Several years ago, I was working for a company and I traveled the U.S. I was in Denver, Colorado and I stopped to eat breakfast. I was tired and the waffle house had a wait. So I got some coffee to wait. I had already downed my coffee and decided to sit down; there was no chair, so I resigned to spot on the ground and closed my eyes. Not long after, I heard a few clinks as strangers started throwing change into my emptied cup. Shocked, and pleased, I told the waitress the story and many others since then.
While this is an amusing anecdote, it always made me ponder; why was that so easy? It’s not unheard of for people to panhandle, despite having a home and plenty of food. To them, it’s just an easy way of making a buck. Many people see this as an issue of someone abusing the populace’s generosity; but I see it in a different light.
Is the issue really that we — the panhandlers — are abusing generosity, or has society just trained the masses to throw money at people lying on the street?
I’ve met very few people who give money to the homeless because they honestly care about that individual; many of us do it because we’ve been told it’s a good thing to do.
Most of the people I’ve met in this world — you’re probably one of them — have come across people down on their luck, and have never paid them any mind. Sure we all say, “It’s a shame,” or, “Someone should do something about the homeless.” But how many of us truly care enough to actually help them on our own dime.
Back in the early 90’s I was living in Orlando, Florida. Very late on evening after leaving a night club, two friends and I were walking into a Perkins and a homeless lady asked us if she could come with. (what a stud I was, I picked up a homeless lady)
I bought her some coffee and food, and we sat there for almost three hours just listening to her talk about life and where she’s been. At nearly daybreak, we headed home, and she hitched a ride with one of the staff who was going her way. My friends made me swear to never pick up homeless people with them again and we never saw her again.
All these years later, I couldn’t tell you what she specifically said; but us just sitting there and actually paying attention meant the world to her.
I’m not calling for action where we all rise up and build enough shelters or buy enough food to make every homeless person live like a king. The point isn’t that we should donate; the point is that we should care. As it stands, we treat homeless people as a fact of life, giving no more thought to them as you do a traffic jam.
All I’m asking is that the next time you see someone down on their luck, offer to buy him a drink; listen to their stories. Just caring about them, even if only for an hour, will do more good than all the money in the world for them.
After all, the only thing anyone ever really wants is for someone to give a damn.