“I don’t wash dishes”…REALLY???

another perspective

By Kenneth Justice

~Yesterday at coffee I was discussing one of my recent articles about homelessness with a friend of mine when a guy sitting next to us interjected, “can I tell the two of you about an encounter I had with a homeless guy recently?” and of course we said yes.

Here is what the man told us,

I’m the owner of a Greek restaurant down the street and every morning I sit and have breakfast in the corner of the main floor with my family and a few of our friends. A few mornings ago one of the servers came over to our table and said there was a guy asking to speak to the manager or owner and I told her to bring him over to my table. The guy was in his mid-twenties and dressed pretty rough; it looked like he’d been sleeping out on the streets or something

What can I do for you” I asked him

I’m homeless sir and I would like to have breakfast. I don’t have any money” he said. Well, I felt bad for the kid cause it’s been so cold out and I figured that he needed a lot more than just breakfast so I decided I wanted to help him out,

I’ll tell ya what young man. I’m gonna do one better for you. Not only will I give you breakfast this morning, but I’ve got a kitchen full of dishes and I want to hire you to be a dishwasher for me. So I will give you breakfast and I’ll pay you cash at the end of the day today and set you up for a regular weekly paycheck….how does that sound?”

I don’t wash dishes” he said.

Kenneth, I couldn’t believe it. Right there in front of my wife, my children, and a bunch of our friends this kid turned down a paying job. At first I didn’t know what to say, but the kid just kept staring at me, no explanation as to why he refused to wash dishes….he just stood there with this expressionless look on his face…..”

The restaurant owner told me that there was part of him that wanted to throw the young man out of the establishment right then and there, but he ended up telling his server to give him a plate of food and then instructed him to leave immediately after. Who knows what was really going on in the young man’s mind? Was he mentally ill? Did he believe he was ‘too good’ to wash dishes? What would stir a homeless guy to walking into a restaurant to beg for food….but then to turn down the opportunity to make money as well?

This past year I’ve written exhaustively about the homeless throughout the Western World and my belief that it is important for us to reach out and to help them….for too long homeless people have been treated as though they are somehow second-class citizens. But when I hear a story like the one that the restaurant owner told me; it is young men like that who are not really helping the cause of the homeless.

There are always two sides to every story, and in past articles on the subject of homelessness I’ve always tried to keep in mind that some people simply don’t want any help; some people have a desire to drop out of society and do their own thing. However, are you really dropping out of society and doing your own thing if you’re walking into restaurants and begging for money? Are you really ‘sticking it to the man’ if you stand out on a street corner with a sign begging for money?

For a period of time I worked at a homeless shelter and had the opportunity to give a bed and meal to just about any homeless person I came across. What always saddened me is that every time I would be walking down the street and have a homeless person ask me for money so they could ‘buy food’; they always turned me down when I told them I could drive them to the homeless shelter I worked at….not once in nearly 100 encounters did I ever have a homeless person take me up on my offer.

Is it somehow an offense to a homeless person’s dignity that I offered them a meal at the shelter instead of giving them money so they could supposedly buy their own food? The older I get the more I realize that some problems in this world are a little bit more complex; some things are not merely black and white. Its one thing for me to say that we need to do more to help the homeless; yet at the same time we have to be realistic and understand that some people simply don’t want kind of help we are offering.

Just a few thoughts as I sat here drinking my coffee this morning,

Kenneth

If you haven’t heard I’m currently on a tour of 100 coffee houses meeting with readers, fellow bloggers, and everyone else in between. Check out my home page for upcoming dates and locations. I’d love to have coffee with you!



Categories: People Without Faces

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106 replies

  1. It is a puzzle. Wife and I volunteer at our town’s free lunch kitchen. You are right that most people are more complex that they first appear. Plus, offering help and being rejected occurs in many other parts of life, not just food.

  2. I watched a documentary on the homeless in America. It consisted of different cities, as well as people of all ages, races, etc. The majority were addicts of all sorts and professed that they did NOT want off the streets. They even took a teenage girl back home to her upper middle class family and she immediately went back on the streets. It’s definitely a combination factor (bad home life, abuse, addiction, etc) that drives and keeps people homeless. It makes it very hard to distinguish the homeless who are down on their luck and really wanting help from those whom just take advantage of free handouts.

