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.
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?
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:
- 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
- Dental Floss
- 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?