Compassion with Panhandlers

Compassion-quotesThere are a lot of homeless folks in the area I’m moving to soon.

A lot.

I’ve been down in St. Pete a lot lately checking out my soon-to-be new stomping grounds and enjoying the area.

Historically I’ve been to St. Pete at all hours of the day and night for different activities. I’ve never felt truly unsafe. Not really.

There was one time when my mom was visiting that an apparently homeless man was ranting in the streets. We gave him wide berth, and he didn’t bother us but it was unnerving.

Yesterday I had a bit of an experience. I grabbed lunch at Del Mar Gastro Lounge on Central to celebrate signing my lease.

Seafood bisque and shrimp crostini. Yum!

While enjoying my lunch a man approached me asking for money. I told him honestly that I didn’t have any cash on me. He then asked me to buy him a sandwich or something. I politely declined.

I wasn’t rude to him, but I still left the incident feeling guilty. There was enjoying this rather luxurious lunch and a man who is very likely hungry and asking for basic food. 

When I got home I got to Googling how I might handle this sort of thing in the future. I found an article by Sara Whitestone (article here). I like how she puts the human factor first. Regardless of appearance, homeless folks and panhandlers are people. Human beings. That is one thing I’m worried about forgetting when I’m around homeless folks a lot. I never want to forget they are human and are just asking for help in a broken society.

I also like that she tells you to give if you feel comfortable doing so. So many other sites were telling me the people would use the money for drugs or alcohol. The data she provides suggests otherwise. Too, what if I loaned money to a friend? I have no real way of guaranteeing what they’ll use the money for. I would trust them to use it in a manner that would best suit their needs. I’ll never know one way or the other. I guess I’d prefer to thinking positively on that front.

Another thing I like about this article is that she does say it’s Ok to say no to them. That is one of my hang ups. I know I have so many blessings in my life. Yet, I can’t feed all of the homeless folks in St. Pete. Even a dollar a day would start to add up. I have to set boundaries for myself and feel Ok about them. But I can do it in a way that values the human across from me.

I’m also thinking about getting involved with a homeless organization when I get down there. I’ve already interacted with some folks from Homeless Helping Homeless on the streets of St. Pete so I might look into volunteering for that organization. Otherwise I have a friend who volunteers for a shelter, so maybe I’ll join up with her.

As I write this, I remember my first experience with homeless folks. My family took a vacation to Washington, D.C. over the July 4 holiday. This was perhaps 1993? I saw a man sitting on the street with a sign. I was overcome with emotion. I gathered all of the change I had in my pockets, and it was a lot of metal, and I put it into his cup. I was practically crying as I hurried to catch up with my family. 

Growing up in northwest Ohio didn’t prepare me for that.

There were other homeless folks all around in D.C., and overall I felt like I had to do something. So I gathered up that bit of change. I never even looked the man in the eye. Not because I didn’t consider him to be human. Quite the opposite, in fact. I saw too much humanity in his situation. It resonated with me to the core. And I hurried away because I didn’t want him to see my tears. I didn’t want them to misconstrued as pity.

I haven’t even moved there yet and St. Pete is already giving me some big questions to think about. It’ll be interesting seeing how I face these challenges. I hope I can face them with dignity and compassion.

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