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,
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