God bless you anyway, the panhandler said.

He said it to my back as I walked away. That was his reaction after he asked if I have something for him and I answered, “Not today.”  His tone made it a rebuke. God bless me anyway?  Would I have been sincerely blessed if I had deposited money into his hand, the way I sometimes do?  

This was in  San Francisco where hundreds of homeless people live.  Hands are outstretched all over town.  Most times I choose one or two people on my route and deposit my donation.   One time as I passed by a particularly aggressive seeker, I shook my head no and he waited ’til I was almost out of hearing and then shouted after me, “You have a beautiful smile!”  I wonder how many people turn around and give after hearing that?

In the small town where I spend time, three or four beggars have regular posts. One is a young man with a dog who works a particular median by a stop light.  Another works a four-corner area.  From what I can see, about one in five cars hands over some money. 

A friend tells me she worries about how to explain this to her children without expressing her own concern that the money they collect may be used to buy drugs or booze.  The man’s sign said “Need food.”  She decided to take him at his word.   

Her little boy asked,

“Why does he look like that?”

Her girl said,

“He wants some money, mommy, give him some money.  He’s so sad.” 

She told her children, 

“I believe he’s hungry.  Let’s go get him some food.” 

She told the man they’d be right back, and they returned with a full meal in a take-out container.  She was concerned that food wasn’t really what he wanted, and she didn’t know what she’d tell her very young kids, so she handed him the food and hustled them away.

She wants her children to know and understand that not everyone who begs is on drugs, but nor is every homeless person noble.  Like her,  I don’t want to buy drugs for anyone, but I donate anyway.  There is compassion for every one of them, no matter the circumstances that ejected them from whatever shelter they once had.  What do you do? 

Ó Anita Garner

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