The Kind of Thing I Should Probably Keep to Myself
But If I Weren't Leaving You

City of Mine

Yesterday I had a meeting down in Georgetown -- the part of Georgetown where foot traffic kind of dies and there isn't a beauty product to be purchased for several blocks. I took the bus, because I am Industrious and Independent, and as I was walking (okay, more like tottering gingerly over the cobblestones in my stupidly high heels) towards my destination I passed a man who had just parked his car.

A very nice, newish Acura. With leather interior. And Virginia plates.

He unloaded some milk crates from his trunk onto a little hand truck.

The milk crates were stuffed full of newspapers and plastic grocery bags.

A cardboard sign and a beat-up Big Gulp cup were attached to the crates with a bungee cord.

As he stepped away to feed the meter, I got a better look at the sign.

HOMELESS VET. HUNGRY PLEASE HELP. GOD BLESS.

I stopped and stared at him. He was wearing ripped jeans and several flannel shirts despite the broiling heat and humidity. I watched him swipe a credit card through the high-tech meter, pocket his receipt and then merrily make his way up M St., up to where the sidewalks are a sea of shopping bags and outstretched cups of change, with the hand truck bumping and clattering on the sidewalk behind him. He didn't care at all that I had seen it all and was still standing by his car, staring after him. I think he started whistling.

I didn't know whether to yell at him or call him an asshole or indignantly snap a camera phone picture of him, or his car, or his license plate, or what.

I just walked away instead. It really wasn't anything I didn't already kind of know.  It was just concrete evidence for a working theory.

Later, while waiting for the bus home, another man approached me. He was dirty and smelled bad.  He asked for a quarter for food, and the fingernails on his extended hand were long and crusty and yellow.

I gave him a dollar. He said God bless and kind of bowed. Then he walked away, whistling.

Comments

Jessie

Wow. What a weird experience. I don't think I'd know how to take that either. Good for you for not becoming too cynical about it - I'm sure there are some homeless people out there who are actually homeless and can use the help.

That is just too weird though.

erin rae

Holy crap. Take a photo of him!

Prior to living in DC, I once lived in a city where they did an article on someone who made hundreds per week doing this. And they published a photo. In the newspaper.

Megan

It'll come back to him one day. Payback is a real bitch.

erin rae

Forgot to mention -

I do love seeing the occasional:

HOMELESS. NEED MONEY TO BUY BEER. PLEASE HELP.

I'm a sucker for their honesty ;-)

Kristen

I had a very similar experience once when I was in New Orleans. Like you said, you know that it happens but to see it in action is rather surreal. It makes me sad for those that genuinely need $, because I no longer trust that they do. At least it sounds like it didn't totally jade you!

LeinDC

I carry around granola bars and peanut butter crackers for this exact reason. You can always tell who needs it and who doesn't when you offer food. The ones who are actually hungry are so thankful, and the ones that give you a "look"? Well, at least the granola bar was less than the dollar you would have otherwise given. Plus I know my money isn't going to beer :)

Patchie

We were once in a Pizza Hut having lunch--during our heady dating days, when eating out for lunch was a regular occurence, before the children came and bled us dry with demands for diapers, formula, and Playmobil toys--and this guy sat in the booth behind us, nursing a cup of coffee.

He started talking about how hungry he was and how the lunch buffet suuuure smelled good. He wasn't really filthy, just slightly unkempt, and he didn't smell horrible.

My then-fiance offered to buy him lunch. The guy said, no, coffee was fine. He could afford coffee. He wished he had money to buy lunch, though, because he sure was hungry.

Again we offered to buy him food, even just a personal pizza, for god's sake.

No, coffee was fine. But he could sure use some money for lunch.

Emily

Is this tarnishing your mental image of Virginians? We're not all like that, I promise.

htretn

Wow. IT's sad because we don't know who to trust. I sincerely would like to help those in need but because of people like the first guy you described, I feel like NO ONE can be trusted in situations like those. So sad.

jonniker

Yep. Seen that very sight many times. A few years ago, I was shopping all over Boston for an ungodly amount of time - I'd bought shoes, then returned the shoes, then went to Back Bay to get different shoes, then came back downtown, etc.

When I started in Downtown Crossing, I spied a man asking for money with a cardboard sign who looked so...pitiful. I don't know why, but he tugged my heartstrings with that face and his sign was all weepish. I gave him - brace yourself - $10, as I felt guilty that I was carrying Kate Spade, shopping for shoes, and drinking lattes while he could barely eat! The horror! I forgot about it went on my merry shopping way.

Until about four hours later when I found myself in Borders, back downtown, and guess who was in line in FRONT OF ME buying six CDs and four martial arts magazines? With MY TEN DOLLARS?

So help me, if he wasn't buying magazines that taught him how to kill me, I'd have throttled him right there. Or at least considered it more seriously.

