On the people we pretend not to see.

05 Nov

I work for the people we all pretend not to see. Most of my clients have pretty severe, obvious disabilities and the looks that people give (or try painfully and obviously hard NOT to give) are constant. The stares are very rarely hurtful, but the “I’m pretending to look at something else just over your shoulder but it’s not you” look. That’s the one that hurts. It’s never even directed at me. It hurts for the people I care about. It hurts because they’re PEOPLE.

Since I work in their homes, often times I’m in the worst of the bad neighborhoods. Public housing sure is a popular whipping post for America, but it sure is terrible. The streets around those areas are quieter than you might think, but they’re always off of a road that intersects another road and on those corners are men and women with signs saying “Anything helps.” On those corners is where I always get frozen in a terrible place between charity and stone-heartedness. Essentially, I have two sides battling inside me when I see a Person on the Corner.

Side A

Are there no workhouses?

Side A is the cynical jerk inside me. Side A whispers icily “They’re just standing there holding a sign. There’s really nothing better they could be doing?”  I know firsthand how extraordinarily difficult it is to get disconnected from state benefits once someone is enrolled. I know how easy it is to get assistance if you’re a parent. I know that you probably can’t afford that Louis Vuitton purse and those Juicy pants if you’re as destitute as you claim to be. I know that many homeless people are not THAT much overweight. Side A tells me “No, keep your money, at least you know where it’s going.”

I already give to the United Way through both my employers. We donate at church. We bring canned food to food drives and we financially support several local food shelves. Isn’t that enough? Can’t somebody else take it from here?

Side B

I should help. I shouldn’t judge. I should take them at their word and give them some money to get food and feed their kids. The only reason I’m in my nice new car and not standing in his place is dumb luck. There are over 90 verses in The Bible about giving to the poor. The Quran similarly tells its readers that good followers give a set portion of their income to the poor. What I can’t find, however, is what to do about The People on the Corners.

One thing that The Patient Wife and I are starting to do is make care bags to hand out in lieu of cash. In each bag, we will put:

  • Razors
  • Tampons
  • Soap
  • Hand Sanitizer
  • Gift cards to grocery stores
  • Pamphlets directing them to the homeless outreach at our church
  • An MRE (meal ready to eat) where you only need to add a little bit of water to get a hot, nutritious meal
  • A small blanket
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Dental Floss
  • Shampoo
  • Granola bars

That stare I mentioned before? I’m man enough and ashamed to admit that I do that stare to the People on the Corners. I look through them, as if eye contact would commit me to an awkward, inconvenient interaction. I may glance at their sign, but if they see me looking, then they may smile and wave. If they smile and wave and I wave back, they may come to my window for money, forcing me to stammer out “Oh, I don’t carry cash. Sorry.” While it’s true that I don’t, I always feel like a tool saying it.

Am I just supposed to take them at their word? Is there a biblical definition of “poor”? Is there a formula I should be following?

What do YOU do when you encounter The People on the Corners?


Posted by on November 5, 2012 in Uncategorized


60 responses to “On the people we pretend not to see.

  1. adinamihoc

    November 8, 2012 at 10:54 am

    I experience the same mixed feelings. I come from Romania and here poverty is rather common. So is begging on the streets. So mush so that it’s a business and the people you give to on the streets do not benefit from that money or they are in fact well off. It’s a major problem that necessities more the isolated help of a few hundred people. Luckily, things are starting to move, but very slowly. This may sound naive or the easiest way out or complaining, but the only way is if the state gets truly involved and tries to reduce this phenomenon through all methods available. I am sure that the same things needs to be done in the US or in other places in the world. Unfortunately, there is high inequality in the world.

  2. Addie

    November 8, 2012 at 11:00 am

    Happens everyday, especially on my way to work – beggars around and even people who call themselves poor and get on any stationery buses and distribute small envelopes hoping that passengers will slide some coins in it. What do I do? I pretend not having seen them.

  3. LaughingMyAssOffAtMyLife

    November 8, 2012 at 2:16 pm

    Very well written article! I use to struggle through the same decision several times a day when I lived in the big city… Here in the middle of nowhere I haven’t seen a sign wielding man (or woman) in almost 4 years… But we have tons of food pantries and church suppers and at least 3x as many churches as we have bars that are all willing to help anyone in need…

  4. 1stpeaksteve

    November 9, 2012 at 4:09 am

    It is a real dilemma on what to do. I think what further complicates the situation is that there are a million different varieties to go along with each person. It could be mental health, drugs, loss of a job, and the problems go on and on.

    We also have a lot of people who are in some grey area. Maybe they have a part time job and can’t find full time work or they are way behind on their bills. They could appear functional. Yet, they have no resources and every penny they get goes to pay something. A person like this can be mistaken for being a person who is trying to milk the system.

    Good read!


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