Simple kindesses

Sometimes I find gentleness in unexpected places – like in this comment from Duane in a thread about the poor and homeless . It’s on his own blog, The Erstwhile Conservative, and is in response to a persistent ‘blame the victim’ series of comments. Here’s the thread and here’s Duane:

I hate to interrupt your discussion, but I must comment on at least one of the issues raised: putting money “in the hands of those with the placards asking for such.”

I almost never pass such people by without putting some money in their hands. Oh, I realize that some, or even most of the money, may go to booze or drugs or whatever. But I tell myself: So what? So what if a person in that situation uses the money to escape for a while from the plight he or she confronts? Recently I gave money to a woman who I knew—because I had met her before in a different part of Joplin—who was telling me a lie when she told me her “hard luck” story. She told me a complete lie when she was asking me for money. I knew it and told her just to ask me for money without the story. It was okay to just ask. Later the same day I saw her and her male companion, whom she had previously told me was too sick to go to work, in Wal-Mart. I said something to her to remind her that she didn’t have to lie.

But I still ask myself, What kind of life are these two living? Isn’t it worth a few bucks to keep them from otherwise starving to death? If you could have seen both of them you could easily see that there isn’t an employer in Joplin who would hire them. There is exactly no chance that either one of them could get a job. So what if they conspire to get a few bucks from a few strangers who have it to spare? What harm is done? These folks have figured out a way to keep their heads above water. And no matter if we think they “deserve” their fate, what a fate it is. And, in my opinion, it diminishes all of us, if we allow such people to simply starve and die, no matter why they are in the state they are in.

And if you want to look at it from a purely practical point of view, if they weren’t scheming to get a few bucks on Range Line road, they might be up at Snob Hill breaking into the house of a certain Joplin blogger.

13 responses to “Simple kindesses

  1. Pingback: Simple kindesses….Whatever Works… - Politicaldog101.Com

  2. I do not have a lot of practical experience with this, but I know a local private mission -shelter . They deal with homeless people daily and they most definitely say that you do the homeless no favor by handing them money .

    There are all kinds of private charities to contribute to, who will get these individuals into programs that get them off of the streets .

    As they say in Jellystone Park, ” Do not feed the bears “. No matter how hungry they look .


    • I’m not surprised Alan to find little mercy in your comment.


    • shortbuswonderkid

      Have you ever been to a homeless shelter? They are really nice, usually four to eight bunkbeds per 10′ x 20′ room. It isn’t quite as nice as Costa Rica, but most rich people wouldn’t know the difference.

      What is it like to be truly hungry or so destitute that you needed to get high everyday just to exist?

      I’m not a rich republican, I really don’t have an endless supply of money to share. But, having volunteered my time to helping drug addicts recover, I know that until life sucks hard enough, an addict won’t get clean. I’ve seen the insides of half-way homes and men’s shelters and they are always in the poorer areas of town. They are hard to get in, especially on cold nights. I’m not a saint, I just know what suffering really is. How about you? I’ve bought food for hungry strangers and I will do it whenever someone asks, how about you? Yes, it probably is their fault they got where they are, and no, I’m no saint, but no human deserves to be hungry or be treated like an unwanted dog.


  3. Alan,

    I don’t have the slightest idea what your politics are. But I find your comments, unfortunately, very similar to those I hear from many conservatives I know.

    Let me make this a little personal. Someone in my extended family, who grew up in relative affluence, is now in her late 30s and a complete failure as a member of productive society. She is an alcoholic, as well as an abuser of other drugs. She has served time in the county jail. I could go on.

    It may be that you, Alan, are right that when her father gives her handouts and furnishes her a place to live, that he isn’t doing her any favors. That he is merely feeding a wild “bear,” who will return for more handouts and grow dependent on them. Except that her father has financed countless trips to detox and other programs, as you suggested. But here is the simple truth about her: Although none of us ever wants to yield to despair, she isn’t likely to ever break her dependency. It has an unfathomable grip on her that just isn’t that easy to overcome. It’s sounds simple for people like you and me to say to her: Just stop drinking. Just stop doing drugs. Can’t you see what it is doing to you?