    • I have degrees in addiction counseling and I have worked with people off the streets who struggle with addiction so I can vouch for the truth of what your saying. That’s not to say that all homeless people are addicts though. The simple fact of the matter is that whether someone is homeless or not in the united states; a lot of people are addicts in general. U.S. culture seems to perpetuate a problem with over-indulgence when it comes to drinking alcohol and doing drugs……. and while this occurs in other countries also; there are a few countries in the world that have a more moderate approach to alcohol than us here in the States.

  3. Perhaps their pride is more powerful than their hunger!

  4. Unbelievable that he wouldn’t do the dishes – I am gobsmacked!

  5. You are right…some people don’t want to be helped.

    Some people take advantage of help.

    Some people hurt people who help them,

    But, every once in a while a person accepts that help and it is just enough inspiration to create a desire to live differently…and real change occurs.

    Though the last one is a minority among homeless, it is the one that makes helping worthwhile.

    I would have taken that job in a minute and been forever grateful for the kindness and caring I witnessed. I am sure that I would have become great friends with that owner and his family…but as I have always known…I’m not your average duck. 😉

    • “but, every once in a while a person accepts that help and it is just enough inspiration to create a desire to live differently”

      And those are probably the stories that need to be retold more often for sure.

  6. I would only have four words for the kid as I showed him the door . . . no work, no eat . . .

    • “no work, no eat”

      That is what the early settlers to the New World had to implement because too many of the aristocrat born settlers weren’t pulling their fair share in helping the community; after a couple days of no food they got the message and were helping out.

    • We deeiintfly need more smart people like you around.

  7. I think you’ve nailed the highs and lows of helping the homeless, or people in general. If they want encouragement and resources it can be very rewarding for both parties involved. Pride shows up in all forms.

    I think your buddy’s heart was in the right place. Maybe you could do a few dishes for him, Kenneth. Grab an apron, I’ll help, we’ll sing some show tunes. 😀

  8. What’s also sad is that the restaurant owner is now much less likely to extend his hand in help as well.

  9. It’s very difficult to help someone who doesn’t want to be helped. I sure hope that this experience hasn’t hardened this good man’s heart.

  10. People are diverse, just our nature, and being homeless doesn’t change that. The homeless can’t be any less expected to conform to a narrowly defined expectation of behavior/motivations than we would expect of a person that has a job/home/car/responsibilites/etc. Perhaps the reason so many people are shocked when the homeless don’t want our help (although they sure want our money) is because they truly believe that beggars can’t be choosers. I wonder if that story would have played out differently if the homeless man would have been in his mid-fifties instead of his mid-twenties. As I’ve said before there seems to be shift in the younger generation towards unrealistic expectations. I have no qualms about offering food, clothing or kind words to the homeless and I am all for employers taking a chance on them and programs that allow them to have free cell phones to help them get back on their feet. However, I draw the line at enabling them to simply wander about life drinking or drugging themselves to death with the expectation that I support their habit and irresponsible lifestyle. When you actually earn your income you can do what you want with it, when you expect others to take care of you than you have to be prepared to abide by their expectations. Life is hard, whether you have a job and bills or you have to scavenge for food and shelter on the streets. It’s just trading one set of stressers for another and the people that think they are entitled to money because they don’t want to have to work need to learn that lesson. Have you heard what the state of Utah did regarding their homeless population?

    • I just realize I must have deleted the sentence that used to be between my contradictory statements about the homeless being diverse and me still having my own expectations for them. Even though I understand that the homeless need to be viewed with many of the same standards we would view anyone with I just can’t help feeling like they need to take at least some accountability for their life.

    • “However, I draw the line at enabling them to simply wander about life drinking or drugging themselves to death with the expectation that I support their habit and irresponsible lifestyle.”

      I think what is difficult is that SO many people in the United States (and some other western countries as well) are alcoholics. Not even ‘just’ homeless people….. so its difficult to reach out and help people (whether they are homeless or not) when alcoholism has become such a lifestyle. Because if they don’t get their alcoholism under control; any help we offer tends to be like throwing a shot glass of water at a raging house fire. (I realize you were specifically point to drugs, but in most cases alcoholism and drugs seem to go hand-in-hand)

    • Is the proclivity towards becoming an addict/alcoholic systemic of the underlying despair our subconscious feels regarding the knowledge that we’re destroying our planet and society and we’ve let ourselves be controlled by heartless corporations that only care about profits to benefit less than 1% of the population?

