I was in San Francisco for a conference last week, and there are homeless people everywhere. It’s enough to drain any kind-hearted person’s wallet. I remember hearing someone comment that they knew a homeless person who made $30,000 a year begging for change. For many people, it’s not a lifestyle or an affliction brought down on them, it’s a career. Once when I was in Chicago I bought a ‘homeless man’ a sandwich and when I gave it to him, he just asked ‘what the hell is this?!? I wanted money!’ I’ve been wary of beggars ever since.
But what about those who aren’t making a career of it? I smiled at one homeless man sitting on the curb, and he told me my smile was a very welcome thing. I met the eyes of another who was curled up in a sleeping bag in a storefront reading by streetlight and she offered a sad smile to me. I also saw an older man in a wheelchair with a sign that simply said ‘hungry’. I watched a flood of people walk by. No one even looked his way. But I did. I had nothing to give, but I noticed him. It may not keep him warm or fill his belly, but somewhere our souls connected for a brief moment. One man who was holding a sign asking ‘what if you were hungry?’ gave me a brief pause. He looked absolutely forlorn. So I stopped. I asked if he was really hungry, and he said yes. So I asked what his story was. He had been in the military and was dishonorably discharged. Since then, it’s been all downhill and he’d been begging for four years. I gave him some money. I cannot help everyone, nor do I want to. With the small amount of money I gave him, I offered him hope. Hope that life could be better. Hope that his reality wasn’t all there is. Even if he never changes, if he grows old on the streets, he has my hope whether he knows it or not.
And that is why I give to homeless people.