Ugh. I don't believe a single homeless person anymore. I don't. I know it's wrong, as there are many who are legit, but it was so...violating, in a strange sort of way. But does that stop me from giving them money? Nope. I'm suckered every friggin' time.

dee

Seeing things like that certainly does make it difficult to help those that really need it. While on vacation in Seattle one time my husband and I came across a man sitting on the sidewalk holding a cup out. We gave him a couple of bucks and went on our way. A few blocks over we ran into the same man and watched as he walked into a strip club where I'm sure he spent all of his hard earned money. These days I prefer to buy someone a cheeseburger than hand them money.

desiree

My stories would be much the same as the other commentors above. I've known for a fact when someone was lying, it was a sham, or a racket. I've worked in the mental helath industry for years and yes, many people are real homeless, but I won't give out money anymore. If you are hungry I will feed you. If you are looking for shelter I will direct you to the right place. If you are lost or looking for help I will help you, I know all of the places in town. If you are hearing voices I wll tell the voices to calm down, you all need a warm place to sleep, and they can all come. But I will not give out money, becaue 90% of the time? It is fake.

European

WOW! My jaw just hit the keyboard.

Erin

It really disturbs me that people do that, but sadly it doesn't surprise me.

Will work for food (but see my fake cast? please just give me money)

I thought that was you who was staring at me. I've been reading your blog for awhile now. Ever since I bought this bitchin new laptop with all my begging money. You should have said hi. We could have talked about Noah before I went off to my corner. Oh well, maybe next time!

Margarita Mama

I've always taught my children not to give money to the homeless people we see on the streets (when we go to Chicago, or while we were in Boston last week) for this very reason. Sorry, I just don't know what they will do with that money, and there is a large chance that if they are, in fact, homeless, it's a result of a drug or alcohol addiction. I've told them that if they wanted to, they can offer food, or give a nice donation to a local charity that helps the homeless and unemployed.

abogada

I have always had that same suspicion. Especially when I look at the guy's (it's always a guy) shoes. They are almost always new. And then I feel like a real jerk, because what if I'm wrong?

Maria

This is why I rarely give money to some homeless. There is a woman who rides the subway (NYC) during evening rush hour who explains that she has two children, no family to help, and recently lost her job. I shake my head when people give her money. She has been telling the same story since 2001 and she is wearing this seasons shoes ($100), etc.

Terrible.

EJW

I recently heard a fairly clever answer to the age-old question of panhandlers. Carry gift certificates to fast food joints. If someone is truly hungry, they'll appreciate that. Most shelters and soup kitchens also print cards that you can distribute instead of money.

Catherine

Good for you for not being jaded by the first man in the fancy car and still offering the dollar to the second. You are a kind soul with a caring heart, Ms. Amalah.

YetAnotherAmy

Just last night a neighborhood kid, somewhere around 9 or 10 years old, knocked on my door asking for donations for his uncle who died. I didn't give him anything. I didn't even ask to hear the story. It's sad when there are really those in need yet we have to be so cynical because there are so many who are just out scamming.

ali

i always just imagine that these "homeless" squeegee boys in Toronto that jump in front of my car at traffic lights, desperate to clean my windshield for a buck, are just bored teenagers from wealthy families, out looking for kicks.

Megan

I know a lot of them are fake, but I never know which ones, so I tend to give them money (I know, I know- I'm why they do that).

Lisa

That is sooo way common. There are so many self made millionares that got it by pretending to be homeless. I have once heard that the guys who do this in NY city can make up to 2-3 grand in a day!!! I am very pick and choose with who I will give my money to. Usually I will go down to McD'd and get them a burger. If they accept it graciously then I will give them some change. But I have had a bunch that actually cussed me and threw it over the bridge. What is the world coming too?

Jen Jen

Awesome...that sounds like it pays more than the blogging gig on ClubMom. Too bad my scruples aren't low enough to do it.

Tory

Heh, the same sort of thing happened to me as a teenager. Our school (French Immersion) took a trip to Quebec City in grade 8. While we were waiting to go to another destination, this guy walked up to us and handed us a card that said he was deaf and needed some money for food. We were broke grade 8 students, so we said no, sorry and he walked away.

A little while later we were still waiting on our classmates and we saw the guy again walking around - and he had earphones and a walkman on! DUDE!

Amytoo

I am not at all surprised, but I still find this depressing.

So I will change the subject: Amalah, I finally ordered something from Zappos.com, which I promptly returned. I ordered new shows Tuesday and got them Thursday. I am in LOVE. THANK YOU.

Oh, and I am totally addicted addicted to Hexic. Thanks. Thanks a lot.

Amytoo

And I can't spell shoes. I blame you for that too.

Janel

Once in a McDonalds in NY I witnessed the following conversation between a seemingly homeless person and a kind-hearted yet jaded person who seemed to be running late for something:
"Mr, could you spare some change for food?"
"Sorry bro, I just have a five and I don't have time to wait in line to get you something to eat"
"Ohh come on, I promise it's for something to eat"
"Well...promise you'll use it for food?"
"Yeah dude, I promise."
So the nice man hands him the money and runs off to catch a cab. The homeless man waits till he's out of earshot to say loud enough for all to hear:
"Whatever bitch, I'll do what I want with the money!"

I didn't know whether to laugh or what. People are amazing.

