As I was driving to my office today I saw a rather disheveled man standing on the street corner with a sign that read, “Disabled Veteran. Anything Helps.”
For those who don’t encounter the homeless on a regular basis, it might seem like a no-brainer to reach into your pocket and give this man something – anything – just to help him out.
For those of us who’ve lived in large cities and who’ve encountered pan-handlers on a daily basis, however, I’m sorry to say that it is easy to become somewhat jaded and distrustful. I’m not proud to admit that while living in downtown Seattle I became very skeptical of those asking me for handouts. Is this person really a Vet? Are they really going to use this money for food or shelter, or are they going to buy drugs or alcohol? Are they really trying to get off the streets and support themselves, or are they “career homeless”, living off the generosity of others? I work for my money; why should I just hand it over to someone who doesn’t?
What I would say to that now is, check in with your gut. What is your first instinct? I’m not talking about what your head says when you start asking yourself all of the questions I just listed above. I’m talking about what your gut says in that split second after you saw the person in need. If you’re like me it’s, “What do I have on me that I can give?”
Unfortunately, the head and the ego jump in pretty quickly and say, “I’ve only got 10’s and 20’s. I’m certainly not giving away $10. If I had a $1 bill, or some change, maybe; but I’m not giving this guy $10.” These are thoughts based in fear. Fear that I don’t have enough to give some of it away. Fear that I’ll encourage more pan-handling. Fear that this person isn’t being honest with me, and that I’m going to be made the fool for giving to them. And once I’ve processed all of those fears, I’m twelve paces past the person, and I’d have to turn around to go give them something; which I’m not likely to do. So I just keep on walking and try to forget that I just ignored this person, as though they weren’t worthy of even being acknowledged.
Love would give this person whatever I had on me. Love would look them in the eye and acknowledge their humanity. Love would have faith that what comes around goes around, and whatever I give to this person will come back to me tenfold. Love would see itself in that person’s eyes, and recognize that the vast majority of us are only a few paychecks away from being destitute ourselves. And that if we didn’t have friends and families to support us if and when that happened, we might be right where that person is. Love would give.
But if you want to stay in your fear place for a little while, consider these “what ifs”: What if this person really is a Vet? What if they served to defend your freedom, and now they find themselves living on the street? What if they’re suffering from Post Traumatic Stress or Traumatic Brain Injury – wounds that you can’t see – they can’t get a job, and aren’t getting the support they need? What if their PTS has left them feeling disconnected from society, and being ignored for pan-handling is just driving them further into a black hole of depression that leads to alcoholism, drug abuse, and even suicide? How important is that $10 to you when compared to what this person might be going through?
For me, I’ll err on the side of being taken advantage of. I can afford it. Most of us can. If $10, a look in the eye, and a genuine wish for good luck might make the difference in this person’s life, I’ll take the risk that they’re not being honest with me, just in case they are. Either way, I’d rather come from Love than Fear. And it doesn’t have to be $10. It can be $5. Or $1. Or 50 cents, if that’s what you have. If you don’t have any cash at all, try just looking them in the eye and saying, “Hello, how are you doing today?” Many Veterans feel invisible. Homeless Veterans feel even more so. You might be surprised how meaningful it can be to be treated like a human being, even when no money is offered.
You can also pass along information for help. Homeless Vets can get help by visiting the National Coalition for Homeless Vets at http://www.nchv.org/ or calling their hotline at 800.VET.HELP. The call is free, and homeless Vets can get internet access at most public libraries.