Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Love, hope, and charity, in a rip-off world.

Photo from Wikipedia. "Brother can you spare a dime"
How many times have you turned on the news and been confronted with a poor sad faced child from a third world country. Usually they have an actor presenting the child to you, with the story line that all you have to do is send pennies a day to keep this child fed, clothed, and educated. Then you read that all of the food that is being sent to the African countries, where children are starving, is setting on a dock somewhere rotting. You become somewhat jaded and hardened because you know that most of the poor sad faced children that you see on TV are most likely part of a scam, or if not, most of the money goes to “administration."

I like to feel that the money that I spend for aid and health care in the world is actually doing some good. Sometimes the sad little children’s faces that I see on the TV get to me, and my guilt becomes somewhat unbearable. When that happens, I donate a little extra to a club that I belong to, and the funding that I give is actually matched by Bill Gates. I know and trust that ALL the money that I give is actually going to the right place. That is a real salve for my guilt.

You walk into a grocery store and see a can on the counter, “Little Billy needs a liver transplant” or some other expensive malady. You feel horrible, knowing how little that you can really do. As sorry as you feel for little Billy, you know that your children need new shoes and you haven’t even been able to save a thing for their college education. Sometimes I might put some change in the can, knowing full well its not enough to do any good.

I have a friend who’s wife had kidney failure, they had no insurance, but a relative was willing to give a kidney. I don’t know how much the operation cost, but it was well beyond his family’s means. He did a fundraiser, where he raffled off the family car. I bought a few tickets, and my wife bought a few tickets. I discussed it with her, and we both agreed, that if we won it, we would give it back to them. You know that I didn’t win it, luck never works that way when you want it too. I saw him the other day and he told me that his wife would be getting the operation, and he would be “getting his wife back”, as he put it. It was a very warm feeling to know that I was a very small part of that. It was a bitter / sweet reward. Bitter knowing how little that I actually contributed, and sweet that his wife would be getting a new kidney. Then it’s not over yet either. She still has a long walk to the other side of the woods where she can be happy, healthy and whole again. They will be in my thoughts.

As I walk down the street, I am constantly panhandled. I guess I have that guilt stricken look on my face, like I might slide some beggar a buck or two. I admit that I have given some panhandlers money, but I have taken a very strict line of not giving to panhandlers. Some look like they honestly just need the money. Others look like whatever is wrong with then, they did it to themselves.

The rest of my day is distracted with wondering about whether or not the panhandler deserved the money, or if they just playing on my naivety. It somehow makes me angry, I’m not sure if it is anger at myself for not knowing what to do, or anger at the panhandler, for ruining my day. At any rate most people must feel like I do.

I’ve purposely watched people approach a panhandler situation, just to see how they handle it. Some people just open their wallet and hand them money with out even slowing down. Others look them over like they are trying to decide who the money would be more important to, themselves or the panhandler. Other deliver a sermon, give them money and move on. Still, others just give them a lecture and point out that they don’t belong here, they don’t give them any money and they look satisfied with themselves. A group, probably in the majority, remain stone faced and just walk on by.

Quite often people will change sides of the street, mostly I see women do this. I don’t understand it, but they probably don’t spend the rest of the day wondering what they should have done, because they successfully avoided the question. Why can’t men be more like that?

I wonder about the young people that I see in town that follow the concerts. They always look skinny and destitute, but they always seem to come up with the cash to get into whatever concert that they want to get into. Something can be said for their freedom, and lack of responsibility. I always think of Janis Joplin and the song “Me and Bobby Mcgee”, and the part where she says, “Freedom’s just a word for nothing left to lose”. From all outward appearances, it doesn’t look like they have much left to lose. I often think of a post that Kym Kemp did about “just walking by”, where she came across a poor broken-hearted waif begging on the street. She walked by, then started making up stories in her head about the poor girls perceived needs, to the point that she turned around, walked back to her, gave her some money and told her in no uncertain terms, “Call your Mom!”

