The Haggard Sole
I know I haven't been active much in that arena lately, on the blog or in the arena. Not out of a sense of "psh! I got mine..." but just out of the afromentioned burnout and trying to put our lives back together.* There's just a lot to do for ourselves right now, and frankly I feel guilty for missing out on the fight. I know, I know -- you gotta do for you and yours first, but there's still the nagging notion that we went through that three-month nightmare for a reason.
Still, it was an eye-opening experience. I learned a lot. Sometimes I even get to apply what I've learned.
Take, for instance the guys on the street corner with the Hungry.Homeless.GodBless signs. I remember mentioning to Cara Michele about struggling to distinguish the ones who actually need help from the ones who're just trying to get over on the system. She told me to look at their shoes. Aha, the nicer/more expensive the shoes, the less likely this is a person actually needing help.
A couple weeks ago, I approached a corner having just gotten off of Wendover Avenue headed toward town. An older man was standing there strategically with a cardboard sign. My eyes immediately went to his feet. Hmm, worn walking shoes, probably picked up from the Goodwill. There's someone with him. His wife, perhaps? She seems slightly older. She has a cane; maybe she's partially disabled. Still, he's carrying a sign instead of actively trying to better his position. Help him, yes or no? I decided to give him a buck coupled with a word of encouragement and advice, but blast it! I had spent it on gas already. Plus, the light had changed and the guy behind me looked eager to see how far he could shove his SUV into my trunk.
Okay, maybe next time.
In contrast, the other day, Mama and I were headed home from the grocery store when we saw a guy at the corner of West Market and Spring Garden St. He had the requisite sign. I checked out his feet. Brand-new walking shoes! I looked him over then with a very critical eye. The guy was younger than I was. He had on a short-sleeved shirt that allowed him to sport a pair of very well developed arms. The shirt and the jeans were quite clean and in good shape. He had a spring in his step as he paced his chosen corner seeking handouts. He didn't have the world-weary look of someone who was tired of fighting to survive. Even given Cara Michele’s admonition that mental illness isn’t always evident, this guy looked too much like he’d gone for an evening constitutional and decided to pick up a little spare change from passers-by.
Yeah. I did pass by. Without looking back. So did a lot of other people.
I know that sounds cruel. That guy may well have needed help after all. But there was just too much evidence to the contrary. In the end, I stuck to my usual criterion: if he was in that good a shape, he could’ve been out doing better for himself. After all, if a fat old curmudgeon like me can stumble into work every day, I know a strapping buck like that can too.
*Homelessness can disrupt lives much more than most people know. We're still taking care of business that got postponed from last February that we're just now able to pick back up on. Those who've been without a roof overhead for far longer no doubt come back to total train-wrecks of lives.
Judging the shoes might help at a first glance, but as cara notes, new shoes seem to be in demand enough to be stolen. Someone's wearing them somewhere. Do homeless (or nearly homeless) people hide their good clothes when begging? I'm sure they think about that. I'm sure some do it. After all, it's their uniform. I bet they've learned that if they don't dress the part of abject beggar, they don't collect as much money.
I know that none of you guys like me because of how my personality has come across in my comments on this blog as well as my own blog, but the God's Honest Truth is that I have no problem accepting that nor do I hold it against anybody either. I've even admitted that I can be arrogant at times as well as admitting when I was wrong about something I've said when I was actually wrong about something I've said!
But what frustrates and angers me more than anything else is when that's used as an excuse for not listening, exploring, considering, etc. ANYTHING and EVERYTHING that I say which might be contrary to your own beliefs; I've actually had people change their beliefs just because I'VE agreed with them!
So... when I tell you that the "shoe test" is a HORRIBLE thing to do to somebody, don't dismiss my explanation because of the words I chose to use to say it, but instead forgive me for my arrogance which I know is my weakness and focus on the thought and knowledge I put into the reasoning and explanation instead which is my strength. I might be an a**hole, but that doesn't mean I'm wrong about what I'm saying either.
What nobody has yet to bring up is that there is no "Homeless Shoe Store" that sells homeless style shoes for the newly homeless in the world. In other words, the first day you were considered to be "homeless", I'm sure you didn't also change your outward appearance to the standard "Homeless Person Fashion", right? In other words, you didn't trade in your footware that same day for a more "homeless looking" pair just because you lost your home. Basically, if you really believe that's the best way to determine who's worthy og your help and who isn't, then you're saying that you didn't deserve help because of how good your shoes looked. Maybe the people you've accused of being racially prejudiced towards you were in fact just judging you on your footwear instead?
As a life-long resident of NYC, I've been approached by a million homeless people requesting money, and here's how I personally distingush those asking for help and who's asking for a hand-out:
First I listen to their pitch and based on their demeanor, sincerity AND their tone of voice to determine the integrity of the person. For example, a normal person and a crackhead could say the exact same thing like "I'm homeless, I need help for me and my family, and could you please spare any change you may have kind sir?", but the former would look me in the eye when saying it, isn't pushy and seems to be genuine in their plea for help while the latter looks, acts and talks like a crackhead! I have also, on occasion, asked if they would like to share their story with me over lunch (my treat) and some have accepted the offer. You'd be amazed what you could learn just by talking to people. You'd be just as amazed what you might be missing out on by just looking at their shoes...