    • I think the answer is cultural; because some cultures don’t have a problem with alcoholism at all… For instance, U.S. Culture is very unique in that we promote the idea of going to college as a right-of-passage where young adults binge drinks, do drugs, and all sorts of other reckless behavior. Other countries don’t encourage their young adults to go to college to do those things……. in other countries, it is a great privilege to be able to go to college and to waste one’s time there binge drinking and living life recklessly would bring great shame on the family…….

      So IMHO alcoholism, addiction, etc. have to be looked at through the lens of each individual culture.

  11. I to have worked at homeless shelters. I find that a large portion of these individuals have a strong freewill to want to do what they want to. It all stems back to childhood. These individuals were not taught to follow rules. I am college educated, but I have washed dishes and swept many floors in my life. No work is below me. Great articles. Keep up the writing!

    • “I am college educated, but I have washed dishes and swept many floors in my life”

      Right on. There’s a certain level of humility which you’ve conveyed in your comment that a lot of people simply don’t get; too many people out there think they are ‘above’ that kind of work.

  12. Wow.. Rather beg for food that work for it..mind is strange and powerful that makes homeless satisfied with their life..Sad.
    Porcupine will always live and be happier in the trees.. I guess.
    By the way I don’t like to do dishes either; break my nails…lol

  13. “I dont wash dishes”.
    There is alot of assumption in that one sentence.

    I am grateful that the owner showed love and served him a meal.

    You wrote yesterday about how Jesus helped the lowly. I would ask, is this not the same?
    Do we ever know when we may be serving “Jesus”?

  14. The key is they have to want help. I met a gentleman once who was homeless, and had no addition. He worked odd jobs to make enough money for food, but he wanted independence to do what he wanted to do. He felt like a house and a regular job would hold him back. He used his free time to read in the library all day.

    Homelessness is more complicated than additions and mental health. Thanks for continuing to share you thoughts on the subject.

  15. I grew up cleaning stalls, cleaning kennels, doing a lot of work that many considered to be disgusting or “beneath them.” In hindsight, that was some of the best training that I had. It also provided some good incentive to finish school. Besides, horses seldom complain when they see you in the morning, coming to feed and to clean. A hungry horse is always happy to see you, and there is much to be said for someone being happy to see you in the morning.

    I laugh when people tell me that they “don’t do” certain jobs. Really? Really really? Many of those so-called dirty jobs leave you with a cleaner soul than those clean, upper-crust jobs that involve morally ambiguous actions and decisions. Shit washes off, but it’s difficult, nigh impossible, to clean out your soul.

    So this may sound harsh, but if that man wanted me to feed him, then there are dishes to be washed. It’s as simple as that.

  16. I wonder if it was the prospect of a long-term commitment to a traditionally dead-end job that the guy didn’t like. Maybe he would have washed dishes for breakfast as a one-time deal. I’m not saying I agree, but it’s a possibility.

  17. This makes me wonder if our help is to come with “strings” attached: I’ll feed you IF you work. It seems logical and practical, but is it what we are to do? When Jesus said to offer a cup of cold water in his name, he didn’t put the condition that the receiver attend synagogue or do anything for it. And in doing it “to the least of these” doesn’t have anything attached either.

    Just musing….

    • Tina,

      Very good point. This subject really comes down to perspective; from the perspective of the one giving the help, or the perspective of the one begging for money…..

      We could say to one what you said, “Help others with no strings attached”

      And we could say to the other guy, “beggars can’t be choosers”

  18. Reblogged this on To Grammies House We Go and commented:
    My mother said it is hard to let our ego go. She said, our fear of being taken advantage of is very strong. Alison, my mother said, if you give, anywhere anytime anything, give without attachment to the outcome … or don’t give at all.

  19. Having worked with the homeless, I’m sure you know how many of them suffer from mental illness or are U.S. veterans. I remember hearing a story about a man who suffered from extreme paranoia. His condition was so bad that he assumed everyone was out to get him. It didn’t matter whether you were a potential employer or a homeless shelter social worker. And, of course, we can’t force him to get help if he won’t except it. So he remains homeless. When it comes to veterans, I wouldn’t be surprised if some have a sense of pride that may make them refuse help… or maybe, like the paranoid man, they suffer from PTSD to such an extent they can’t trust anyone.