Heather B.

Hmmmmm...

Next time I'm in Georgetown I'm going to be on the look out.

becki

I can't remember the exact quote but the gist is:

C.S.Lewis once said he'd rather be a sucker for giving to 99 shysters than miss giving to the 1 who really needed it . .

Lisa

When I lived in Little Rock, one of the local news stations did an undercover story on the men who stand at the intersections of the major roads begging.

The reporter would stop and offer them food, or if their sign said, "Will work for food," would offer them some yard work for $50. Not a one took the offer. They only wanted cash.

That was the last time I gave anyone my hard-earned money. Except, of course, for Zappos.

Andrea

See, that just makes me want to make sure I always have a stash of Canadian coins to give them. Cheaterheads.

Christina

It is very sad that ppl take advantage of other people's kindness. I guess all i can say is be very careful about who you give to, and never put yourself in a tight spot to help someone you are unsure of. Just be careful.

jes

The homeless in dallas are scary. You never know when one might hurl himself at your car and attach with a force of a thousand suction cups.

That's what I loved about the homeless in Boston: they're so friendly.

I have no idea about their disposition in DC, though.

Laura B.

Maria! The woman from the NYC subways is Carlene. She drives me CRAZY! She has this whiny voice and comes through the car, shoving her way along during rush hour, and she is always so clean with nice shoes and a designer back pack. Give me a break! I heard her get in an argument with someone once who told her to get a job.

Ashley

I completely agree with Becki: C.S.Lewis once said he'd rather be a sucker for giving to 99 shysters than miss giving to the 1 who really needed it . ."

By never helping anyone for fear that they are a fake as many commenters have admitted they do then you will never help the one who needs those mere coins to live. Yes, buying them food and drink is one way of doing it, and not a bad way but all people are homeless are not bad. The look of gratitude on someone's face for a small amount of change is enough to convince me that it's the right thing to do.

Aimee

Thanks for that quote Becki. I think I'd agree wtih that. And the guilt factor - carrying the expensive bag, shopping, lattes, and not a dollar or two to give to someone can make me feel guilty too.

If it helps - my friend and I were on our way to the store and pulled up next to a man who wasn't horrible dressed, but he had a backpack on and a sign. (will work for food or something like that) and so we stopped and I gave him $5. When I did, he asked if I knew where there is a temp agency for laborers.

So, while we were at the store - I pulled out the yellow pages and wrote down the 1-800 numbers and addresses for him. We found him walking down the street and he thanked us and headed straight to the phone at the gas station. That felt pretty darn good.

Jen

It must be something in the water! When I lived in DC, we went to the big war protest at the Mall in 2003. There, a woman approached us with a long, involved story about her car getting towed, and how she needed $ to get it back--and of course, she lived too far for the Metro to reach, etc., etc. My poor dear husband felt bad, and gave her $10, and we didn't think about it again...until several months later, when we were at another Mall event, and she approached some friends of ours with the same exact tale. It took all I had not to kick her!

Mother

'kay. I'm slow today. Took me a few rereads to figure it out.

But now I get it. I think.

Ew.


julianna

I have given out food twice... because I really felt like the people needed it. i gave money too, but in a foreign country.

In Jordan, thre are a huge number of homeless people and those living on the verge (on the verge probably accounts for about 50% of the population). But the real professional beggers are so interesting. They always have children with them.. who sleep at least 90% of the day. When they wake up, you will watch them feed their children something to drink, and the kids will go back to sleep. I want to know what is in that bottle.

Starbuck

As others have said, I knew it happened. I just didn't realize they drove nicer cars than the people they are begging from.

I never give money to the sign-holders because of scams like that. My husband directs them to our church who in turn will give them a gas voucher or food voucher -- after they have done some minor work at the church, such as trimming hedges. It is quite effective in weeding out those who are looking for a handout and those who are really desperate. It sounds odd saying that my church makes them work, but giving out meals to whoever walks in asking is a bit much. And the really needy ones are even thankful for the work because it boosts their esteem by having to earn it.

Kim

Hmmm, I live in the middle of a very large city, so there are homeless and schizophrenic (sp?) people that regularly stand outside the gas station by my house and ask people coming and going for change. I used to give them what I could, but now I don't. Why? My hubby's aunt bought a homeless guy a chicken dinner from KFC. When she drove off, she watched him in the rearview mirror as he threw it in the garbage. Since hearing that, I have a hard time being generous. I know it wasn't my experience, but as you said, it confirmed what I already believed and gave me all the reason I needed to keep my money in my own pocket.

Liberal Banana

Wow, that is crazy. How does someone decide that they're going to spend their life that way? It's just absurd! How the hell does he make enough to live in Georgetown and drive an Acura? (Or maybe he doesn't live there, he just "works" there, right?) Maybe it's his side job. Like he works AWS and then on his day off, he is a bum. Hmmm. I have a second job on my AWS day, but it involves filing and data entry. Perhaps I've got it all wrong...

Amy

I had a man accost me in Hollywood after I'd just eaten. He was sooo hungry, couldn't I just spare a couple dollars for food?

