The other day I posted a status update on Facebook – something I’m known for doing quite frequently – not really expecting a response or caring if anyone commented on it. The status was regarding an encounter I’d just had with a homeless person outside my favorite 7-11 in Santa Monica. The incident wasn’t uncomfortable or frightening like you might reasonably assume. The homeless mas was actually quite friendly; our meeting just left me disappointed.
I was on my way to work and had just walked out of 7-11, juggling my coffee, lunch box, gym bag and a bike.”You’ve got your hands full,” the homeless man said. I laughed at the thought of what a spectacle I probably was and then noticed he was overloaded with belongings, too (as most homeless people are).
“So do you,” I said back. He smiled and then asked if I could spare some change so he and his dog could get something to eat. Typical – though I guess I don’t blame him for trying. I told him no and kept walking, slightly picking up my pace. That may have been a little white lie, but I felt justified because I donate a fair share of change to various bums throughout the city every couple weeks or so.
After taking a few steps, though, I remembered I had an extra banana and wouldn’t mind “sparing” it, so I turned back and offered it to him. He hesitated before politely declining. “My dog doesn’t eat bananas,” was his reasoning. I’m guessing he knew what I was thinking, because then he added: “I don’t eat before my dog does.” Oh, well then in that case I believe you and think very highly of your devotion to your dog. (Stated with intense sarcasm if you didn’t catch that).
No, obviously I didn’t say that to him.
Up until that point I had been pleasantly surprised by his friendliness and how his presence didn’t make me feel uncomfortable. Not that his comment made me feel uncomfortable, but for a brief moment I had dismissed my stereotypical view of bums as beggars who just spend away donations on booze and drugs. But after he declined free food (even though he was begging for money to buy “food”), the view quickly returned. No, this one scenario doesn’t necessarily speak for all homeless people. But at this point, I prefer the drunk with the cardboard sign that says “Need money for beer” over this friendly, dog-loving liar. I still wouldn’t have given him money if he told me he needed it for booze, but I would have at least appreciated his honesty.
Back to Facebook. Once in the office, with my hands free and mind buzzing about what had just happened, I posted a status update about the incident. Again, it was just intended as a random tidbit about my daily operations, nothing more. But in the next few hours, a handful of friends commented on it.
My favorite is Emily’s comment: “When did beggars become choosers?” That couldn’t be closer to the truth, and I wonder if that’s where the saying came from. Since when did homeless people have it so good that they could be selective in their offerings? If they don’t have anything but the shoes on their feet and the bags on their backs (or a grocery cart if that’s their thing), then why would they turn down a free banana?! Sure, they’d prefer booze and drugs, or the money to buy those things, but you’d think they’d take whatever they can get. Sadly, I’m going to assume that my particular bum wasn’t putting his banana-hating bull dog before himself. Instead, I’m pretty confident it’s because he wanted my spare change to buy booze that he actually would not be sharing with his dog.
Once I posted my incident on Facebook, I quickly found out that many others are equally as bothered – and even outraged – by this. Numerous discussions followed, with many of my friends sharing similar experiences. One friend said she’d offered a bum food just to have him reject it and outright say he wanted money instead. Another offered his post-dinner-party leftover wine, which the bum gladly excepted without a second of hesitation.
I don’t really know what I expected from the homeless man in my incident, but, like I said before, it gave me a glimmer of hope that maybe all was not lost in the world of street people. Although I don’t know the circumstances that caused each homeless person to become just that – homeless – I’d like to think they’d actively try to better their situation given the opportunity. But that’s naive, optimistic Lindsay talking. Because sadly, it doesn’t appear to be the case. Unfortunate for genuine bums out there, I’ll be very unlikely to donate to future beggars I encounter – whether they’re asking for money or “food”.