    It’s always sad when I hear stories like these because I believe that most of the homeless are good, hardworking people who fell upon hard times. People like to characterize the homeless as lazy drug users and I just can’t believe that is true for most of them. I want to say that the man in this post unfortunately proves that stereotype to many, but that may not be true. For all we know, he could be suffering from some kind of mental illness himself.

    • I was the lead social worker in a homeless shelter in Anchorage back in the 80’s. Most of the homeless we served were people who were just down on their luck. We helped them with food, clothing, bus tokens, referrals to low-income housing, and even study to take the GED through the Adult Ed Program. We required our residents to be busy during the day – whether it was watching their kids, looking for work, looking for housing, etc.

      Everyone is different. There were people so traumatized – usually vets with PTSD – that we sometimes had to feed them outside. We had one feral woman who was severely mentally ill who grabbed everything with her hands and crammed food in her mouth. We fed the homeless who were not living there too – there was always enough. The reality is that some could barely come inside long enough to eat and some ate squatting in the back of the building.

      We chose to ask people for little beyond keeping themselves clean, keeping their area clean, and helping with sweeping up the and tidying the common areas. We asked nothing of those who could barely bear to enter the four walls of a building.

      If someone told me “I don’t do dishes.” I might have asked, “Okay, tell me what you do.” It is a dialogue. He might not have had a job for him, but maybe he’d have found out who they guy was besides being homeless.

      I tend not to give money to the homeless, but I have given a man a non-refundable train ticket to get home – and helped him get on the train. He cried and said he’d pray for me. I told him to pay it forward.

    • TK, Much of what you say is right on target; when I worked at the homeless shelter I saw a lot of people who just needed a simple helping hand and they were ready to move on with their life….

      Alcoholism was a big problem as well; and one of the main things that a lot of the people were up against is that because of their alcoholism they had taken advantage of their families so many times that many of their relatives and friends were no longer wiling to help them get turned around.

  20. I cannot understand this story at all. Who would turn down an offer for a meal and a job? It drives me crazy that I cannot ask the man why he turned this down.

  21. We’ve had the same experiences with homeless folk. They’ll ask for money to buy food, then we offer to buy the food for them (instead of giving them money) and they turn us down. That tells me that they most likely weren’t planning on using the money for food in the first place.

    Speaking of working, I was impressed by a homeless man the other day, who offered to clean our car headlights in exchange for cash. He was willing to work for his money. That was very commendable in my opinion. He wasn’t merely looking for a handout. He was working for it.

  22. Hmmmm. Yup, I have a little difficulty with this. It’s like you said, there are two sides to every coin. I often find it difficult to accept homelessness in he west and people just not wanting help to get off the streets. I’m sure there are people that have psychological problems, and others that are ‘hopeless’ addicts, slaves to their addiction. However, there is also the whole selfishness issue. Lack of responsibility issue. And many other factors that come into play. I watched a documentary once where some youth that were living on the streets were actually making more money than others that were holding down full time jobs. Having been in third world nations and living in a place where true poverty is very real, I find it hard to accept someone turning down help. Like being offered a job, or a bed to sleep in, or being taken to a soup kitchen or food drive (like you offered). If people are wanting money to feed their addictions, or for some other reason, and they’re asking hard working people for it, could that be all right then to give them that money? Hmmmmmm. Addiction really is a sad thing. I’m not a stranger to the topic. I used to be drug dependent before I became a Jesus follower. And my mind-set and world-view has made 360º turn. I don’t know Kenneth. I don’t want to judge, but when 2 little kids and a teenage girl with dirty faces and scuzzy clothes show up at my door after lunch asking for food. I give them something. And when I’m walking down the streets of India and tons of shoe-less kids with ratty hair and clothes falling off of them are all around me, it makes me think.
    =)
    Staci

    • “I’m sure there are people that have psychological problems, and others that are ‘hopeless’ addicts, slaves to their addiction. However, there is also the whole selfishness issue. Lack of responsibility issue. And many other factors that come into play”

      Yea, the issue becomes SO complex because there are a zillion different factors and each person ultimately has to be treated and helped on a case-by-case basis..

      “And when I’m walking down the streets of India and tons of shoe-less kids with ratty hair and clothes falling off of them are all around me, it makes me think.”