I had 1/2 of a pizza from California Pizza Kitchen leftover. I tried to give it to him. He refused because he was "lactose intolerant".

I usually do only give food, and gave a lot of pizza to a man last week who was holding a sign saying "homeless, please give money or food." he was so polite & gracious & appreciative. and apparently NOT lactose intolerant.

jen

I'll give money to any homeless person with a dog. No arms, no legs, blind, deaf, or wheelchair-bound? Forget it. But a mutt wearing a bandana? Tell me how much you need.

chickadee

Delurking to say that I want to hug you for giving that second man a dollar. And karma will kick the Acura dude in the ass in due time.

Kathryn

A few years ago I was living in Denver, and was leaving a strip mall/parking lot area. As I pulled up to the stop light, I noticed a guy sitting in the median asking for money, but I was a little preoccupied, and didn't pay any attention. Then he started bitching at me because I wasn't acknowleding him or giving him anything. "Wow, it must be so nice having mommy and daddy to fall back on. I wish I had someone to help me out now. Can't even spare anything, can you?" etc. etc. etc. I was like, the gall of this guy. Like that will make me more likely to give him something as opposed to piss me off? I wanted to say, "Hey, mommy's dead, daddy's in another state, and when I was broke I got a second job!" (All of which were true at that time.) On the other hand, I am known to be give to those who at least attempt to do something for money, such as the guy in San Francisco playing his trumpet in the subway. That I'll support.

Cagey

In some countries, begging is actually a profession.

Kelly M.

Thank you, Amalah, for still giving a dollar to the next one. I know that this happens but I still cry every time I see a homeless person or a person with a cardboard sign. It leaves me feeling so guilty for everything I take for granted that I have a knot in my stomache.

Being compassionate and not letting this world turn you into another callus cynic is a beautiful thing. I give freely to anyone that even looks like they need it. Once on my way to pay my car payment I saw a woman with a small child on the side of the highway, I stopped and asked them if they needed a ride. She told me no because they had no where to go. I gave her half of my car payment money and figured I would make it up on the next payment. My boyfriend did not understand why I would so such a thing as "They were probably scamming you!".

I knew they might be but I didn't care in the least. I felt that it was the right thing to do. For the ones who are lying to profit, well I think that there is a special place in hell just for them and I wont let them effect my outlook on the world.


Jessica

Yet another classic example of a few who spoil it for the ones who really need it.

Joanna

That's pretty crazy. I live in Cambridge and at my old apartment I always passed this guy asking for money. I never complied because he was usually dressed better than me. One time he was talking on a cell phone as I approached and, making eye contact with me the whole time, he hangs up, puts the phone in his pocket, and says, "Can you spare a couple bucks?" Shameless! And a couple bucks? What happened to spare change?

brighton

That would have left me speechless too. There was a family here in Houston that was arrested fro sending their eight year old daughter out daily to beg. She brought in a significant amount of money for them. Sick.

earlyduckie

Same as everyone else. Was in Chicago with my family several years ago. Traveling on the "L" when a person came around and laid little cards on the seat next to everone. They said something to the effect of I am deaf, please help with any spare change. As she was walking with her back to the passengers someone said they didn't want it. She turned around and picked up the card.

For people that are truly unfortunate I feel very sorry for them that they have such horrible people to compete with.

laurie

Wow. Now that's a story.

And yes, apparently the rates have gone up. We were in Atlanta for a conference and were leaving a restaurant. A guy jumped out in front of us and demanded "a few dollars". My coworker said, "A few dollars?!?!" because the man scared us with the way he came at us and we were reacting to that more than anything. We were talking about the "inflation" of begging on the way back to the hotel, when another guy jumped in front of us, hopping around like Gollum in Lord of the Rings, shrieking "I'm HUNGRY. I'm HUNGRY." I gave him my chicken (which was a mighty good selection from one of the best soul food places in the city, I'll add, so I hope he ate it), but I have to say that I don't dig aggression in those situations.

I'm debit card-dependent because if I have cash on me I just spend it too freely, so I rarely have it on hand, but I did give a guy five bucks not long ago. I can't remember the circumstances, but he must have struck me as needing it bad because I rarely do that. There are people on every median where I live outside of DC, so I honestly don't know where to start. I see where you nice people are coming from who are supporting giving regardless, but I have to admit that most of the time I don't...I work in human services so that's where I give back, I guess, and donate to causes as I can...I'd help everyone if I could but the reality is that it's still tough to afford safe housing in my county on my own. (Cue violins, I know...but this money business is tough stuff...I'm in the process of trying to put on my oxygen mask so I can assist other passengers. ; ) )

Jenn

I was just having a conversation about this at work yesterday! My mom used to work downtown at USDA and she saw so many homeless people asking for help, that one time, she decided to do something about it. She stayed up all night one night, making sandwiches. I think she made around 30.

The next day, she headed into DC, armed with sandwiches to hand out. Some accepted graciously; others cursed her, calling her a bitch and threw the sandwiches in the trash right in front of her.

