King Benjamin addresses the issue of whether the beggars “deserve” to be in the situation they are in. But if I remember correctly, he doesn’t even address the possibility that the beggar is just plain lieing about their situation.
Maybe this con-artist-as-beggar is a more modern thing, and in ancient times, in smaller cities, there was no such animal, or was extremely rare.]]>
He was holding an open and empty anti-freeze container, and said he needed some money to buy gas to get across town.
I tried to take control back by saying “Where’s your car?”
He pointed to a car in the same general parking area, but a few businesses over.
I told him I didn’t give out money, but I’d buy him some gas, and I offered him a ride to the nearest gas station.
He didn’t want to go with me (another clue) but said he’d wait here for me.
I had a gas can in my trunk, so I went and filled it with a gallon of gas.
I didn’t have much change with me, so I used my credit card at the pump. Not having enough cash for my own needs, also prevented me from my usual schtick of handing the person a $1 bill and a church DVD.
When I got back, he was nowhere to be found. I waited a couple more minutes, and he still didn’t know.
I asked at a couple stores in front of where “his” car was parked, and found out it was owned by one of the business owners, whom I had met before. The business-owner’s wife actually told me it was her husband’s car.
I suppose I should have just given him a DVD, and suggested he try to sell it to the next person.]]>
6) When encountering a street person, treat them as you would any other person. Which, for an urban area, is to say: with dignity, deference, and a healthy amount of reserve (about 1/3 of the homeless are mentally ill). Acknowledge their existence, but avoid eye contact; say “please” and “thank you” as custom dictates; open the door for them; offer the elderly or women among them your seat on public transit; be mindful of them crossing the street (they walk slower than most — many are clinically depressed, and few of them have anywhere to go); and, finally, be ready to call the cops if they are being victimized by others — 911 in case of emergency, 799-3000 for non-emergency calls — violence is a huge part of their existence, and many live in fear (real and imagined) of their very lives.]]>
I live in Salt Lake City. Downtown, actually. Within 1000 feet of my home, there are four homeless service providers … twice as many, if you expand the radius to a quarter mile. In that same area, we have two half-way houses for recent residents of our penal institutions and others who can only afford to pay by the day. My ward encompasses all of these institutions, and I know folks who use them. Chronically homeless, the mentally ill, the down-on-their-luck. The whole gamut. I was lucky enough to be involved with our bishopric, who work with these folks regularly. And I learned that at Welfare Square, there are a bevy of bishops specifically tasked with helping these folks — and they are well trained, and well provisioned.
This is all to say that I’m intimately familiar with the plight of the less fortunate — at least those that frequent downtown Salt Lake City.
And so it is with firm conviction that I ask you to stay out of my neighborhood if you’re in the charitable mood. Take your well-meaning, ill-directed money elsewhere. You’re encouraging a lifestyle that preys on the weakest of our citizens just as surely as gambling in Vegas encourages the filth and wasted lives of that place.
It’s a harsh thing to say. And I apologize for its harshness. But I’m not kidding. My neighborhood government works hard to ensure that folks of all stripes are welcomed downtown … we work hard to keep low-level crime at bay, and to make living, working, and walking downtown safe and enjoyable. The people asking you for money are, at best, bored (I know these people personally, they’re in my Elders Quorum meetings). At worst, they are con artists and thieves (I know these folks too … and some of them make more money panhandling than you do at your 9-5). Ask any of the professionals that serve the homeless and destitute population, and they’ll say the same thing. They’ll beg you not to feed the monster.
If you really want to make a difference, might I offer the following:
1) Give a generous fast offering
2) Give generously to the United Way
3) Empty your closets of clothing and your basements of dreck … and donate it to Deseret Industries and/or the St Vincent de Paul Society. It’s doing no one any good in storage. And the people at those places deserve donations that still have some life in them.
4) When a shelter or other service catering to the mentally ill, destitute, or otherwise disenfranchised petitions to move into YOUR neighborhood, welcome them with open arms.
5) Slow your life down far enough to allow for genuine acts of service (that don’t undermine agency or the fabric of a neighborhood).
And to those that quote Mosiah 4: there are better ways to serve the poor than handing them a fiver. Much better ways.]]>
I didn’t want to drag a councillor or clerk out in the cold to sign a check, so I asked them to meet me at a gas station. When I got there I introduced myself and asked them to pull the car up to a pump. I then filled the car with gas… less than $2. The car was already full. They were caught in their fraud and embarassed. Rather than call them to task I asked if they wanted to step into the gas station and get sandwiches since they had not eaten. They said they were in a hurry and wanted to get on their way.
I recommend giving in kind when possible. But then again I do, when possible, give to panhandlers (but I don’t often carry cash). While on a business trip (after the previous experience), I was approached by a panhandler. All I had was a 20, which I gave him. My collegue told me that the guy was just going to buy drugs or booze. I then discussed King Benjamin’s sermon viv-a-vis bums. I later heard that my collegue used that encounter as an example of how Mormons are real Christians.]]>
If you smell alcohol on someone, “eating licorice” is also a cover story. Often times you can smell the alcohol coming out of the pores of someone’s skin if they are a heavy drinker.]]>
I remembered that lesson recently when I was coming to work one morning. A panhandler said he needed money for food. I passed him by but soon came upon a McDonalds. I went inside and purchased a breakfast sandwich and then took to the panhandler down the street. I felt better for not being taken, or at least not feeling like I was being taken, knowing the money I spent was for food (although not very healthy food) instead of booze, drugs or cigarettes.
On my way to the subway these days I am routinely confronted by the same panhandlers. Most of them don’t even bother to ask for money, they just stand and hold out a paper cup. One person just sits on the street reading holding the cup while I pass by without looking up. I keep my money in my pocket and feel just fine about it.]]>