      I know you’re making a good point here but I can’t get past my jealousy factor since its my dream to visit India one day!!!

    • Lol. One day you’ll get there. If and when you go, you must visit Jaipur in Rajasthan. There are a couple of cool cafes there.
      =)

    • Keeping my fingers crossed….i have a plan though 😉

  23. have come across this type of situation here as well. asked a woman begging if she was willing to wash windows for some cash and she refused. or people come begging at your house for food and you give them something simple like pb&j and when looking at them as they leave, they inspect the bread and if it’s not what they like they throw it away!

    but not everyone is like that, some people are immensely grateful and it shows. but im not fond of giving money either. i sometimes buy an extra bag of groceries and give it to someone begging. usually just bread and milk and a few canned goods.

  24. When I started reading the restaurant owner’s story, I thought sure it would end with “…and now that young man has turned himself around and is studying for a degree in [pick subject.” Guess I’m just an eternal optimist. What I fail to understand, however, is how begging for food is less humiliating than washing dishes to pay for that food. Maybe I’m just getting old.

  25. My favorite line from this post:

    “some things are not merely black and white.”

    🙂

    • Yup, some things are simply not black and white…. unless it comes to my opinion on anything to do with the art world; I’m always right and that’s definitely black or white 😉

  26. There are so many layers to this subject and my experiences have been so varied, and from both sides of the table. I am so intrigued by the many thoughtful comments here, many of which represent the different sides I see this issue from.
    rubypearlmt said “shit washes off” Well said; and I can tell you it’s true. I do know of many people that would not dream of cleaning shit of ANY kind [even figuratively] but would not mind if I paid their way at all, while I have cleaned plenty of shit myself. I find that shameful. I would be shamed to take from someone that works that hard when I refused to. I have also been pretty proud of the toilets I have cleaned so well they sparkled. I don’t do that work anymore, but really, I am constantly “cleaning shit” on some level. My job is not all money and glory. I don’t believe most work I have done was easier for me than for someone who didn’t want to do it. I am proud and a little vain. I have little patience with most who would like me to carry their load or who would take from me and mine and give nothing. Just please…get out of my face.
    There are other sides to this issue though….and I am glad I am not in charge of who deserves help and who does not…I honestly don’t do a lot actively to “help the homeless”, but more try to respond thoughtfully to situations that come before me that I feel called to respond to. Sometimes it’s a small thing. Listening, giving some grace where I can, sharing something. Mostly I try to share what I can with the people who flow through my business and my life, when I see that they’re struggling and I know I could give some encouragement, share a story and some lunch, give a hug or an ear or occasionally, a couple bucks. Maybe a ride. Some of these people are at turning points with lives that have begun to fall apart, but could be pushed in a new direction. Sometimes they are strangers, or near that. I don’t try to push and I can’t change anyone. I hope to be an instrument of God only, and maybe some kind of friend. They get to choose to respond to it, or consume it, in which case there is no more and I let God take care of them. I obviously can’t help them.
    I have boundaries. I take care of myself and the people and things it’s my job to protect. But I know giving a little human compassion matters. And feeding someone is golden.
    anotherboomerblog commented about the traumatized, the paranoid, the feral that cannot handle being inside, that squat to eat, so fearful they shove food into their mouths and come only because they HAVE to eat and would eat from a dog bowl if they would just not feel cornered . A lot of those people will never, ever get better. They are too ill, too damaged, and will die a street person’s death, younger than normal. They will die alone, more or less, because no one wants to be around them. They can be very disturbing, and often cannot be helped in lasting ways. But only shown some compassion.
    There but for the grace of God go I. We have all been given grace, somehow, somewhere. A break, or maybe forgiveness we didn’t really deserve, or earn. Sometimes the grace is life changing. I wrote DONUT ANGEL in the early part of my blog, from my own life. An anonymous stranger feeding a sick young drunken street girl with matted hair and scabs; feeding her donuts and water and telling her a story. He treated me with dignity. I choose to remember the time it would be easier to try and forget, because there was grace and I must always remember that miracle.