It crushed her. She came home looking like our dog had just died. To my knowledge, she's never given in that manner again. Some people really ruined her desire to help out as many as she could. Sad...

Next time I'm in the G-town area, I will be on the lookout for THAT guy!

Also, do you know "Compliment Man"? He's usually in the Dupont area, right near La Tomate? He stands on the corner and compliments people!

"Love those shoes, girl! You are working them!"
"Look at how pretty your smile is!"
"Great hair!"
"You look great today!"
"Nice tie!"

It makes people smile and sometimes they give him some money. Either way, he's 100% friendly all the time. Always a great ego boost! I'll bet he'd have compliments for Noah!

Contrary

Speaking as someone who was literally wihout a home for long stretches as a child, this just pisses me off.

The only homeless people I truly feel sorry for are the children, because they can't do anything about it. They're at the mercy of the decisions, good or bad, made by the adults in their lives.

Oh, and a tip for the potentially homeless out there, avoid the split pea soup at the Salvation Army shelter. Seriously.

Magistra Omnium Domina Nihili

In the Canadian city where I live, there are a number of homeless who work intersections at stop lights. Driving the same route daily, I've know where they tend to be. There was one, near campus, that I occasionally spoke to and gave either food or a little change. I found out from him that he was living in a shelter of sorts--he had a room in a low-cost, government-run boarding house, along with a small stipend that covered the room and a small amount of food. He moved on to the oil boom in Western Canada, having secured a job on a rig now that employment has grown out there (he had become homeless as a result of the last bust and moved to my city due to the stronger economy there, but found little opportunity for unskilled labor). I believe the government helped pay for the bus ticket out there. I was glad to know there was some government support for the truly needy and wonder if and how such a system would work in the US.

Patchie

I'm also remembering a story my brother once told me. We grew up in a suburb/rural area, and rarely saw any homeless, even in Toledo when we'd go through there. We had "The Bag Lady" in Toledo--she apparently had money enough to live in an apartment, but chose to live on the streets.

Anyway, my brother moved to Cleveland, where he worked and lived downtown. He was like the country mouse moving to the city. And he was a friendly guy. once he was waiting for his girlfriend--a Cleveland native--outside her office building downtown, when a (presumably) homeless guy came up and asked if he could spare some change. My brother gave him 10 bucks and they started chatting. The girlfriend came out and yanked him away and said, "Why were you TALKING to him?? He's a crazy guy, he hangs around here all the time asking for money!"

My brother said, "Well, he seemed like a nice guy and we had a nice chat." :)

haggalicious

That pisses me off like NO OTHER. Call me a bitch, but I don't give anything to homeless people, except for perhaps my leftovers for that VERY REASON. And I don't feel sorry for them, either. Get a job at mcDonald's or something. Work for your money, LIKE I DID. I agree with a post above: I only feel bad for the children, they have no control over their circumstances. Wow, I really do sound like a bitch, but I hate being taken advantage of, and I have no toleration for laziness. Sure perhaps there's the exception, but it's been spoiled by all the asshole scammers out there.

luscious lumpkin

When I worked in downtown LA I saw a man get get out of his Escalade (complete with big rims), check his pager and his two cell phones, and then proceed to beg people for a dollar or two so he could eat. I think there was some expose done on people that work as "homeless" and htey made TONS Of money - like a few hundred a day...tax free of course.

Erica

My ex-boyfriend made a point to get to know the homeless man on the corner by his house, and always gave him food, soda, an occasional cigarette. He talked to him, found out his story, and actually took the time to get to know the guy a bit before giving him stuff. The guy was a homeless vet and we saw him under the overpass at night on occasion. I never felt bad about donating my funds to him for food or drinks.
On the other hand, my friend and I were outside the Vatican when we were appraoched by a beggar woman with a baby in a bundle pleading with us. We were about to give her some lira when she shifted the bundle and we saw it was a ball of socks. Fucking SOCKS people!

TheHolls

When I lived in D.C., I had a whole system worked out for what constituted a "real" homeless person. The dude wearing a nicer North Face jacket than me at Farragut North metro where I got off for work? NOPE. The hysterical, clever guy who hung out on the corner of M Street near GW Hospital with a fishing pole attached to an arrow that pointed into his collection cup? Yes, you amuse me! I will give you some bones! My husband was approached recently by a guy inquiring if he was willing to donate to "the United Negro Pastrami Sandwich Fund." I suspect he didn't make that up himself, but it was quite funny. He didn't, however, give him any money.

siouxjoe

We don't have a lot of begging where I live, but occasionally I am approached. My nine year old wanted to know why didn't give money to the man who said he was hungry. I told him that there was no way I could tell if he was being truthful or not so I give our money and time to the local homeless shleter on a regular basis. That way I don't feel guilty about saying no on the street. If they are truly homeless, they can receive help from there.

Melanie

I once saw a young woman begging for food outside a Miami McDonald's in a bustling part of town. I went inside and bought myself some lunch, along with an extra hamburger, fries, and a carton of milk, which I handed to her on my way out. She looked in the bag, crinkled her nose, and told me she preferred something else. I grabbed the bag from her hands, threw it in the trash can, walked away, and have never given anything to anybody ever again.

