For the first time in awhile, I saw someone stopping to pull out her wallet to take out a dollar to hand to a panhandler. This made me think of the changes in me since I first started riding BART long ago.
As you know, we see a wide variety of characters in BART stations. Long ago, I used to give money to older homeless folks, female panhandlers with kids, and any homeless folks with pets. I also used to buy the "Street Beat" (can't recall the name) or the newsletters shelters encourage the homeless to sell. It got to the point that I knew who was going to be where on what day. I knew who to expect at each corner and what they'll say. I had money ready in my pocket before I saw them!! I guess you can call me naive or pure hearted back then....I actually believed that the dollar or two, sometimes more, I gave them was going into something that will make a positive impact.
Eventually, I stopped, at least with the homeless (I on occasions give money to performers if they are really impressive and if I'm in a good mood). I realized that I've been giving the same young man money next to the same Starbucks for a few years now and he's not even young anymore. If I get to work earlier, I see him lying next to a bottle in a brown paper bag. I also noticed during volunteer events that while the homeless come in smelling like alcohol, they do not want to go to the alcohol abuse assistance kiosk...they want to go straight to the freebies and leave right after. For a few years now, I've stopped giving money to the homeless although my heart sinks and I give in when I see them lying next to the extremely underweight and malnourished dogs. While they have the brains to know that help exists, the dogs depend on them for survival. But I have to ask myself, is my money actually going into food for the dogs or to a pack of cigarettes? Somehow I don't want to know.
Was this woman I saw like the old me? I wonder how long will she continue to pass out money for? At some point, I would expect her to become disheartened like the rest of us.
Most of the time, the money is going towards alcohol or their drug of choice. If you feel bad about the dog, buy them a bag of dry dog food. If you feel bad about the person, buy them a burger or sandwich. Do not give cash.
A long time ago I decided that I wasn't good at figuring out if I was helping someone homeless or getting scammed by one of the many con artists working the streets downtown, so I don't give any money to anyone. However, I do donate to Glide, and to other groups that help the poor and homeless.
Performers, sure. As long as they don't suck, they are brightening up the place, and that's worth something to me.
Panhandlers, it depends on my mood, and whether I feel safe in the moment. Sometimes I'm swayed by the concept of "boy it sucks to be you" and sometimes by "there but for the grace of God go I." Sometimes I'm in a rush or just not in the mood. And, of course, whether I actually have a denomination that I'm willing to part with. If all I have is a tenner, you're out of luck, dude. Panhandlers that hit you up at the ATM? What are they thinking??
I've had a panhandler actually approach me in a fast food joint and ask if he can eat my meal. I figure that one was sincere, at least. Also kind of spoiled my appetite.
Why can't they be honest and just say they need money for crack?
I did an interview with a prominent city official a couple of years back who told me to buy them a meal instead of giving them money.
I did this for a while. It was truly gratifying to see how they reacted. Now days though I'm in such a hurry that I don't have time to walk with them to a local McDonalds or Burger King.
It's probably best not to give them money..just to buy them a meal. If everyone did this things would be a lot better.
Also, there are TRULY more homeless on the streets,even then there were a year or two ago. Once one gives money to one person they have to give to the next person who is right around the corner. It becomes sort of repetitious.
On another note. Has anyone run into the guy outside the Embarcadero station. He is usually there on weeknights. If you have you know what I mean.
At least he's honest when he yells repeatedly, "A little money helps. NEED TO GET INEBRIATED!!!! It's more than we can say for others.
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