    I have a man friend who gives money to street people. They are grateful and love him for this; this and his lack of concern or control with what they will do with it. He can give, so he does, and lets the universe sort it out. He also has a deep soft spot and respect, tenderness, for women. One day he saw an old woman sitting on a curb, broken down, haggard, rough. A woman, living like the men, out in the rough. He very respectfully leaned over and gently asked if there was any way he could help her. She promptly hacked up a phlegm ball and spat it directly into his face, projectile style. She had had practice.
    He told me he learned from that incident. You know what? He still gives them money. He just doesn’t lean in close. Just had to share that one 🙂
    He is a bigger man than I. LOL.

    I know this is a very long comment. I guess I had something I wanted to say…
    Thank you Kevin, for your writing, and thank you to all the commenters I read today. Lot’s to ponder…

    Pearl

    • “there are other sides to this issue…..”

      Totally right. Its a very complex issue and often each person has to be treated on a case-by-case basis. I worked in the field momentarily and realized that it takes a certain kind of personality to stay working as a social worker and I eventually decided it wasn’t my calling in life…..

  27. I can’t help but wonder what was going on inside his head…

  28. No one ever knows what is going on with another person. Every single thing you can think of is merely a guess. All you have to know is that everyone is different and does things for their own reasons. We are not privy to those reasons so people often make assumptions and then believe that the things they made up are true. That gets us into a lot of trouble. We just don’t know and that’s okay. We aren’t supposed to know. We can’t know. Everyone is doing their own thing and it doesn’t have to make sense to us. It’s not our life. The things we do don’t make sense to others either but who cares? Right?

  29. Let me tell you Kenneth! I have very poor in the past as you may know from reading my blog, but never been homeless. I did not feel strong to ask for help, especially not financial one. And when someone would offer the money I would refuse, because I felt ashamed enough already to be in debt anyway, nevermind adding someone else to a list. However when someone offered me food or work to earn my living needs, I would accept straight away. It was a swap of a skill or human kindness. It did not feel like a charity. So although I feel the owner’s pain of suddenly being shocked by the response I feel he should have asked why he doesn’t want to wash the dishes or then simply send him away without breakfast. I still wash dishes 9 years later after arriving to UK, even I have a degree and other four jobs on the go to get my career going. If he has enough courage to walk into a cafe and ask for food, then he can deal with the situation himself when he refuses the offer. I feel no sympathy for him that he is on the street.

    • “I still wash dishes 9 years later…..”

      Kat great comments; I think you speak for a lot of people who have college degrees but realize that they need to be humble and do whatever it takes to pay their bills and put food on the table 🙂

  30. If you can’t feel good about the choices homeless people are making, maybe you should focus on something else.

  31. I find it confusing too. I guess we never really know people’s story and what’s happening in their life.

    Perhaps I’m being a bit far-fetched, but you never know if he might be allergic to dish-washing liquid. Now don’t laugh. I have MCS (multiple chemical sensitivity) and can only use certain cleaning products and have to literally, got off public transport and walk home, if some passenger gets on the bus/tram with a perfume I’m allergic too and I can’t breathe.

    On one hand, sometimes I wonder if the long-term homeless actually begin to enjoy their responsibility-free existence. I often have homeless people stop me when I’m doing street photography in the city centre. They beg for money and I’m sorry to say that if I can smell alcohol or cigarettes on their breath, I refuse. I will not contribute towards addictive and unhealthy habits. (I used to be a smoker and heavy drinker in my youth). I will give them the price of a meal if I sense they genuinely need money for food.

    I wonder if this Greek restaurant owner had said just “wash this morning’s dishes and I’ll feed you breakfast as payment”, whether this would have elicited the same response. Maybe this homeless guy didn’t want a full time job.

    If I was homeless, I would wash dishes – but then I love dishwashing and cleaning benches & stove tops – lol – I’d have to wear some waterproof gloves though, as most dishwashing liquids give me dermatitis.

    More than once I’ve emptied my coin purse to put money in the hats of busking musicians and the homeless in an afternoon, so I really don’t think I’m completely uncharitable (especially as I live on a very frugal Govt Disability Pension myself).

    • VIcki, all that you said could very well be true. Because the homeless guy wouldn’t explain ‘why’ he was saying no to the restaurant owner, I guess we’ll never know…..

      And I totally feel ya on the ‘if I can smell alcohol or cigarettes on their breath’…. its hard to justify giving someone money if you feel that they are simply going to buy alcohol.