Black Belt Mama

My husband and I used to wonder about that all the time. That is just messed up. I think I would have made a sign that says, "This guy's Acura is parked on the next street," and stood beside him for the rest of the day. Messed up!

Loocy

Did anyone catch the "King of the Hill" where Bobby started begging for money with the cool guys so that he could buy some jeans?

Anyone? It was hilarious.


I once had some people beg when I was in Paris at the Eiffel Tower. The woman had a baby, and she accidently dropped it -- it was a doll! Not as ridiculous as socks though.

mappyb

That is some shady sh*t.

Nothing But Bonfires

But Amy! If he was a vet, then he could probably AFFORD the shiny Acura with leather interior. You know, from saving all those puppies and helping cows give birth to little calves at 3am.

Sorry. It was an awful joke, but it had to be made.

Natalie

My former stepfather worked security for a company in NYC, and he said some of the panhandlers in Grand Central pull down six figures a year.

Emmie

Seen back in March while waiting at a red light on a freeway exit ramp:

A scruffy guy holding a sign that said, "Homeless Republican could use spare change for food."

Yeah, buddy, I could use some change too. I wish I had the materials handy at that very long red light to make a quick sign that reads "This smirking taxpayer thinks you ought to VOTE for change. Social change".

I wish him the best of luck, but, honestly. You proudly advertise voting for the party that cuts all the social welfare programs and expect me personally to pick up the slack? Now if the sign had said "Homeless former Republican could use spare change for food".....

I'm glad you gave the real homeless guy a buck, though.

Y from the internet

OMG. I thought it said "Jewish Acura."

Not that that has anything to do with anything...

Aly

Wow... just wow.

Nothing more to say.

-Aly

Boozie

I bought 2 boxes of Giant brand granola bars tonight for a woman who had an index card that said something about having 3 kids and having lost her job. She didn't speak English and I told her I wouldn't give her any money, but I would bring her some food for her kids. She said gracias. I work in Tysons and we had a homeless man pan-handling right by the mall. I gave him money one day but the next day, I brought him a warm container of soup and a bag of non-perishables. He said, "No thanks, I just want money." I said, "Well, you won't be getting any from me." Since then, I will offer food only...even if they throw it away, I know it didn't help pay for their Acura, ya know?

Lindsay

My sister once bought a taco for a guy with a "Hungry and Homeless" sign. He threw it at her car and she ended up having to go the car wash on her lunch break!

gemini

I have totally seen that guy. He has lately been in Rosslyn by the Key Bridge. I really want to make a slip of paper that looks like a dollar on one side and says "NICE ACURA" on the other side to hand to him on Monday when I drive by. Too bitter?

mama kelly

that just makes me so damn sad and angry

Allison

Wow. Are you sure you weren't in Portland?

Rachel

A twist on giving: I was once goaded by a passerby to give more to the man on the street making roses out of palm fronds. (I had just given what was a lot of money for me at the time.)I have always regretted not saying, "Why don't YOU give him something, you cheap hypocrite!" What a jerk. I have also learned, the hard way, to give to reputable organizations.

I now prefer planned giving to impulse, guilt-induced giving. You can only be guilted if you know you should be doing more....so just do more by volunteering or giving to legitimate charities.

lena

I'm drawing the obvious conclusion from this post: there is a smell test.

Lizzie

In London there are often women who hang around outside Harrods (really fancy department store) with babies who are ALWAYS asleep. They must be drugging them with something, which is just horrible.

I don't as a rule give money to beggars because I donate to charity and also volunteer as a big sister so my guilt is assuaged that way. But once I found £20 on the floor of a restaurant bathroom and I gave it to a guy begging on the tube because I figured he needed it more than I did. I have often wondered since whether that was true though, since I was living in a hostel at the time and had no job or income. I guess there's no way of knowing.

The Mom

Wow. You should have keyed his car.

bird

I've always been suspicious of every man standing on a street corner. I grew up in Arlington and worked in DC for many years. I still give a buck though. Just on the "what if".
My husband NEVER gives unless it's a woman. He thinks a man could always find a job if they really wanted to. Not so for a woman in his mind.

Kelly

This reminded me of what I saw when I lived in Texas. I worked at a major central Texas hospital and the intersection leading to the hospital always had the same guy begging there. I never gave him money because so many other people did, including a few of the nurses and doctors I worked with. I was working triage one night when a VERY well dressed woman came in asking for help getting her husband out of the car as he was very ill. So, out we walked to find a brand new mercedes SUV, still with dealer tags containing a very well dressed very ill man. Guess who the man was? Poor homeless man from the intersection. I refrained from saying anything to him until when we were getting his information he handed over his insurance card for a top company in the area. The nurse I was working with at the time recognized him, and asked if his employer knew anything about his moonlighting at the intersection. Both he and his wife looked shocked that we had figured it out.What was even sadder? His "homeless with a family to feed, will work for food" sign was in the back seat of that car. Strangely..after word got around at the hospital, of course it spread everywhere else, and after about 2 weeks? We never saw him there again.