This is one post where I will accept anonymous comments gladly. I was just wondering how you deal with all of the scams out there. How do you sort out what is right and what is wrong. What is the right thing to do in today’s world, when a lot of people can’t find jobs, and maybe, just maybe, the person on the street is too proud to admit that he can’t find work, and he says that he lives on the street because he likes it.

36 comments:

Rose said...

I know some who live on the streets even when help is repeatedly offered, because they don't like rules, and they don't like the "poverty pimps."

One of these - a girl who started out semi-ok - and her story was that her car had broken down, and while she waited for her weekly check to come in, it was towed, by the time her check came it was too much money to bail the car out of impound. So she went from one bad situation to another, someone took her in, but the couple was abusive... when I first saw her she was obviously new to being homeless, struggling with her few possessions and a nursery cart. Soon she got it down, and her soon voluminous possessions were securely strapped. She became deft at the art of being homeless. She got a sleeping bag and a tarp, and a sign.

Alot of people in Mck. and Arcata gave her money, bought her food, and tried to get her help.

She took the money, but she refused the help, which included direct offers of safe public shelter, made by people who traveled to her transient locations specifically to try to get her off the street.

It doesn't take much imagining to know that she has probably suffered alot more than we know - I doubt there is any protection when you are out there alone at night, or in with a band of other homeless at Valley West, but who are you going to report a rape to?

She has gone downhill, and people who were worried about her and tried to help have stopped both. You can't tie her up and drag her into shelter, or chain her once she gets there.

In short - alot of people ask themselves the questions you raise. And alot of people went out of their way to help her. No one knows what else to do. She has made very definitive choices.

But on a lighter note, the beggars in Arcata are often young and healthy - and the most effective answer I ever heard was another young guy who, when asked "Can you spare some change?" answered with a very incredulous "I was just going to ask you the SAME thing!!"

Anonymous said...

My take is that panhandling is an occupation. It's a dead-end job with no prospects for higher advancement. People truly in need, those who are trying to improve their situation, are too embarrassed and too busy to panhandle.

I'm a man and I'll gladly avoid a panhandler on the street. I'm not ducking the question. I've made up my mind -- no panhandler deserves my money. I give to nonprofits who attack the problem while expecting a measure of accountability from those that they help.

Anonymous said...

Good comment anon- non-profits do
some good work, and this area has lots of places people down on their luck can find help.
This is a bad time to be asking working-class folk for money- we're broke too!
I will NEVER understand why birth control is not pushed in the countries full of starving children however. I will always remember 'Dubya's' first act in office- denying condoms to third-world countries. Makes one wonder.

Robin Shelley said...

The newest charity grab I see that really sticks in my craw is all the different colored ribbons on products I normally buy. Buy a hamburger & the company will give 5% of your purchase to Charity of the Day. Buy this laundry soap, can of beans, apple, whatever & so much of your purchase will be donated to This or That Good Cause. It's damned near impossible to find the everyday products I use where the manufacturers aren't giving away a portion of the money I pay them for the product to some CAUSE. Gripes me to no end! I would much prefer to pay a more reasonable price for the products I buy & give to the charities of my choice.

Anonymous said...

Did I mention I am open to donations. In cash only. I can be reached through my relatives.

Oregon

Ernie Branscomb said...

Robin
You sound like me. I always ask for the "no coupon, no food stamp, no lottery, no DVD, no bullshit line". Where they offer a flat 10% discount. (that's what they say that you are saving to play their stupid frickin" games.) All I want is a good deal for my money, without having to play stupid games for it. It would seem to me that a store should have such a line. And, be unequivocal about it. Any hesitation for any reason, and you go to the back of a "Full Service" line. If I owned a grocery store, I guarantee you that I would have a line like that. I’ll bet that it would end up taking over the “Play games lane”.

kymk said...

