I am driving my kids to McDonald’s for an ice cream cone after some school event. My van is full of kids chattering about the usual stuff. As we round the corner we see a homeless guy with his sign and cup. I have seen him before, this is his corner. He is a drug addict and I know this because I have watched him deteriorate over the past 5 years. He is young, I would say in his early 20’s. He is always wearing an army jacket but it has grown dirty over the years and know hangs on his skinny and malnourished body. I have given him money, bought him lunch, and spoke to him briefly over the years. I slow down while I fish through my purse for some money. I find a $20 bill and hand it to him through the window. He is polite and thanks me for the money. I tell him to take care of himself and drive away. My heart breaks for him because I know he is someone’s friend, someone’s son, someone.
This is when the kids in the back seat start talking about my charity to this young man. “My mom says that guy is a scammer. He can get a job but he just begs for money,” says one of the kids in my backseat. “He doesn’t deserve any money. He is just going to buy drugs with the money” This is not the first time I have heard this argument and it brings up the question. Does this person deserve my charity.
It seems that many people decide if homeless deserve help depending on the story of the person in need. When you think about the woman with children who left an abusive husband , the veteran who can not work because he lost his legs in war, or a senior citizen who can not afford food because the high cost of prescription, I think most of us would agree, they deserve help. They are not complicit in their own situations. Basically it is not their fault. But what about the drug addicts and the alcoholics who make up a third of homeless people. These homeless people are seen as a participant in their own fate. Many argue they have a choice in their homelessness. They choose to live the life style of the drug and alcohol addicted homeless. Basically, it is their own fault. They are too blame.
The conversation in the back seat continues and my bleeding heart daughter chimes in. “You don’t know what he is going to do with that money. Maybe he is going to buy food.” she argues. But alas, I believe she is wrong. I look in the rear view mirror in time to see the young man hop on his bike. Apparently $20 bucks is enough to get whatever it is he needs.
“Why doesn’t he just live with his mom?” asks my youngest who still believes in Santa Clause. And there in lies the difference between me and this young man. I have family.
It seems like a lifetime ago that I battled with alcoholism. It was after my mom died and I took solace with my beloved alcohol and refuge at the local bar. In one year, I lost my mom, my job, my drivers license and my apartment. I moved back in with my dad who didn’t charge me a thing or judge me too harshly for my down fall. I was given time to become a regular at a local AA meeting, get my shit together and find another job. It wasn’t long after I got back on my feet that I met my husband and became a mother of three children. My dad always said that is was just a detour in my life but I realize it could have been a dead end for me. What if I didn’t have a family to help. What if I didn’t have a good career that I could go back to. What if I didn’t have the good fortune to have people who cared about my future. Without the safety net of family and friends, I wonder where I could of ended up.
The conversation comes to an abrupt end as I turn off the engine and the kids pile out. I think about that young man as I glance at the now empty corner. I wonder what his story is. I wonder why he doesn’t have a family that help him. I surmise that he doesn’t have one or they gave up on him. I will probably see him again, next week or next month. I know I will give him $20 bucks again because I realize, there, but by the grace of god, go I.