There are a lot of homeless people living in Seattle, especially in the Green Belt, a forested area, part of which is located near my home. There are times when I strike up a conversation with them or at least smile as we pass by each other on the sidewalk.
I really notice the difference between my behavior in those situations and when I am approached by a panhandler in a parking lot or near the entrance to a grocery store. At those times, I immediately get annoyed and a stream of judgments start within me. I may even walk a different direction to avoid them. Among the judgments my mind comes up with are: “They probably don’t need the money, it’s a scam.” “They just make a living this way. I’m not going to enable them.” They can go to a food bank or a mission to eat.” “They will just use the money I give them to buy alcohol.”
While I sometimes will give panhandlers money, and am even more likely to give them food, generally speaking I say “No” and walk on without even a smile. I’m bothered by how cold and judgmental I get in this situation. My heart is closed and I lack compassion.
I have never talked to Sreejit, my son, about panhandlers so I don’t know his attitude. But I know Chaitanya, my daughter, willingly gives them money when she has it. When I commented that they could be making their living that way, she said she had no problem with it, that it was their choice.
Al, my ex-husband, has worked on behalf of the homeless for many decades. He also gives to panhandlers willingly. Once I complained to him about seeing someone ask for money and then go to the DVD machine and rent a DVD. That had really set off my judgments. His response was a very quiet, “A man once told me that he watches DVDs to help himself deal with his sense of loneliness and his recovery from drug addiction.” Al’s words certainly gave me food for thought. (When I called him a few minutes ago to check out my memory of this incident, Al told me the man who had said these words to him is graduating from community college next week!)
Something else happened recently that softened my heart on this subject a little. A friend emailed me an interesting story a friend of hers had sent. The story was about a 99-year-old homeless man in Bulgaria. He spends all day, every day, begging for money. He is not using the money for himself though; he lives on his $100 a month pension. He has given ALL of the money he has received over the years to orphanages that are unable to pay their bills. It is estimated that he has donated 40,000 euros (54,584.00 U.S. dollars) to this cause. To read the whole story and see more pictures, click here.
This is an issue that has plagued me for many years. I don’t know that I will ever give money to people who I think are scamming me, but I hope I more often remember that I don’t know their stories and have not lived in their shoes. It is my desire to become ever more open-hearted and stop my litany of negative judgments.
How do you react to panhandlers?
Written for Traces of the Soul Prompt #5