I have this foolish feeling that I can tell if someone really needs help. The girl you mentioned me writing about seemed in need. Today I drove past a young guy with a sign at the mall--"hungry," it said. I started to feel guilty for not giving then the car ahead of me gave him a sandwich and he tucked it in his knapsack and put his sign back up.

I knew he didn't have to be hungry so I drove by and didn't worry about him anymore.

On the other hand, in front of Winco, there was a couple singing and playing music joyfully. I did drop money in their hat. And in retrospect, I didn't put enough.

Anonymous said...

I saw a guy playing his guitar and singing at the bar in Potter Valley last year and he said he made his living playing in the subway (BART?) in Oakland. Said he did right well there.

Oregon

Anonymous said...

In all of the sign I've seen, I liked best one held by a man in front of Safeway. It said, "Not hungry, NEED A BEER"

I truly feel sorry for people who use their money wisely and still don't have enough to eat. If you believe the person is really hungry I suggest giving them a loaf of bread or something, but NEVER give cash. I've seen a person take some money and walk right up to a someone else with a backpack and make a trade!! Looked mighty suspicious to me. I didn't see a sandwich.

Cousin

Anonymous said...

I worked with an old fellow in a gas station years ago. He was retired,just making some extra cash&keeping busy!! When the "bums" would come in asking for money for food. He would gladly escort them to the nearest cafe for food& pay pay for it! Most of them really got"pissed" off!

Ben said...

My usual comment is "Sorry". That kind of sums it up for me. I believe that younger, good looking kids do better than the pathetic old reprobates. I do give money when they are playing music, busking, When they are really good, I give more. I consider busking to be a trade. Once at the Farmer's Market, I payed a string band to sing Happy Birthday over the phone to a friend. She was mystified and it was well worth the ten bucks.

Rose said...

The best one I saw was a guy who had two cat carriers with two beautiful long-haired pure white persian cats. He needed money for cat food and a cup of coffee. I imagined he had gotten a divorce, and all he had left were his cats, which he took good care of.

suzy blah blah said...

o, a friend of the devil is a friend of mine and feelin' good is good enough for me ... (harmonica)
o, if we get home before midnight, we just might get some sleep tonight, me and the devil and Bobby Magee ... la la la


LOL! please place change in hat.

olmanriver said...

pathetic old reprobates?
Ouch, Maybe that's why my "Tales of the Blogosphere for two bits" sign wasn't a money maker.

I get free samples of dogfood at a certain store when I buy something there, and give the food to their dogs.

You must have a better voice than me Suzy, when I busted out an Andrews sisters fave of mine on the plaza people moved away...tightwads.

"When a fella meets a girl in Switzerland
There's a certain thing he's gotta do
He can never, never take her by the hand
Till he learns to toolie oolie doo

When a Swiss boy goes calling
On a Swiss miss in June
Toolie oolie doolie doo
He sings this pretty tune
And he charms her like magic
When he yodels this tune
Toolie oolie doolie doo
Beneath the Alpine moon

The echo
Goes higher
And higher
And soon their hearts are both on fire

When you get lonely
Now you know what to do
Toolie oolie doolie doo
And make your dreams come true"

olmanriver said...

Fine, I killed another serious subject. Sorry.

Ernie Branscomb said...

“olmanriver said...
Fine, I killed another serious subject. Sorry.”


Quite the contrary, actually.
The subject of this post is simply rumination of something that we all know, that as individuals, we can do nothing about. You can’t help those who won’t help themselves.

Back before Reagan closed California mental hospitals, people that couldn’t house and care for themselves were “Hospitalized.” I remember as a child several of Laytonville’s ne’er do wells getting sober and getting jobs just to stay out of the “loony bin”. It may not have been good for the inmates, but it certainly straightened out a lot of folks. The streets were a lot cleaner.

Plus the story of the Swiss suitors jogged another post… Ruminating.

kymk said...