Meg

Makes me miss the city even more. Go figure.

Elizabeth

Maybe that first guy lost his job, but he doesn't want his wife and family to know, so he pretends to go to work every day but panhandles instead? I probably wouldn't give him money, but that might explain the car.

When I lived in Philadelphia, there was a man who stood outside the grocery store and insisted on opening the door for people. Then when they came out, he would hold out his hand for money. I usually gave him whatever change I had, because at least he was polite.

Sarcomical

that's a pretty common scam around here, too. the hard part is wanting to be helpful but struggling with not wanting to be taken advantage of.

Kristen

Several years ago, after a night out in Morristown, NJ, a guy came up to me and my boyfriend. He looked as if he'd been beaten up and said, in fact, that he had been, and said his money had been taken and he needed to get back to Hoboken on the train. He said he worked at a nearby store and would pay us back, just call in the morning and his name was whatever. I gave him $10, willingly.

I called the store the next day and asked for him, and the woman there basically said, "Oh, boy, what did he get out of you?" She went on to say that he used to work there, but was a thief and piece of crap, etc.

I still felt good about having done it. Because if I were ever in such a REAL situation, I'd want someone to take a chance on me. I guess that's what it boils down to for me. There's always a chance you're getting scammed, but you can still feel good about what it says about you as a person.

rachel

Maybe he was an anthropologist.

RachiePoo

Delurking again to say... Wow.

The nerve of the first man makes me soo angry. To take advantage of citizens who are willing to do a good deed...

On the other hand, whenever I see a 'homeless' person, legit or not... I always have to hold back the tears... I honestly cry because I'm sure some of these people don't deserve the life they're stuck with.

You're really a good person, Amalah, and I admire you for that.

Isabel

I don't have anything to say that hasn't been said already...but man, what an odd thing for you to see. Just odd.

(yeah, and there probably is a "smell test".)

Crystal

Where I live (in Minneapolis) the panhandlers have become increasingly pushy and rude. It's hard to feel compassion for someone who just called me a "f***ing b***h" because I didn't want to give them change. Dude, I rarely even carry cash, much less have spare change, and I am NOT going to dig thru my purse on the street anyway. It's not safe.

I've had friends who actually were homeless in my city and they all told me that, at least in Minneapolis, the homeless don't panhandle. They have too much dignity. And besides we actually do have enough shelters and services available here for those who need them.

Her Bad Mother

That is just so sad.

(And can I mess up the heavy vibe here by saying what I wanted to say on your last post but for some reason could not... You. Are. A. Genius.)

Sarah

Last year, my husband and I gave *several hundred dollars* to a guy who came to our church claiming he needed financial help.

Mind you, this was money we could not afford to give away. I wasn't very happy about it. My husband told me that he really felt the need to do this... that one day we might be homeless too and we would want people to assume the best of us.

This year, he lost his job and we were in a very desperate situation for several months. But we hung on and we're doing better now than we ever have before. Lots of friends and just kind people helped us along the way.

Call it karma, or call it God (whatever you believe, we feel it was God) but we are glad we helped this guy last year with money we did not have.

By the way, we found out recently that it was a scam - he was hooked on drugs and needed his fix. I guess some would say we were stupid to give him lots of money without examining the situation, and I'm sure we will be more thorough in the future. But we don't regret being kind to a stranger.

Miss S

Wow! Kind of a crazy story. I don't know what I would do either. I probably would have taken a picture of his license plate and posted that on my blog! Jeez ... what horrible proof of something we suspect already and doesn't it just piss you off that people could actually take advantage of other people that way. I don't know. Well written.
Sometimes people just disgust me.

dillygirl

I've given a homeless guy some money (actually, it was a generous amount... I even surprised myself) and secretly, I wondered if he was genuine and kind of regretted being so spontaneous. Your story is the third I've heard about seeing a "homeless" person emerge from an expensive vehicle. It amazes me that these people can lead normal lives an still play the part. What if a friend or relative passed them on the street? It also sorrows me since I know there are people out there who genuinely need help.

When my heart strings are undeniably pulled I now try to give the person a word of encouragement and buy them lunch at a drive-thru. This might be stereotypical, but I think many homeless people mis-use money to buy cigarettes or liquor... not to actually get their lives together. It's sad.

Julie

Pathetic.

Kyle used to volunteer at the homeless shelter in the city where we met. He had fascinating conversations with these men - great insight into their situations and their actions/inactions.

Chris

I always want to give these guys money. I want to help somehow...I really do. However, I know that many, if not most of them, when given money will just take it and buy booze or drugs.

Which is probably the main reason I started carrying around sandwiches in my pockets. Plus, hey! you never know when you're gonna need a sandwich!

Angie

Okay, deep breath. I want to start by saying that this comment is *not* intended to start a flame war. I really don't want Amy to have to come out with with broom, shake her first and shoo us away 20 comments from now.

That said, I'd like to offer a different perspective than most of the other commenters. Let me first say I've never been homeless. I grew up in a small working class town in PA. I remember the first time I saw a homeless person sleeping on a grate in Philadelphia. I've lived in London, Miami and now New York. I have a college education, a car, an apartment in a safe neighbordhood.

