Do you give money to homeless people on the street?
I always have mixed feelings about that. I end up not doing it, partly because of my background and partly because of my own experiences. But last week, something happened that has once again tipped my "inner balance" to the giving side.
I was sitting at a food court chatting with some friends. A man with red, long, dirty looking hair and a frizzy beard approached our table. His clothes - an old grey sweater and torn jeans - were much bigger than his size and looked a bit dirty too. He said "can you guys give me some money so that I can eat something?". We all said we didn't have any money, followed by our traditional Canadian apology. And he left us alone.
We then proceeded to talk about mistrusting homeless people, how you never know if they will use the money for food or to buy drugs, alcohol, etc. Many of us (including me) told stories of offering food when they asked us money and them rejecting the food.
As we talked, the homeless man walked to a table next to ours where 4 other friends of ours were sitting. A couple of ladies promptly gave him some coins. A few of my friends commented on what a mistake that was, how naive they were, etc.
We continued talking negatively about homeless people who ask for money.
I saw the man walk to a fast-food pizza restaurant at the food court. I observed him talking to the server and receiving a cup of carbonated beverage.
At first I thought he was using only part of the money he got for the beverage and the rest he would spend on drugs. But a part of me started suspecting that maybe he just wanted to eat something after all.
I continued observing the man, now with a mix of curiosity and guilt. My friends were still talking about our need to mistrust homeless people. The man had remained at the counter, while the server put a slice of pizza in an industrial oven.
My doubts had almost disappeared and the guilt started hanging heavier in my heart. A thought (which has come to my mind before when I've seen a homeless person asking for money) occurred to me again "I should have told him 'Tell me what you want and I will buy it for you'."
A few seconds later, my suspicions were confirmed. The server gave him the freshly baked slice of pizza and he poured several coins on the server's hand.
As he walked and sat at a nearby table, the guilt in me (for mistrusting him) prompted me to interrupt my friends (who were still talking negatively about the homeless). I nodded in the direction of the man's table and commented that he indeed just wanted money for food. My friends agreed that we were wrong (but quickly changed the subject).
That man renewed my faith in homeless people. I decided that next time I saw a homeless person asking for money, I would try my approach of offering to buy them food.
It's interesting how a small act by another person can change your opinion about something (if you are open to change).
I hope this inspires someone to renew their trust in homeless people.