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at the intersection

At more and more intersections, especially ones with multiple lanes of traffic, there are people holding up signs saying they're homeless and hungry and asking if you can spare anything. When traffic is moving, cars are speeding by. When traffic is stopped, though, I guess some people must give, otherwise no one would bother asking.

I feel even more conflicted about this form of panhandling than I do about other forms because it seems dangerous, mainly for the person begging, but potentially for others too.

I've never seen anyone give anything to anyone, until yesterday. The light was red. We were in the left lane, right next to the panhandler, but were resolutely ignoring her. (Usually it's a older man there, but yesterday it was a young woman, all bundled up.) Then the car next to us in the right lane honked. The white-haired woman in that car rolled down her window and called to the panhandler, holding out a ziplock bag containing two water bottle and a sleeve of crackers. The panhandler crossed in front of our car to get to the woman with the bag, smiled and thanked her, and walked back to the island between the opposing lanes of traffic, all before the light turned.

That moment of exchange seemed just . . . good. Both women seemed happy. Putting everything else aside--and I know we can't really do that, but--if you ask, it must be consoling, heartening, warming, any number of other good things, to have someone respond. And the older woman didn't just happen to have that stuff in her car; she must have prepared the bag in advance. It must have been wonderful to help someone, even if just in a small way.


( 34 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 28th, 2016 08:34 am (UTC)
I grew up with the message that helping panhandlers keeps them on the street. However, I've learned that the forces that put people on the street are much more complex, and sharing a bit with them, when possible, not only doesn't contribute to their misery, but can help to make a difficult day in a difficult life just a tiny bit less miserable. I've learned not to worry about the choices they might make with what I give them.

I can't always provide anything. Unlike the woman with her water bottles and crackers, I'm rarely prepared. Sometimes, I may have some food with me, or some cash. Most of the time, I don't. Sometimes, I can cope with the discomfort of looking someone in the eyes, even when I can't help at that moment, and sometimes I can't. Still, making eye contact, even for a moment, can be a way of acknowledging to someone that they are real, and there's little danger to me in my car.

So, I help when I can, even if that isn't often enough. I try to see people when I can, and let them see me seeing them, when I can. But, it's very much a day to day thing. So, I try not to beat myself up about it, even when I'm not as generous as I wish to be.
Nov. 28th, 2016 11:37 am (UTC)
Thank you for sharing this. I think I've just about arrived at your insights in the first paragraph, and what you say about what you do, now, helps too. I don't think I'll always feel prepared, or able to do anything, but I hope I'll **sometimes** do something. I think that's what I want to reach for, and hearing what you do gives me something to aim for and also a way to not be harsh with myself.
(no subject) - thewronghands - Nov. 29th, 2016 08:27 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - asakiyume - Nov. 30th, 2016 10:14 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 28th, 2016 12:08 pm (UTC)
It got so dangerous here that they had to crack down some years back.
Nov. 28th, 2016 12:32 pm (UTC)
I was curious, as I was contemplating writing this, and did a couple of internet searches, and found out that various cities have passed ordinances for that reason, though those ordinances have also been challenged in places.
(no subject) - cmcmck - Nov. 28th, 2016 01:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 28th, 2016 12:39 pm (UTC)
I give rarely, but sometimes. And sometimes I smile and wave, which seems appreciated. Mostly, I don't do anything. There are so many.
Nov. 28th, 2016 02:35 pm (UTC)
Yes, to everything you say. Mostly I don't either, but I do try to acknowledge people... though I wasn't even doing that, yesterday ....
Nov. 28th, 2016 12:51 pm (UTC)
Seems like a bad place to be homeless. But I guess that's what people want.
Nov. 28th, 2016 02:34 pm (UTC)
I always thought it seemed like a not-very-productive place to ask for money, but I must be wrong, because more and more people are doing it.
Nov. 28th, 2016 01:36 pm (UTC)
Mostly I direct my giving to homeless shelters and other programs where it will do the most hypothetical good.

There was an older guy who looked just like a cousin of mine who is dying of Agent Orange exposure. I gave him a $20 and we both cried and he called me missy. My cousin used to call me missy sometimes when I was tiny. The guy's hands were shaking. Could have been dts or cold or some other neurological problem, not Agent Orange exposure, but it didn't matter to me what it was.
Nov. 28th, 2016 02:34 pm (UTC)
Giving to homeless shelters is an excellent thing, and I think it does do good, actual good.

... I think, now--these thoughts are always evolving and subject to change! maybe even during the course of this conversation!--that giving in person does actual good too, like your story shows. I feel like the older guy, and your cousin, and you, and me (because I participate by reading) are all saved a little by your giving. "Saved" in what sense, I don't know. I don't mean going-to-heaven saved. I think I mean, it's food for our hearts. We need those moments. That guy's hands, the fact that he called you Missy, the fct that you did the thing.

