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Today in My History

2000:  Pampering Myself
2001:  Only a Year Late
2002:  I Can Do
2003:  My Life as an International Spy
2004:  The Magic Kingdom
2005:  Welcome Home
What was YOUR Favorite?
2008: Weather or Not

2009:  Alert the Media

Things that Fall from the Sk

Books Read in 2010
Updated: 7/20
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"

Recipes for Cousins Day Drinks
(updated 3/17/10)

And Then I Ate


My Mother Remembers the Depression
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27 July 2010

I don't know about other towns, but here in Davis street people have figured out that the best place to beg is at the entrance to shopping malls.   You can't get into or out of a mall without passing someone with a sign begging for money.  "Hungry, homeless...just need a break," the signs may say.

Over the years, I have come to a different perspective on street people.  I guess it started when I worked in a homeless shelter and I saw all sorts of people, from those who were truly hungry, homeless, and doing what they could to get their lives together, to those who really didn't want a home.   They liked their street life and showed up once in awhile to shower or change clothes, maybe get warm on a cold night, but they were doing just fine, thank you, and didn't want to change.  And then there were those alcoholics and drug addicts who were trying, some more successfully than others, to get their lives back together again.

I remember one guy that I bonded with.  It was right after somebody had donated a bunch of computers to the shelter and I was working with guys to learn how to create a resume, since I was doing that professionally at the time. 

This guy was an alcoholic and had been in and out of rehab.   He was serious this time, he said, and said that if he fell off the wagon again, he just wouldn't return.  He worked hard at putting his resume together and learning all the mysteries of the computer.

And then one morning he wasn't there.  We never saw him again, at least not in the weeks that I continued to work there.  I think of him from time to time and wonder where he is and what he is doing, and if he is still alive at all.

But having that insight on the various attitudes about being homeless, I started looking at the people I saw asking for money on the street.

There was a man who stood in the street divider by our local supermarket, right where people had to stop for the stoplight.  This positioned him right by the window of the first driver in line.  Impossible to ignore.  He would get to his spot around 10 a.m.  He was always dressed nicely.  He carried a sign that said "Hungry, homeless.  Anything will help."  He stood there until about 3 and then he packed up and went...wherever he went.

The thing was, though, that about every 4th car stopped and gave him money.  Mostly it was paper money.  I watched him one day and realilzed if everybody who stopped gave him $1 (and some may have given him more than that), the damn guy was making more per hour than *I* was!  He had a sweet deal.  He worked a 5 hour day, took an hour for lunch and in the end was probably making a decent living--at least above minimum wage.

About that time I read a story by Stephen King in his book of short stories,"Hearts in Atlantis."  One of the stories was about a wealthy man who left his mansion, drove in to a downtown office, went into a secret room, dressed in "homeless" clothes, climbed out onto the roof and down an outside set of stairs and spent his day begging for money on the steps of St. Patrick's Cathedral.   His mansion was financed by the money he made begging.

There is a whole community of "regulars" around the symphony hall and opera house in San Francisco.  Walt has gotten to know several of them.  When he has money, he gives them some.  When he doesn't he stops and chats with them. 

He always keeps quarters in his pocket so that he can give something to several people in a night.  One night we had gone to the symphony and had parked in the underground garage.  We were approached by a man asking for money and Walt gave him a quarter.  We were a block from the garage and the guy followed us the whole way yelling at Walt for being so cheap and demanding that he at least give him a dollar.

I am not without a heart when it comes to people who are "hungry, homeless."  But I am more likely to buy them food than to give them money, because I also know from working at the shelter what they are likely to do with money.  I have bought deli sandwiches at the supermarket for people.  I remember buying a Chinese dinner for a couple of guys one time and how grateful they were.   I happened to pass by them some time later and they were laughing and smiling and enjoying their dinner, and waved at me.

By the same token, Walt and I came across a mother and a young child standing on a street corner in the rain with a "hungry" sign.   The sign said something about how the mother wanted money to feed her child. The little girl was shivering.

They were standing across the street from a Denny's and so I went inside and bought a gift certificate from Denny's and gave it to the mother.   I really wanted to just turn around and not see what she did...it wasn't my business how she used the certificate and I kind of believe in not expecting anything when I give something--I give it because I want to give it, not because there is any expectation of what someone will do with it.  But as we drove by her, I did look over and saw that she shoved it in her pocket and went on begging for money. I don't know if the little girl ever got her dinner that night.

I may, however, have come across the height of chutzpah the other day.  There was a young woman--late teens or early 20s--standing at the entrance to the supermarket parking lot.  She was holding a "homeless, hungry" sign asking for any donation to help her.

But...to pass the long, boring hours she would have to spend standing there in the hot sun begging people to give her money, she was listening to music on her iPod!!!!!!

I was tempted to tell her that if she was really hungry she should sell the damn iPod and go into the nearby fast food store and see if there were any jobs available flipping burgers.


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Loved this picture from
the Uralla Wildlife Sanctuary


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