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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: 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.”

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