Ernie,

I just read a thought provoking post by a former homeless person

http://ukiahcommunityblog.wordpress.com/2010/09/10/todd-walton-poor-people/

Though somewhat unnecessarily confrontational, I think you would enjoy what he had to say.

olmanriver said...

Thanks Ernie.
It is hard to know how much to give and who to give to. I am a softie, loaning money to one homeless man every month when he runs out of SSI, and he has Never failed to remember to pay me back right around the first of the month.
The town stays clean because of this man so I feel like there is a circle of giving.
Sometimes I will give some change to the most down and out, sometimes to the most colorfully dressed (yes, I have a bit of a distaste for the drabwear colors in style--I am working on a line of paisley camo-wear and pastels that will revolutionize homeless apparel), always to musicians, never to mimes or cigarette smokers... these are my biases.
Every now and then I toss a twenty to someone seemingly in greater need.
I don't say this to brag or anything, but if you see that "Tales of the blogosphere" sign out there on the streets in a few years, you will know he is a nice guy and it is ok to kick down some bucks or buds (but not the genetiquettely demodified tobacco company strains please!).

Robin Shelley said...

I've wanted to pretend to be homeless & broke & beg on a street corner or outside a store somewhere for just one day to see how much money people really give.
(For a story, of course, with money donated to, uh, charity.) I've thought for a long time that it must be at least an adequate amount since I see the same people in the same places with the same signs & lines for months on end.

Kristabel said...

Ernie,

Thanks for this post. I struggle with this a lot. I work in old town in Eureka, right near the rescue mission and the free lunch program. My office door opens to the street, and I'm asked for money many times every day. Like Ben, I almost always just say, "Sorry, no." And then I spend the next little while feeling guilty.

If someone stands in the doorway and sings, though, that's a different story, and I immediately give them all the spare change I can find.

Anonymous said...

The way I see it is you have a decision to make, give em' money or drive on by. jeeze.
One more thing I wanted to add even though it is off subject.

Elect Sheriff Joe Arpaio President, 2012.

Oregon

Anonymous said...

Is he that idiot in Arizona?

Anonymous said...

Well, he does live and work in Arizona.

Oregon

Anonymous said...

the sheriff? I like his attitude to a point and then beyond that he's way too full of himself. Has crime gone down there since he rode into town?

Robin Shelley said...

I've been known to buy an extra burger or bananas to share in the parking lot. I've bought diapers & gas for people who needed those things & I've even paid for prescriptions. But, as a general rule, I do not give cash unless I get something in return. A song would do it!

Robin Shelley said...

There is a guy in L'ville who used to come into the pharmacy & borrow 5 or 10 dollars from me every month. He always paid me back & the amount increased to $20 after awhile but never went above that. I thought he had a little Ponzi scheme going - borrowing from me to pay somebody else back & so on. It got him through the month.
When the pharmacy closed, I would see this man all over town & we would visit but he never again asked to borrow money from me. He knew I was unemployed & I appreciated that he never put me in the position of having to say no to him. Strange.

Anonymous said...

That ain't begging Robin, that is borrowing.

Oregon

Robin Shelley said...

I know the difference, Oregon!

Dave Kirby said...

There's a woman who panhandles around the Red Lion in eeka who has a sign stating that she will accept verbal abuse for money.

spyrock said...