Thanks for sharing.
Nov. 28th, 2016 02:22 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I know people who won't give them money, but will give them other stuff they have on them. I've been told by two city people that the real homeless light up with gratitude and the scam artists cuss you out. Which, of course, propagates outward to make it harder for the ones in real need. I've only given money once, and passed on quickly to lose myself in the crowd--I wasn't sure if I'd been scammed--but I did it.
Nov. 28th, 2016 02:30 pm (UTC)
I've given money now and then and have felt really... sad and complicated afterward, and I wonder if it's because the act of giving shows up how rotten the situation is--whatever it is (i.e., whether it's a scam, or bad fortune, or--whatever)
(no subject) - sartorias - Nov. 28th, 2016 02:37 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - pameladean - Nov. 28th, 2016 06:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - asakiyume - Nov. 28th, 2016 09:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - pameladean - Nov. 28th, 2016 10:32 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 28th, 2016 03:03 pm (UTC)
One of my favorite maxims about such situations - good deeds are for the sake of the giver as much as the recipient. We can't control whether or not someone's truly in need, or whether they use our gift for "good" purposes; however, we can give, and feel better about ourselves for having contributed in some small way to alleviating suffering.

I'm also torn on intersection panhandling. It is dangerous, but at the same time, car culture is so prevalent in America that there are areas where there's not really any other option - they don't have the pedestrian density to make sidewalk efforts worthwhile. From a sociological standpoint, though, I'm curious if it's as effective as asking for change in person. One of the aspects of car culture I dislike strongly is how effectively it insulates us from each other; having that glass and metal between us and the person asking (as well as a limited amount of time to dig in one's purse before the light changes) seems to me like it would reduce the number of respondents. Although, given the throughput at any given intersection, maybe the sheer numbers balance out the reduced response rate.

I do try to give when I can. I'm lucky enough to be in a position where I have far more resources than I need, and while I do donate to organizations, it hurts me very little to drop a couple of singles in someone's cup. Recently I've been giving out those gift bags my friends and I put together; my favorite reaction so far has been one gentleman who was happy to see the new wool socks in them...and then ecstatic when he turned the bag over and saw the packet of Chips Ahoy. It was a little humbling to realize how bare of small luxuries his life must be.
Nov. 28th, 2016 09:32 pm (UTC)
I love that you did that. And yeah, it's definitely a two-way experience. Both parties are giving and receiving.
Nov. 28th, 2016 03:04 pm (UTC)
I've given money when I have it to those guys, a buck or two, sometimes five. The way I figure it, no one does that unless they could use the money. There has always been an exchange of smiles and thank yous and please try to get to a shelter if you cans. Never any cussing or sour looks that it wasn't enough or attempts to wash my windshield. I was heartbroken last week when I saw a young man looking a little rough sitting by an intersection with a sign. It said, "Just hungry."
Nov. 28th, 2016 10:14 pm (UTC)
I'm really touched to hear it. I'm glad you do.
(no subject) - roseneko - Nov. 29th, 2016 05:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - asakiyume - Nov. 30th, 2016 10:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 28th, 2016 09:11 pm (UTC)
That's a smart woman. I'm a little afraid of aggressive stoplight panhandlers myself and how they would react if it weren't money they got. I once asked a wonderful woman who works with homeless people if she ever gives money. She doesn't, but she does offer help of other kinds, and always speaks nicely to people. Mother Teresa said to smile. I do that but not at stoplights.
Nov. 28th, 2016 10:17 pm (UTC)
I understand being afraid. Recently, though, every time I've interacted with someone who's on the street, asking for money, it's been a positive experience. But much of the time, I don't interact. I want to get so that I at least smile more. The stories people are sharing here are really inspiring.
(no subject) - amaebi - Nov. 29th, 2016 03:06 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - asakiyume - Nov. 29th, 2016 12:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 29th, 2016 03:36 am (UTC)
I don't give money to folks at intersections, but I will give them packaged snacks, if I have any in the car and the stoplight timing works out. I walk to get lunch most weekdays, so if I am heading back to work with something to eat and someone asks for money, I will offer them part of my lunch, instead. If they accept it, which they usually do, I go back and buy that part of my lunch again.

I'm glad you posted about this, as it reminded me to follow up on something I've been meaning to do: fill a grocery bag full of snack bars to keep in the car to hand out.
Nov. 30th, 2016 10:10 pm (UTC)
I'm touched and happy to hear that so many people I'm friends with do do this. I'm going to make a point of doing it too.
(no subject) - ericmarin - Nov. 30th, 2016 10:32 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 30th, 2016 06:19 pm (UTC)
I try to keep granola bars on hand to give to people...
Nov. 30th, 2016 10:11 pm (UTC)
Those are a handy, nonspoiling, easy-to-carry thing. Good idea.
( 34 comments — Leave a comment )

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