    The problem is that there are some folks who can’t—can’t, Alan—respond the way you and I want them to. Sure, it’s frustrating to see her waste away her life in drunken stupors and sometimes violent outbursts. It’s frustrating for those of us who knew her as the cutest little girl you’ve ever seen. And because we knew her as that little girl, it’s just not that easy to listen to people like you cavalierly dismiss her as some kind of park animal looking for a free meal.

    And don’t you think that if she could she would straighten herself out? She has had plenty of chances to do so. Plenty of people, including professionals, have tried to help her over the last twenty years or so. Do you think that she has made some kind of rational decision to live the way she lives? The comment you made about charities and not giving the homeless money implies that these charities will offer assistance only under certain conditions. Otherwise, how would their assistance be any different from handing them a couple of bucks? But what then happens when the conditions aren’t met?

    As I said, you may be right that her father is not doing her any favors. But consider the alternative. What would happen to her absent any entity to care for her, ultimately without conditions? I’ll tell you. She would die, Alan. She would surely die. Young and alone and miserable and likely in pain. You and I have to ask ourselves: Do we want to live in the kind of society that would allow people like her to die like that?

    In her case, she has a father with means to provide the basics, and only the basics, of life. But what about those who don’t have a father like that? Who provides for them? Isn’t it worth a little bit more in taxes to provide them, even in their self-destructive behavior, a way to survive, however tragic that survival might be? Would it make you or me feel better if such people are cut off—if they are forced to face the ultimate consequences of their uncontrollable behavior—and left to die in the streets?

    I can only speak for myself. It would not make me feel better. I don’t want to live in that kind of world.

    And I would hope that in your better moments, you wouldn’t’ either.

    Duane Graham


  4. Ms. Holland ,

    I am sorry to hear you say that . I believe that people who actually deal with the homeless are the most qualified to tell us what the best course of action is . I have heard it over and over again that you are doing no one a favor handing them money . Getting them into a shelter where professionals give them counseling, food, and a safe roof over their head is far more compassionate and effective than anything else you can do . Or I have been lied to for decades .

    Duane ,

    You are not the only person on this board who has close relatives with that kind of problem . I wish you the best .


    • [Getting them into a shelter where professionals give them counseling, food, and a safe roof over their head is far more compassionate and effective than anything else you can do .] Great Alan – but what about the next day?

      Our point – that you seem not to quite understand – is that these people are legion, they are very different with different problems, some of them intractable. And for many, solutions aren’t easily defined. As the verse says “the poor will always be with us” – and also the homeless, the mentally damanged, those unable to cope. We will always have them with us in life’s journey and they are OUR charge. All of us.

      Some of them will never be restored to society and still we must find ways to care for them. I’ve left behind a lot of what defined the Christianity of my youth, but I could never leave behind the teachings about compassion.

      Sounds preachy and I apologize for that. But it’s how I feel.


  5. Are there no prisons?
    And the union workhouses – are they still in operation?


  6. The homeless in America consist of more than just addicts, the mentally ill, and the plain lazy — they also include victims of job loss, foreclosure, and domestic violence. Worst off are the children. Something to keep in mind.


  7. The test of progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those that have little.

    Those people we pass every day on our street corners, barely making eye contact with, are this nations conscience. Every American should insist that there is a floor in which we will not let our fellow human beings fall through.


    • Hi Jay Ell, welcome. You are so correct. This Bibical quote – from Matthew I think – should be the final word for those who claim Christianity:

      “Whatever you do unto the least of these, you do unto me.”


  8. Ms. Holland ,

    What about the next day ? Shelters in your neck of the woods have just got to different than what I am familiar with . I am familiar with shelters that have long term programs and requirements .

    I will say it a third time . I have been told, do not give these people money . You are not helping them . Take that money and give it to a charity that works with the homeless . They will get the kids fed and under a roof . They will do a better job keeping that mentally ill guy or woman on their meds than your handing the homeless person money .

    desertscope ,

    ” Are there no prisons?
    And the union workhouses – are they still in operation? ”

    I absolutely love the Obscure reference . Since you made it, lets see how much you really know ? What was Scrooge replying to with this answer ?

    He was being asked to contribute to a private charity to buy food for the poor over the Christmas holiday . He was not asked to hand out money directly to the poor . Exactly my point .


    • [I have been told, do not give these people money] I have been told that too – I choose to do otherwise. One can give to a private charity (most of us do) AND reach out to a wounded human in the street. It’s not either/or.


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