Back before Reagan closed California mental hospitals, people that couldn’t house and care for themselves were “Hospitalized.”
glad you figured this out on your own. i was on haight street before there were any panhandlers on it. in fact, in those days, the panhandle was a park between two roads that led to and from golden gate park. on new years eve 1966 i was drinking vodka gimlets and rum and made my way to the avalon. i tried to make it to midnight but i got so sick i wound up walking all the way home. the next day there were 90 hells angels riding up and around the pandhandle waking me up. some of the local bands including janis had rented a truck and a generator and were playing free in the panhandle. when the angels rode up everyone kept their distance except janis who was taking turns with sonny barger and some huge guy named tiny drinking from a bottle of jack daniels. nobody got killed like at altamont, the angels just rode off into the sunset and i guess everyone figured it was ok to have free music in the panhandle. the next week country joe rented himself a truck and a generator and just started playing with no one even there except me and a few others. that's the way it started. playing music in the panhandle for free. at todays rates, thats quite a bargain and i guess thats where pandhandling got its start. only i guess the newcomers got it mixed up and backwards and figured they should get paid for sitting on their butts and doing nothing but listening to music. if they would only work for free like the old bands did in the pandhandle, someone might like their work and actually start paying them. you know, be an intern like the dead did, dummy.

Robin Shelley said...

JFK closed the mental hospitals. All across the country.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Robin.

oregon

Robin Shelley said...

Barry "The Fish" Melton (of Country Joe & The Fish fame) worked as a public defender in Mendocino Co. for awhile. Moved over to Yolo or Placer Co., I believe. All those old psychedelic rockers seem to at least pass through Mendo on their way down or to somewhere.

spyrock said...

i know whom of you speak. barry melton. yes. i remember his family rooting him on at concerts. but i really think that county joe had janis's heart by his sleave and when he didn't wanna hook up, peter pan was over for janis. it was eat shit and die. so much for country joe and the fish. and you are right about the crazy people. in the 60's if you didn't conform to society and and want to go off to viet nam and kill asians, you must surely be insane. so it was was a real stretch making me remember that it was ronnie reagan and his welfare budget cuts that let all the crazies loose but y'all are saying it was jfk. go figure. lee harvey was one of the ones they let go free. and it cost him his life. no wonder there's no wonder left in wonder bread. at the same time, i respect your version of history. as a side note, i don't think barry melton was even there when country joe played for free in the panhandle that day. he was probably in court being a public defender for some future mendo grower.

Joe said...

In defense of what you said, Spyrock, Governor Ronald Reagan, did, indeed, shut down much of the mental health system in California. I believe JFK's efforts were mainly to try to eliminate the incarceration of mentally retarded and developmentally disabled. In 1959-60 I worked in the research department at Stockton State Hospital. A study was in progress of the consequences of closing the Modesto State Hospital. So that was the era during which the state hospitals were getting cut. One of Governor Reagan's first acts was to eliminate funding for all the mental health outpatient centers in California--which were the most effective and progressive aspect of the mental health system. It was, of course, a disaster, but it saved money, at least in the short run. There is no question that the old "insane asylum" approach to mental illness was an unacceptable abomination. I don't think encouraging people to live on the streets is the right answer either.

Robin Shelley said...

On Oct. 31, 1963, Kennedy signed Public Law 88164 which provided millions of dollars for mental health program grants to states as well as to private & public institutions for construction of research facilities & hospitals for care & treatment of the mentally retarded, mentally ill & handicapped children & for education of providers. It also "authorizes $150 million during the 3 year period beginning July 1, 1964, for formula grants to be allocated among the States to pay 33 1/3 to 66 2/3 percent of the costs of constructing public and other nonprofit community mental health centers."

On signing the bill into law, President Kennedy said, in part:

"I am delighted to approve this bill. It will make possible the major attack on the problems of mental retardation and mental health." He talks a lot about mental retardation & birth defects here, then says: "Other parts of the bill are equally significant. Under this legislation, custodial mental institutions will be replaced by therapeutic centers. It should be possible, within a decade or two, to reduce the number of patients in mental institutions by 50 percent or more. The new law provides the tools with which we can accomplish this. ... today, under present conditions of scientific achievement, it will be possible for a nation as rich in human and material resources as ours to make the remote reaches of the mind accessible. The mentally ill and the mentally retarded need no longer be alien to our affections or beyond the help of our communities."

By 1965, Congress was granting federal funds for construction of new mental health facilities in communities across the country & there was, of course, an indignant public outcry of "not in my backyard!"