I live in a relatively small coastal town. It is not unusual to bump into people you know where ever you may be. It is also very easy to recognize the homeless: new panhandlers and regulars. Over the years I have learned how to recognize the differences between true homelessness and its desperation, as well as those sign holders who make their living for their addiction or even the
liars, cheats, lazy scammers.
completely pisses me off infuriates me when I see how many scammers and addicts have taken over our parking lot exit ways and streets. I used to feel so sorry for them all until my encounter with the deaf-mute man at Jack in the Box many, many years ago. I will get to that in a minute. But, what really irritates me is our city police who do nothing about this growing epidemic. We have an ordinance against such panhandling, yet these lowlifes people are everywhere…so are the cops, who choose to ignore.
Let me share some photos that pull at my heart strings (possibly yours as well):
Those who do not hold a sign, but rather bring their pets (my heart turns to mush over animals) and a bucket/container. I always imagine their story.
^How about the ones WITH a sign, bundled up in blankets WITH their pet(s)? This always makes me sad…for the dog.
Now, we move forward into the audacity of some. Some
idiots people will actually give money to these types because they think their nerve is funny or others even applaud their honest acknowledgement that the money they receive will be for booze or drugs. These type of sign holders truly anger me, and I feel disgust over the many who support their lifestyle.
^Ever seen one of these? I have seen a few in our town. It greatly bothers me when I see such sign holders because our children can see them, the children who are at the age of reading well for themselves. Not cool.
Moving on, I appreciate the people who hold signs like this:
or even this:
…yet, I will NOT give them a penny. They are willing to trade a service for food. Really? Sometimes I have given them a
Happy meal. Or offer them a job. Most of them have turned down any job offered because “they can make more money holding a sign for a few hours.” Seriously? THAT infuriates me. And we cater to this epidemic.
How about this one:
These type of sign holders like to make you feel guilty or recount a scriptural truth concerning blessings. Many
religious people who love God will give to these types. Panhandlers truly have learned the art in how to manipulate us all in some way or another.
Anyway, on to the Jack in the Box deaf-mute man, who I was pleasured to meet many years ago when I drove through Jack in the Box with my kids for milkshakes. He greeted me at the order window holding a sign made out of cardboard which read:
“PLEASE HELP. CAR BROKE DOWN ON WAY TO AIRPORT. HELP MY FAMILY HAVE A HOTEL FOR TONIGHT. I CANNOT SPEAK OR HEAR.”
As I was reading the sign he held in front of him, he was using hand gestures and facial expressions to pull my heart strings. I gave him all the cash in my wallet (I think it was about $16) and used my debit card to pay for our milkshakes. I also bought the deaf-mute man milkshakes for his entire family (family of six). My kids and I felt so good and were just glowing during the drive home, feeling like we had helped this family.
Well…it was about two weeks later my kids wanted another milkshake and as we entered that same Jack in the Box driveway I saw the deaf-mute man once again. Except this time, he did not see me. He was hanging out with a group of sign-holders under a tree towards the back of the parking lot with their camper. He was quite vocal. He could also hear quite well. He was even listening to tunes with ear buds, rocking out. I spied on him for a few moments and my kids were dumbfounded
as pissed as I was. He was laughing and seemed to be having a great time conversing with the others. I saw red! I did all the math and felt so dumb. I had been completely fooled by a “scammer.”
Since then, I have a somewhat guarded heart and attitude towards sign holders. I have seen documentaries about their addictions. I have learned all about their “ways.” There are so many resources in our county (as well as all over the United States) for the homeless including shelters, food pantries and meals provided through various churches and centers, our public schools serve lunches during the summer to ANYONE, the ACE program provides medical care, and we have donation sites everywhere. Truly, if you are homeless in my town you CAN find a bed, clothing, food, shelter and opportunities for rehabilitation and jobs. We have a few transitional housing centers to help families get back on their feet. There is even a “river community” of people who are provided services for their needs- they live in our local river bottoms. Usually when we give money to a sign holder or panhandler, we are only enabling them and feeding a bad habit/addiction.
But…what about our heart strings? My own has come to recognize the truly needy, the ones who do not hold signs, the ones who strive everyday to find hope. We can be that hope sometimes. Not in an enabling way, but rather much like a guardian angel whose paths cross with such at a particular moment in time. I have crossed paths with one particular man over the years and just the other night. He has a shopping cart filled with what little belongings he owns, covered with a blue tarp. He slumps terribly. He is very dirty and always sunburned. He never holds a sign, he never asks for anything. He just walks. Sometimes he rests. He travels miles in one day. I wonder where his destinations are? His clothing and shoes reflect he cares about his appearance even if he cannot locate a shower. His hair is trimmed neatly. A few years ago I passed to him a Von’s gift card I had received worth $25. His eyes danced. They even sparkled. I KNEW hope came to him that day. I saw him again the other night when I was getting gas. Once again I felt that urgency and pull in my heart to give him what cash I had in my wallet. I found a $10 dollar bill. It was as if he recognized me when I handed it to him and said, “God bless you.” His eyes danced and sparkled again. He was so thankful. I KNEW he was so thankful.
Only we can decipher between true homelessness desperation, addiction, enabling or the scammers. Follow your heart, but try not to let it be manipulated. Let go of guilt, because there are resources available. I know I am thankful every single day for what I have. I take nothing for granted, honestly.
So, when your heart strings are pulled, let the song play. Otherwise, grab a milkshake once in awhile for you and your own family.