rude, for that very reason.

of course, the person in question doesn't have much choice, but it still raises our hackles. Nothing we can do about that reaction.

I have a similar thing with the people who beg on the corner down my street. They have a sign and I have to wait at the corner right by them. I don't really want to encourage them to hang out on my street by giving them money. But what if they really need it? I don't know. If it's cold enough - and it gets very cold here - I sometimes give something.

I do most of my charity through supporting local businesses, causes, etc.

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: April 23rd, 2014 07:56 pm (UTC)

Supporting local charities is definitely a better way to go on a practical level, I know. I should do more of that. It might make me feel better about not giving to the people I can’t give to.

And wrt strangers asking for things instinctively raising one’s hackles, I suppose I only have to think of the MASSPIRG people who put me through agonies every day because I know everyone ignores them and they’re trying to earn a living but at the same time OMG GET AWAY FROM ME WITH THAT FUCKING CLIPBOARD. Of course, a homeless person just wants money while a MASSPIRG person wants you to stand there and listen to their pitch and sign some forms and *then* give them money. It’s kind of the same instinctive reaction though.

Posted by: Andrew Ducker (andrewducker)
Posted at: April 23rd, 2014 08:18 pm (UTC)

I've given money in the street to someone who I was fairly sure was going to spend it on drugs.

Because if you've been reduced to the point where you're begging for change to buy drugs, I have more sympathy than anything else.

However, I'm as guilty as the next person of walking past people begging for change. It's just so common that I can't stop at every single one, and so I get used to armouring myself up.

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: April 23rd, 2014 08:36 pm (UTC)

Yeah, that’s pretty much the line I follow as well. I felt more comfortable about it before I heard my cousin who works with the indigent/addict/mentally ill population railing for the dozenth time about how people who give money to panhandlers ruin everything she tries to do for a living, but then, she has somehow gotten the perspective that the people she treats are the only people there are on the streets. Anyway, I get now why it bothers her, and I can’t say she’s wrong, exactly, but I have that same reaction: if you’re desperate enough to be standing on a street corner, your life sucks, and I sympathize with that. If showing my sympathy involves giving you a dollar, OK.

Of course, this is my pretty philosophy all tied up in kind generous bows. Obviously what happened today proves that I don’t live by it all the time. Part of it is that you do have to build up some kind of armor if you’re walking by a half-dozen homeless people a day, but part of it is that I am not as nice a person as I like to think I am.

Posted by: Am I the good one now? (vampslayer04)
Posted at: April 23rd, 2014 09:55 pm (UTC)
Caution: SPN

I was always taught as a kid that if someone asked you for anything like that, give them food, not money.

Of course, now as an aadult, I'm more inclined to want to point people at social programs to get help. Part of that is that I have a low-paying retail job, and a roommate on disability that I direct a significant amount of money to, to assist her.

That, and I don't carry cash as a general rule, so giving them money would be more difficult.

That, and I decided a long time ago that I have to take care of myself first, then my friends and family, and then I can worry about the rest of the world. That might make me an asshole, I dunno, but I'd rather think that it makes me pragmatic, and recognizing of my financial limits.

I've also met people online recently who seem to want people to hold their hand and give them stuff all the time, but have no interest in getting help for themselves. Manipulative users, in other words. I was even told I had no soul at one point. And since I'd spent the better of a year and a half helping pay my roommate's rent just prior to that, it stung.

God, I dunno even what I'm trying to say with this post - I hope it makes some kind of sense and doesn't make me sound like a total misanthrope.

Posted by: Chris Schmidt (crschmidt)
Posted at: April 24th, 2014 01:58 am (UTC)

One time I had someone come up to me in a McDonald's and tell me he just needed a buck for a burger. Everyone else had turned him down. I gave him a dollar, and he said thanks, walked out the door without buying a burger, and 10 minutes later, walked back in and asked everybody again.

I realize that isn't what would have happened in your case, but your default reaction of "No, because really, you're not going to be buying a burger" is a not-unreasonable one, and honestly, if you could do this all again with time to think, you might not have said what you did, so... i dunno. Shit happens, I wouldn't worry about it.

Posted by: Chris Schmidt (crschmidt)
Posted at: April 24th, 2014 02:06 am (UTC)

Oh, my other similar story: There was a chick with a cast on standing on the corner near my building (where I got on the green line). She gave me a good sob story -- I just need to get back to providence, I came up for a school interview and I lost my wallet, I just need a train ticket, etc. etc. I said I had no cash; she asked me if I could go to an ATM and get some money.

"No, There's no ATM for my bank around here, but I'll go with you to the train station and buy you a ticket."
"Oh, but that will take so long!"
"I honestly have *nothing* else I am doing. It will take 15 minutes out of my day, it's no big deal."
"But I couldn't make you do that, couldn't you just give me money instead?"
"No, if you want a train ticket, I can do that, but like I said, no nearby ATM."

She thanked me and I moved on.

The next day, she was still there (surprise surprise), and as I was walking by, people were ignoring her, and she shouted loudly: "Doesn't anyone *care* that I just need a train ticket home?"

I shouted back: "I offered to *buy you a train ticket* yesterday, and you said no, so yes, I care, but it's clear you're just trying to scam these people."

She looked a bit pissed at me and hobbled off for a bit. The next day, she had moved a couple blocks up and was pulling the same scam, but at least I didn't have to get yelled at by her again. (Note to people panhandling in downtown Boston: Move around, if you're telling a sob story like that. You're dealing with the same people at the same place and time every day otherwise.)

I realize that in this case, the guy in question was probably not trying to scam you; but your ability to process the situation and judge that really is going to have to be based on the whole life you've led, and not that one situation, and there's a lot more "People lying" than "People just trying to get a meal", unfortunately.

Posted by: Pirate Jenny (deliriums_fish)
Posted at: April 24th, 2014 02:04 am (UTC)
pirate jenny

While I (like you) tend to only carry a debit card, if I do have some cash, I do tend to contribute, and to me I don't really think about how they are going to spend it. Rich people do drugs, too. Hell, I've stolen money (just from my parents but it's still bad) for drugs. I know where that road leads.

Also, like you, I also feel that "there but for the grace of god" sentiment because of my illness. I am incredibly privileged to be able to not have to worry about where I sleep tonight because I am currently too ill to hold down a job. I have people to fall back on, people that shelter me and feed me and people who, need be, can help pay my medical bills. On top of that, I have insurance. Without insurance, one of my meds costs $300/month. Even without it, it's $75.

I see lots of people on the street corner near my house, and obviously, when I'm driving, there's not much I can do, but if I'm walking, it's right by a pizza place, so I ask them if they want pizza, or, if it's really cold, at least coffee. It's really cheap and doesn't really take any time out of my day.

Posted by: Laura, aka "Ro Arwen" (roina_arwen)
Posted at: April 24th, 2014 02:49 am (UTC)
Kitty Hugs

I'm just going to send you a hug, because I think you need it. :)


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