“Why is he standing by the road? What does the sign say?” one of our 5 year old asks sweetly from the back while we’re at the stoplight.  “Homeless and hungry. ANYTHING HELPS,” the sign reads.  I wait a beat and weigh my words.

“It says he doesn’t have a house,” I say.

The peanut gallery, our 3 year old and his 5 year old twin brothers in the back, begins to debate.  He has a camper.  He has an RV. He must have a condo. Or an apartment.

“Why did you say that?” my husband hisses through his teeth.

“What was I supposed to say?”

“Nothing.  Just leave it and they’ll move on.”

“Yes, he must have a camper instead.  He lives in a camper, but he doesn’t have a house,” one of the 5 year old concludes and luckily the light changes.  We turn.

Another day I saw a young woman with a toddler by the road holding a similar sign.  I was driving to pick up the kids from preschool and I was grateful that I was alone in the car.  I didn’t make eye contact with her and drove on.   What should I have done? Pulled over and taken the woman and her kid in? Given her money?

Or simply driven on and assuaged my guilt thinking that surely there are some social services available to her and her child, there must be, right?

And what do I want to teach my children? Be kind to others… except those most desperate among us, the ones who are on the side of the road begging for help?  For them, just develop a rationalization as to why their misfortune must be their own fault,  why it could never happen to you?  Just learn to ignore them, like the rest of us?  What do you say to your children?

4 Responses to “ANYTHING HELPS”
  1. Michael Kalm says:

    Whose portrait is that? Marie Antoinette? Let them eat cake? A little bit of gallows humor, Denitza?
    But seriously, we as a society refuse to see these people. We don’t know what to do. We don’t know why they are out there. Is it mental illness? Is it drugs? Is it lack of education? Is it the growing income gap? And if it is, what do we do? Close the income gap? As the Tea Partiers cry, “Socialism! Treason! Impeachment!” Force people into treatment? About 40 (or was it 50) years ago, Pete Hamill, writing in the then liberal New York Post, wrote an op-ed piece declaring homelessness a public health problem that required quarantine. He recommended using closed military bases as rehabilitation centers that would take in the homeless, treat their physical ills, their mental ills, their drug problems, teach them employable skills and teach them a core value system that was not religion based, but summed up the great philosophers from Plato and Aristotle to Marcus Aurelius and others. This would all be funded by downsizing the military. The only problem is it would require a dictatorship like China’s. Such a program is inconsistent with democracy.
    Then there are probably a few people out there who in fact are there because they want to be. There are the classic stories about schnorrers. In case you don’t know –
    The Schnorrer is, to put it meagerly, a beggar. But he is a beggar plus tradition, a beggar with a combination of dignity and effrontery, a beggar with joy in his calling and pride in his craft. He accepts gratuities not as a dole, but as his right.
    Many of the stories about schnorrers involve encounters with Baron Rothschild. The Baron was not only a fabulously wealthy man, but was known as a kindly man, who was loath to judge his fellow creatures, knowing that not all were equally blessed with the gifts of talents, strength, will and intelligence. One story, at least a hundred years old which illustrates the nature of the Schnorrer: one of these encounters with the Baron, where the schnorrer’s story was so grating, so whimpering, so sniveling, it was like a 1000 pieces of chalk on a blackboard to the Baron’s ears. Uncharacteristically, the Baron felt compelled to say something.
    “Look, my friend” said the great philanthropist, “Every week you come here and you receive your weekly gift, It is the same gift every week. It will continue to be the same gift every week. It does not matter what you tell me or how you tell it to me. Try to comport yourself with a little dignity, a little less whining, a little less cringing, a little less sniveling. You might be surprised. You might actually feel the better for it.
    At this point, the schnorrer drew himself up with infinite dignity and said, “Baron, I don’t tell you how to be a billionaire. Don’t tell me how to be a schnorrer! ”
    But then, how many people who look right through the homeless assuage their guilt by deciding that they’re ALL schnorrers?

  2. shonnako says:

    My son is 8. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always passed him change to give to Buskers when we see them on the street. Now, he glances up at me expectantly when we are approaching one. It’s just a tiny, small gesture but it’s one that I’m happy we do and that it’s one that takes up a little real estate in his beautiful, sensitive mind.

  3. Katherine Johnston says:

    Oh my goodness! This has been a huge issue for us. Our move to an urban area and our daily drives cover multiple areas frequented by homeless people with signs. I loved that Joshua was in the car when we saw a man with a sign saying, “please smile!” I Have debated giving something anytime Joshua is in the car, with the plan to explain more in the future….I anguish about this often. Kt

  4. Alecia says:

    I always give if I have any change in my car. Even if it’s not much, I want my kids to see that helping people is good, not to turn a blind eye to someone in need. That’s the same kind of behavior that leads to someone being beaten or robbed in public while others just stand around watching because they “don’t want to get involved.” We’ve discussed safety issues about strangers, but I don’t see harm in helping someone. Do you know how they got where they are? Do those few cents mean more to you right now than they might mean to that person slowly trying to save up just to buy a hot meal?

    Yes, there are people who abuse the situation and take advantage of others, but I’m willing to risk the change that just sits in my car all week for the small, slight chance that I helped someone else and actually made a difference. I don’t see any reason why you wouldn’t explain the sign and the situation to your boys. Sometimes bad things happen to people and they need a little extra help. We all like to walk around thinking that we are so far removed from that, but the truth is that a small series of consequences could actually lead to us standing by the side of the road doing the same.

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