  32. Tough issue. On one hand, most of us who aren’t homeless people think that we would do anything for a meal. On the other hand, unless we haven’t been homeless do we really know how we would react? I give food (when I have some with me) when I see someone begging on the street. Once in a while I’ve met someone shouting at me and asking for money instead. In most cases, though, people are grateful. I think there is among homeless people exactly what we have among sedentary population: nice and not so nice people.

    • “I think there is among homeless people exactly what we have among sedentary population: nice and not so nice people”

      Spot on,… that is really what It comes down to for sure.

  33. Those are tough stories to swallow for sure. I don’t think those folks are in the majority of homeless and yet it does happen. I don’t know why they don’t want help but I’m sure it has a lot to do with WHY they’re homeless. It may very well be that he thought the offer condescending and couldn’t see past what it was meant to be. Help that’s offered, while well intended, can come off as condescending and this may seem silly but even homeless people are entitled to some pride, particularly because we don’t know why they’re homeless. Perhaps his story is one of a fall from grace and he knows he’s capable of more than washing dishes. We forget that because we think “beggers can’t be choosers” and while I generally agree, it’s still very human to not want to settle. I don’t know that that’s always such a bad thing though appreciation or some type of gratitude shown for the offer would have been a good move. Homelessness shouldn’t automatically mean no self-respect BUT for most it would mean being willing to take a decent opportunity when it arises so homelessness isn’t forever. It could be that he’s mentally ill and has trouble with that kind of work and that’s a whole other issue all together. I just try and remember that I don’t know what it’s like to be homeless. I don’t know what I would do or how I’d react. I think I do but thinking I do and knowing are two different things. That lifestyle, I imagine, has a way of changing how one thinks and reacts. Just a thought. 🙂

    • “I don’t know why they don’t want help but I’m sure it has a lot to do with WHY they’re homeless”

      In one of my social work classes back in college we had a guest lecturer who had spent the last 15 years working with the homeless and had recently quit because she was suffering from burn out. It was her job to go out to where the homeless people lived (under highway overpasses, in tents, etc) and to tell them they could get free dental, free hospitalization, free food, ,etc…….

      She explained that when she first started the job she was very excited to go out and do this because she expected that the majority of the homeless wasn’t aware of all of these free services….. after more than a decade of working in that position she was burned out because according to her, “95 out of 100 homeless people I encounter don’t want free dental, don’t want free hospitalization… they don’t want anything but cash”……. so I have mixed feelings about the whole situation. I think there ARE a lot of homeless people who have simply suffered from tough economic times and are wanting to turn their life around….. but there are also a lot of homeless people who simply don’t want to be apart of our ‘system’ here in the U.S. and they want to drop out….. so its like there are two different cultures of homeless people.

    • But why do they only want cash? Free dental and health are great but they don’t actually provide the money needed to get a home which is needed for an address to get a job. The guy in the example you provide here is one where he could have had a job but said no and makes me wonder if perhaps there’s another reason for it. I’m not disagreeing with you in terms of several of them want to give up if you will, but I guess that’s more of how I look at it – that they’ve given up trying for one reason or another. There is a seemingly significant portion of homeless who do have mental illness and it’s hard to hold down a job or keep a place if you can’t get the meds, etc. I’d also throw out there that once you’ve been homeless for an x-amount of time, even if you had tried to not be, it gets pretty exhausting and sometimes the will to try is lost. Again, those are just some thoughts. I’m sure there are many people who at this point are more willing to just be homeless now but again, I think that has to come from a place of despair not JUST laziness (I’m sure there is a large portion that is lazy or whatever, again I’m just throwing that out there).

  34. I have heard of stories like that from other people.. The homeless rejecting opportunities. It’s unbelievable. I think it’s their pride. My bf chose to buy food right there and then, to homeless people because he doesn’t want them to use the money for unnecessary things.

  35. My guess is that the boy was not “all there”. My sis works as a nurse and tells me that 1 in 3 of her patients are mentally/psychologically not all there. They may talk as if they’re not only college educated, but even an educator themselves. But give ’em a few minutes and they’ll go crazy, as if they’re drug addicts or have Alzheimer’s, she tells me. So that’s my guess about the boy.

