I often have fancied that they have some sort of secret union, though I know it’s impossible. There are certain rules to they must uphold as well:
1. You must use union approved brown corrugated cardboard with black lettering
2. You must use either fantastical yarns or absolute truth on said cardboard
3. You must be able to stand for long amounts of time on your feet
4. Working in inclement weather is a must
5. You must wear tattered, ripped, holy, or frayed clothing on the job
6. A sad or dispondent look is recommended although a managing a smile and thank you when earnings are received is a must
Amherst, MA Used to be a conservative town years ago, but not anymore. Perhaps that is why it is a boon for so many panhandlers and why they flock here. The bleeding heart liberals see contributing towards the less fortunates as helping the social justice movement.
On any given day the same folks stand on their designated corner donning signs:
”Tent collapsed. Anything helps. God Bless”
”Today’s my birthday, out of work. Out of luck. “
”Homeless vet, down on my luck. God Bless”
”I’m not going to lie, I just need a beer”
”Tent blew away, need help, Thank you.”
Now mind you, it was the middle of February in New England and it occurred to me that with all these recent tent collapses and blow always happening, maybe they could pool their resources together and go in on a new tent, that’s more sturdy.
Birthday boy, well it seems as though everyday is his birthday because he keeps holding onto that sign day after day. Now I feel bad in his case, as he just can’t seem to remember when he was born, poor thing.
The homeless vet really gets to me because we have a bus system that can drive him to the VA Hospital in nearby Leeds, MA for $1.50 where a social worker could help him get housing, medical care, the works.
Which leads me to our last fellow the man saying he wants money to buy beer. Addiction of any kind brings shame upon its victims. Until we start recognizing that all of the people profiles listed above are most likely suffering with addiction and/or mental health issues we will not begin to address the problem. Driving by and stuffing money in their hand is bringing them closer to death.
You see, I used to be afraid when my car stopped next to a panhandler. I felt awkward and avoided making eye contact with them through ny window pane of glass that separated us. Instead, I averted my eyes down at the brake pedals or at my cell phone, the radio, anywhere but their face. Because it triggered an awkward feeling in me. Why had they fallen in this situation? Why would anyone want to stand here for 8 hours in the harsh elements begging instead of having assured income with the security of a job? Because they have to. They have fallen that far down the rabbit hole.
The day that awkwardness disappeared in me, was the day I recognized them as my equal. I could just as easily be them, given the right conditions. From that moment I began to roll my window down and talk. In those short conversations I have gotten to know a few people. We smile now and we wish each other well.
I don’t have all the answers. Maybe safe needle exchanges are in order. Maybe more drug courts. More access to long-term treatment programs. Meanwhile, I will treat people with kindness and dignity. I will buy someone a gift card to McDonalds. I won’t give them money knowing it could go to heroin, meth, or alcohol. Enabling will only serve to help kill people.
There is no us and them. We are the same. They ARE somebody. Someone’s son or daughter. Someone’s husband or wife. Somebody’s mom or Dad. Struggling and in the grips of a powerful addiction. A disease that will kill them if they don’t receive help. Let’s not forget before they were panhandling, they had great lives too.