Right from the Start
Further emphasizing the superior journalism lately appearing in the Pioneer Press, check out this poignant commentary on homelessness from yesterday (via the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette). Excerpt:
Sick unto death, at the end of his rope, one of the poor in spirit. And he reminds us that no holiday - no holy day - is properly celebrated without remembering the poor, comforting the distraught, tending the sick and seeing, really seeing, the least of these. And for one blessed moment knowing what is important.
Men are taught to lift their eyes, but they may forget to just look around. Show us a sign, we say, as if there were not signs everywhere. We seek The Star, and may not perceive the light of every day, or hear that lonesome whistle, and see our brother approaching.
During lunch today I stopped off at the bank and for the first time ever in leafy, livable Maplewood, I was confronted with two nominally homeless guys with cardboard signs, begging for money on the highway off ramp. The above column was on my mind as I stopped there (seized by a red light, before I could get away). And I considered giving some money to these, the least of JC's brothers. (My sympathetic instincts were increased due to the fact that one of these fellows looked just like Westover. I thought it might have been Westover, perhaps subverting Coleman's next charge that he's too lazy to actually be homeless, so he can't write about them anymore. But, upon further review, the guy on the exit ramp must have weighed 50 more pounds than the wiry Afton scribe.)
But ... my cold, analytical instincts remained as well. These were able bodied, middle-age men aggressively begging in the streets. Given this profile, the inevitable next thought was: 'I hope they don't damage my car or try to kill me.' And, to their enormous credit, they did neither.
I then noticed they were dressed appropriately, even for today's sub-zero temperatures. Hats, gloves, thick jackets with hoods. And they were begging in a relatively nice section of Maplewood. There are no homeless people living on these second ring suburban streets - meaning these guys had the wherewithal to travel.
My further speculation, knowing human nature as I do, is that these two were trying to capitalize on the pre-Christmas "good will towards men" vibe, on this, one of the last working days before the Christmas break. Stationing themselves near a bank, no less, assuring themselvs of an abundance of potential marks with freshly acquired wads of cabbage in their pockets. You have to admire their business savvy. If someone were teaching a course on how to successfully beg for money, these guys would be a good case study. They located near motivated, fully resourced "clients" and were now proceeding with a highly targeted sales pitch, one which many would feel vulnerable too (thanks to cooperative marketing provided by both the Pioneer Press and Star Tribune this week).
These are not necessarily reasons to reject a contribution to them. But, choose to pass I did. While these two are not candidates to join the 21st Century Democrats anytime soon, I'm not at all certain they were the least of anyone's brothers. Their profile indicates they could be the kind of homeless person who freely chooses that lifestyle (to the detriment of all). Which, if not breaking a Commandment, certainly brushes up against a Deadly Sin or two.
More importantly, I didn't want to create an incentive for the practice of begging for money on highway off ramps in Maplewood. People work in that neighborhood and have property values to worry about. Business have customer bases they wish to avoid alienating or frightening off. And, for the able-bodied homeless's own good, they probably should be devoting their early afternoon hours to more productive pursuits than standing in the freezing cold looking for hand outs. I give them money, they feel justified in their efforts, and worst case scenario, they come back another day. In short, not interested.
So what's the moral to this story? I don't know. I read that beautiful editorial on taking care of my fellow human beings and I didn't change my behavior one whit.
Maybe my behavior isn't so bad after all. I give to charities (most prominently the Catholic Church) which address the problems of suffering and need more effectively than street handouts to questionable characters. Maybe I do just fine by the least of our brothers. Maybe I'm a kind, some might say, overly generous soul. Maybe I am a living, breathing embodiment of God's grace, place here on Earth to set an example for all.
Or maybe I need to read that editorial again. I think I missed something the first time.