    Yeah, I struggle too with homeless folks. I used to live where there was only 1 per several miles. But now I live where there’s a homeless person on every other block. Just today, I gave a man 50 cents because he didn’t want to take my $2. He said the cops had warned him that his “contributor” wasn’t going to give him anymore money if he accepts money from other people. That made me angry because he was for one of the few homeless persons who didn’t smell of alcohol. I immediately figured he wasn’t one and was pretty “sane” when I saw him trying to read the newspaper through the small newspaper vending box on the sidewalk. It’s really hard to tell whom to give money to and whom not to. They all break my heart to see because I can totally imagine myself being in their shoes someday in the future.

    A very good post!

    • You may very well be right, perhaps he had mental problems of some sorts. And your experience with the guy who wouldn’t take the two bucks is typical of many experiences I have had (though they usually take the money) into that many of the homeless I have encountered…

  36. I love your blog, so I’ve nominated you for the Versatile Blogger Award. Participation is purely voluntary. Details can be found here: http://michellejoelle.wordpress.com/2014/02/13/spreading-the-love/

  37. Its easy to judge someone’s situation until you walk in their shoes; be it the homeless, prostitute, thief, liar. Don’t judge folks and you can’t classify individuals just because they are a certain way as you perceive them.

  38. I like the sensitivity in this post. All your “Really’s” make you sound really sarcastic at the get-go, but you think things through, and then you’re honest when you can’t think something through to its conclusion. Thanks for that.

  39. as the ranks of the homeless grow, i imagine the problem will continue to get that much more complicated. thanks for the excellent report, and thanks also for liking my latest post.

  40. I’ve had several times where I’ve had a homeless person ask me for money. I don’t carry cash, but if I happen to have some food on me, I give it to them (or offer to buy them lunch). They throw it back at me. And not gently either.

  41. Well, aren’t the majority of you just the bees knees sitting back in your warm, cozy homes this winter, talking ‘smack’ about the homeless.

    If you don’t want to give money to a homeless person, that is your right, but why the need to act all holier-than-thou about it when the majority of you are probably downing a glass of wine with dinner? And probably more than one. Alcohol has more than likely reeked on a many of breath that’s posted comments castigating the homeless for drinking. If I was cold and homeless, I’d want a drink too. They get precious little else.

    And yes, if it’s online, then it must be true. I wasn’t there and neither were any of you and we have only one person’s word via another person that this actually happened. There is a saying, “believe none of what you hear and only half of what you see!” And like I’ve stated, if it’s online, then it MUST be true!

    No one is forcing ANY of you to give the homeless a dime and if I was homeless, the majority of you, including this blog’s author could kiss where the sun don’t shine. Now, put that in your ‘jump on the homeless chatter box’ and stuff it!

    • “Holy Moses” ShelbyCourtland!!
      Well, you’re not shy are you!! I agree with most of what you’ve said, I’m just wondering about your ummmm…. delivery style?
      ( I know you’re passionate about this as you speak from a place of real experience rather than speculation )
      Anyway, nice to see not everyone is confused, bewildered or vilifying a whole group of people when they cannot know the circumstances that has lead one to such places and therefore cannot understand the choices they’re making. It’s a discussion that seems to have caused people more feelings of confusion and helplessness? If anyone felt uplifted and positive about it, please forgive my assumption.
      One thing I will say about the author is; he did allow your comment to be published on his blog? Well….ummm, I think I’ll have a look at your blog!!

    • I thought that the point in accepting comments was to also accept those with a dissenting view. And I am certainly unaware of what I’ve said that could be considered, outrageous. I did not curse, so what is the problem with my comment?

      Those poor souls that are homeless don’t need a bunch of “time to complain about the homeless” comments further destroying their already oh so tarnished image. I’ve been homeless and I don’t fit any of the comments disparaging the homeless that have been posted here. And I know many, many homeless people who don’t and I am sick and tired of the homeless always getting a bad rap when that is the very last thing that they need!

      Yes, I am a homeless advocate and I consider this to be a form of advocating, and I will not disparage them while they’re out in a ‘polar vortex’ fighting off real and perceived demons while we sit comfortably somewhere telling tales. It is not right and I have NO problem making clear what I think’s not right!

      Another saying, “there but for the grace of God, go I!” Oh and lest I forget, “let he who is without sin, cast the first stone.” A lot of stones have been cast here and that’s no lie!

    • Even when someone agrees with your view, you find reason to hate them…

  42. It’s a shame that so much of the world has become entitled. I know that if offered a meal AND a chance to EARN it I would jump at the chance.

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