As I was driving towards the interstate to get out of town for a while I was confronted by panhandling men and one homeless panhandling woman at stop lights along the way. This is not a new problem and I have watched as it has escalated. I often roll down my window and put my hand out with some change scooped up from the little spare change holder on the car’s console. I make sure we make eye contact and I wish them good luck and ask them to stay safe. They smile and most often God Bless me. I need all the blessings I can get, that is for sure. What made me grumpy was noticing their faces, more tired, more disconnected, a more vacant look on almost all of their faces. Apparently collections were down. And ohh, I know, costs are up. I am not sure how current homeless highway meridian stalking beggars keep up with breaking news but I am somehow sure that is also part of their, and all of our, problem.
In my travels I have spent time in countries where beggars are a wholly accepted segment of the population. Begging for alms is how some dedicated religious practitioners can focus on their studies and practices without the distractions of career, the demands of the job. It is a ‘holy’ accepted part of their practice. Those that give in those countries give often, not a lot, partly because they do not have much and partly because they know a lot of other people will give a little too.
Not so here in America that has been made great again. If you are on the median of a highway with your plastic fast food drink cup rattling the change at cars stopped at the light you have slipped to the bottom rung and you look at faces that turn away from your pleading face pretty much 99% of the time. That is just my personal observation watching the cars in front of me. I sometimes have observed that if I roll down my window and give then more people give behind me. I tried a Google search to see if there was any data on how many people out of some sample somewhere do give money to panhandlers. I tried 4 different search term strings of words and every time the results came back they were answering how much money do panhandlers make. Obviously not enough to retire on or move to a warmer climate.
Being retired now I have to give less than I used to. Even though retired I still drive around a lot. I have many opportunities to give but I give less. I have my earned pension income. I have more than I need and it gets harder and even painful at times to see people so desperate for people driving by to notice their plight. Plight is too genteel a word for it. Here are synonyms suggested by an online Thesaurus.
predicament, unfortunate/difficult situation, sorry condition, sad state, trouble, difficulty, mess, dire straits, extremity, bind;
circumstances, situation, condition, case, state;
dilemma, tight corner/spot, hole, pickle, jam, fix, scrape
They are down and out. Almost out depending on how much coin ends up in that plastic drink cup. Sometimes I am at a long enough stop light to read their cardboard signs. Some make me laugh, others I cry. At times I have passed over the change holder and gone to the wallet to give a dollar or two.
I would like to ask every senator and representative in congress to put their phones down while they sit in the backseat of their limos and look into the faces of the people standing in the median strips begging for money. Unless you are in a motorcade speeding along with a police escort through downtown traffic you will have to stop at a traffic light now and then. You will see panhandlers. Many are veterans, many are homeless moms. They are all results of your policies. Or lack thereof. Roll down your window and give. Look them in the eye and ask them if they are okay, if they have hope that they will someday be okay. Make new decisions based on what they tell you.
In those countries I have visited that are kinder to the poor, they understand that they each gain merit for their decision to help others. No matter how small that help is. We may all need help at some point in our lives. While in a position to offer help please do not hold back. At the same time no one of us can help them all or even help any one as much as they might need. This is why we want to live in a society that has policies that help people maintain a basic level of comfort and health in our society. That would help us all. Not eventually but now.
I am asking for each of us to consider offering direct help to a panhandler working an intersection near you. But more importantly I am asking you to let your representatives in local and national positions know that you want them to start making a difference in the lives of people that do not have access to whatever they need to get their lives back on track. In the long term what is better for the country, that stock market millionaires quarterly profit increases or that the poorest among us have clean water, food and a safe place to sleep?
You can make a difference when you vote. You can make a difference right now with who you support with your cash donations to the candidates we need to get in place to replace those bought and paid for representatives who only represent their largest donors. If you want to stop seeing the faces of poor people begging on your streets make it to the voting both and make sure the candidates worth voting for make it onto the ballot.