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Panhandlers, Beggars and the Over-served

Beggar's banquet?
Beggar's banquet?

In which the author interacts with the down and out, usually making things worse.

     Recently while in a 7-11 in West Babylon I noticed the line being slowed by a disheveled and grizzly looking man who was arguing with the clerk, trying to buy beer at 7:55 am on a Sunday.  Never being capable of minding my own business I attempted sympathy by saying to him “I think you have to wait till noon on Sunday to buy beer.”

     “Wow” he said, “You’re really showing your age, it hasn’t been noon for years, its 8 am now.” I was fuming, not so much at the age crack (we were around the same age) but because I was trying to be supportive. Insulting him would have posed no challenge nor provided any reward so I did not pursue it and tried not to feel morally superior. At least I wasn’t the one jonesing for a Bud before breakfast!

     Another time a perfectly normal looking fellow was panhandling while sitting on the sidewalk at Burger King in Amityville.  Dude, put some effort into your game! He asked me about my profession as I was in my visiting nurse outfit. He wanted to know how much schooling I needed for my degree and so forth.  I saw no reason not to answer his nosy questions; maybe he would be inspired to enter a more lucrative field of employment but my fine example. “Well” he said, “I can see you are very successful by that car you drive.”  He waved his hand dismissively in the direction of my 12 year old Honda. (Runs great! Minimal rust!)  Still, I was the one that ended up being inspired and got a new used car after being insulted by this panhandler.

     The most annoying panhandler was a fellow in my local 7-11.  He was toothless, cross-eyed, missing a few fingers and was, by anyone’s estimation, completely and thoroughly unemployable.  So naturally I had to make him my little project.  I bought him new gloves and gave him an old coat I had found in my closet.  I always made sure I had an extra dollar in my wallet for him when I went in to get the paper and a scratch-off ticket, the tickets being an integral component of my long-range retirement and financial planning strategy. He knew he could count on me.

     One day he proudly showed me his new teeth.  Unfortunately, he took them out of his mouth to do so.  After awhile he started to expect more money and yes, I blame myself.  I would give him a dollar and he would look to see if I had given him a five or ten dollar bill. Sometimes he would bang on my car window and try to get more money. I started to go to other 7-11s to avoid him. Management changed and one of the ladies working there was known for loudly shooing him away.  I rarely see him anymore.

     Looking back at these different interactions I can see how I was wrong, by butting in, attempting to be a shining star of upward mobility, or fostering dependent behavior, so it is surprising that I eventually did something right one time.

     Again, it was my local 7-11 where I saw a young woman soliciting funds dressed in a rather slovenly way with her hair a mess and not presenting well at all.  Behind this, however, I saw sanity and intelligence.  She was clearly on a bender of some sort. “What are you doing out here like this?” I asked her in a deliberately bossy tone.  She said pretty much what I expected, that she was having an epic, terrible weekend and just wanted to go home.  I gave her enough money for a cab and told her to go to her mother’s house.  She backed away when I said that so I quickly said “or your grandma’s” and she eased up. “This isn’t you, you are not like this, and I don’t expect to ever see you out like this anymore.”  She said it not to worry; she would never do this to herself again.

     I believed her fervent declaration and it was the last time I ever saw her.  All I had done was remind her of who she really was, and kept myself out of it.


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Sheila Croke January 15, 2014 at 08:24 PM
A good lesson here. Some of us turn away from those on the edges, not knowing what to do or say, and just hurry off. So I'm appreciative of the writer's experiences which resulted in eventually finding a way to offer support. Sheila Croke
Smuts January 16, 2014 at 02:43 PM
I think the town should round these people up, strap garbarge cans to them and let them pick up litter in the area. This would give them a feeling of self worth and good way to pass the idle time.
Ann Darcy January 16, 2014 at 04:28 PM
Thank you for reading, Sheila and Mr or Ms. Smuts, as the case may be. I recall one older woman who collected bottles and cans while walking up and down NY Ave. I gave her hand gel and a bunch of disposable gloves to make her work a little safer. A feeling of self worth is very important indeed, but I take a firm stand against rounding people up! Thanks for your comments.
Sheila Croke January 18, 2014 at 02:17 PM
Here's another idea for those down and out , particularly the homeless. This comes from Utah of all places!How did Utah accomplish this? Simple. Utah solved homelessness by giving people homes. In 2005, Utah figured out that the annual cost of E.R. visits and jail says for homeless people was about $16,670 per person, compared to $11,000 to provide each homeless person with an apartment and a social worker. So, the state began giving away apartments, with no strings attached. Each participant in Utah’s Housing First program also gets a caseworker to help them become self-sufficient.. Utah’s results show that even conservative states can solve problems like homelessness with decidedly progressive solutions.
karen from East Northport January 20, 2014 at 04:39 PM
Love the Utah Plan. Wonder if our local Politicians have ever considered a plan like this. SC Homeless Shelters are dangerous places which is why many choose not to go there. Huntington has addressed Homelessness thru the Family Service League & local Churches called the HiHi plan. It runs Nov thru March. But we definitely have a problem here in Suffolk with helping those in need. Everybody has a story, some sadder than others. I believe we all need to help in some way rather than turn our backs.


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