May 18, 2010

Faux-Homeless Encounters

(I thought long and hard about naming this post "Fauxmeless" or "Fhauxmeless" rather than "Faux-Homeless," but I didn't think anyone would understand that. But just know that the desire for cleverness was there.)

(That being said, the title doesn't really make any sense because neither of the two people I am writing about are "faux-homeless." One is genuinely homeless, the other didn't even claim to be homeless. So frankly, I don't know why I didn't choose a different title altogether.)

While homeless people kind of scare me, beggars and panhandlers piss me off.

I think this anger stems from my days as a single teen mother, going to school full-time, working two jobs, living on about $10,000 per year, and trying like hell just to feed my kid every day. Every day, on my way to work or school, I would be asked by 3-4 panhandlers for money. This infuriated me because I was trying so hard to make it on my own, yet they expected me to just hand over my money to them?

Throw in the countless stories I have heard over the years about the man leaving his large home in a business suit, changing into dirty clothes, then heading to his "real" job as a panhandler. Sure, many of these stories sound like urban legends. But what about my friend's former student who made about $35,000 per year by panhandling. That was most certainly not just a story.

Nevertheless, on Friday night, I wavered in my decision to never fork over money to a beggar. I had just gotten off work and sped across town so I could pay an important bill before the store closed. I pulled into the parking lot with about five minutes to spare. As I was sitting in my parked car, fumbling with my wallet, a woman approached me. And by approached, I mean she practically stuck her head through my open window.

She said, "I'm sorry! I didn't mean to scare you. It's just that I'm in town from Colorado Springs. I'm here visiting my grandbaby who is in family services' care. The starter in my car went out and all I need is $15 so I can get a hotel room for the night. It's cold and raining and I can't make it out here all night!" (It was lightly sprinkling.)

This is where I wavered. My line of thinking went like this: "Ugh, seriously? Well, she isn't exactly a panhandler. I know all of the panhandlers around here. Maybe she does just need some help. Hmm...I'll give her a couple dollars."

So, I hurriedly got out of my car and opened my wallet. Immediately, I realized I was in a bit of a pickle. For one, I had just cashed my paycheck and had a big wad of cash in my wallet. There was no way to pull out a couple dollars without waving a roll of cash in front of her. I subtly turned just a bit so as to hide the money. I had just pulled off one dollar from the roll, when she looked over my shoulder.

I felt embarrassed and said, "I know this looks like a lot, but I have a bunch of bills to pay and..." I don't know why I felt the need to explain myself, but I did. I was worried that I looked like some privileged, snot-nosed kid with the fancy old-man car and my work laptop in the front seat.

Rushed, but apologetic, I extended the dollar to her.

"A dollar?! That's it?! You can give me more than a dollar!" is what she said.

I stared in awe for about two seconds. Then I said, "Seriously? You should be grateful I'm giving you anything at all."

"I am grateful, but I'm going to need more than a dollar. I can't sleep outside. It's raining, you know!"

At this point, I took the dollar, stuck it back in my wallet, and stomped off.

The other close encounter with the needy kind was awfully similar. But so as to not come off looking like an outright bully, I'll post that in a different (and more charity-focused post).

Oh, and because I think this post needs a photo, but I didn't get a stealth shot during the above incident, here is, instead, Kayden in the pool.


Trish said...

good for you for taking it back. The homeless guy around the corner from my work will do the same thing.
If you give him a dollar, he wants two. Some coworkers will buy him a burger and he'll complain it's not a big mac.

The adage "beggars can't be choosers" is an adage for a reason!

Joshua said...

I learned last week that those panhandlers downtown need to have permits. They get them from the same place that you'll be getting some of the permits for your cart.

Kelli said...

Wow, I thought you were joking until I googled it.

I wonder if they have to fill out the same application in order to claim an intersection...

Kelli said...
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Brittany said...

I had this happen to me, too. Except it was a man saying he was out of gas and needed to get through town to pick up his son he hadn't seen in a long time. I had (randomly) a few bills in my wallet and I gave him one. I wasn't as brave as you to just walk away, I just told him every little bit helps and maybe he'll get more from the next person. I also felt the need to explain myself, and then felt angry afterwards that I allowed him to make ME feel guilty! What jerks!!!

Kelli said...

Brittany, that is so annoying. Those are the kind of people that give a bad name to others who are genuinely in need.