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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: 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.)

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