The experience Amy shared was one that clearly strikes a chord with so many of us. It is natural to feel outraged when there are so many people out there who need so much. Yes, this man she saw is unethical, pathetic and what he is doing is very wrong. He is certainly not the only person on the streets running a scam.

I think, however, that there is a certain bourgeouis comfort those of us with varying levels of privilege take in the thought that the homeless are lying to us. It eases one's conscious to dismiss them out of hand as scammers with cars and homes to return to. It's easier to just "imagine" that squeegee boys are pretending to be "desparate" when really they are "just bored teenagers from wealthy families, out looking for kicks" than to wrap one's mind about the complex matrix of injustice in our society's class system. It's easier to shrug them off, pretend they're just greedy with safe places to go later, than contemplate the drastic changes it would take to actually eliminate homelessness.

Believe me, I am a journalist who covers the uber-wealthy suburbs north of New York City. Bored wealthy kids get into all kinds of situations involving sex, drugs and alcohol when they're out looking for kicks, but pretending to be squeegee guys? Um, no.

My thoughts on this next part are bound to be controversial. Please THINK about what I'm saying and don't make Noah cry with reactionary flaming. I find some of the posters who are complaining about the way their charity was received troubling. For those of us who don't just ignore the homeless, telling ourselves they're secretly wealthy teens, It's also tempting to congratulate ourselves for giving $10 to a person on the street, to make them promise it's for food, to comfort ourselves by thinking that's enough.

Running to buy food for someone, only to have them turn up their nose, is discouraging, yes. Having to them wash the taco off your car? Irritating, definitely. Seeing someone buying CDs and magazines at Borders when you gave them money earlier in the day is tough to take. We'd all like to think that the money we give to panhandlers is used for food, for a good night's sleep at a cheap hotel with a hot shower in the middle of winter, for a small stash of savings somewhere in one of those bags that will someday be used for a job-training program.

If you take the time to actually GET TO KNOW homeless people, to volunteer in soup kitchens and homeless shelters, you'll learn that yes, many homeless people have drug problems. If you've ever known or loved someone who's beaten an addiction, then you know how many ups and downs there are in the journey. By the time they end up on the street, they have usually betrayed their families repeatedly, slept on friends' couches unless they've long worn out their welcome, bounced in and out of rehab. BTW, a lot of homeless people with cell phones have them because their families- unable to enable their addictions any longer by offering them shelter unconditionally- give them to them as a way to make sure they are, if nothing else, still alive.

Think about the number of people who scorn, abuse and spit upon the homeless in the course of the day. Putting Amy's experience with the scammer aside, think about the second man she saw. Think about the real issues behind homelessness- veterans with post-traumatic stress, runaways who were raped repeatedly in their home, gay teenagers who were kicked out by homophobic parents, addicts who are slowly committing suicide- and then imagine if those things happened to you. Would you always be able to muster up the proper enthusiastic gratitude for someone who gives whatever food THEY thought you should like? Or clothes and a sleeping bag, but only if you hear a sermon about God you feel abandoned you first? How many of us soothe ourselves with alcohol or cigarettes during times of stress, but are outraged at the mere thought of a homeless person for seeking the same, albeit short-term relief? What about the person who perhaps received a donated pair of "this year's $100 shoes" from a smug wealthy lady, only to have someone else withold compassion because they're "dressed better?"

So what do we do about it, besides preach in the comments section of a cleverly written blog? Like many other commenters, many people in places with a visible homeless population do what so many others have suggested- carry granola bars and crackers, give out gift certificates to fast food restaurants, etc. Which are all good things to do. This is not a criticism. I do them myself.

Beyond the immediate street level charity, I also support not-for-profits that I know are reputable and committed to real, long-term change. In addition to supporting a good thing, you protect yourself from the kind of unfortunate scam Sarah described. Someone mentioned the Salvation Army. The Women's Bean Project (www.womensbeanproject.com) is an amazing program that teaches women job readiness skills and works to provide for their clients.

Even more than that, I also push myself to delve deeper, to look at the real source of the problem, to question the core issues. I try to keep my judgmental side in check. I interrogate WHY my urge to dismiss or judge them comforts me. I don't just imagine they're all fakers or decide to never help a homeless person again because they were rude to me. My mom has a quote on her well-stocked fridge from Mother Theresa: "The good you do today, will be often forgotten; do good anyway. Give the best you have, and it may never be enough; give your best anyway."

If you're still reading, I thank you for your time. My email address is valid if you wish to engage in respect dialogue over something I've written. Be well, and take gentle care, all of you.

sarah

nooooooo! yes, i know it happens (live in th dc area as well), but i guess i just assumed the fakers simply materialized on their corner, "homeless vet" sign in hand. It never occurred to me to wonder where they came from, how they got there, and how they got home...

what a twilight zone experience.

but i'm so glad you were not entirely disillusioned. It's near impossible for me to hold on to loose change or resaurant left-overs in the city

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