Lent 2011 Part V

Yesterday I went to McDonalds with Marc, a very enthusiastic old man who has been on the street for a long time. When I asked him if I could buy him dinner he literally jumped, "sure!" He tossed his empty paper change cup nonchalantly into the street and started toward McDonalds.
On the way, he asked me where I'd come from and why I would want to buy him dinner. He said, "what, do I look poor or something?" I pointed out that he had been asking for money and told him that I just didn't think he deserved to be out here begging and this is the smallest thing I can do to help. He responded by asking me if he could get a milkshake, he was dying for a milkshake. I told him of course, he could order anything he'd like. He asked my name and we introduced ourselves with a handshake.

On the way to the "restaurant" (I don't like taking people to McDonalds apparently...) he was very fixated on how he could get any cash out of the transaction. I had to tell him 3 times I didn't have any cash and then I had to explain that I wouldn't be able to get cash back during the transaction because I'd be using a credit card. I could have used my debit card I suppose but I got a funny feeling about the way he was asking and it made me want to not give him cash. I realize that my hesitations are silly if not entirely unfounded. It is the ultimate conundrum of giving: what will the person do with the money I give them? My response to this question, if I'm to give the person anything at all, has to be, "I don't care." For in the best of circumstances I will simply never know what they will do.
I definitely have a prejudice against giving money to beggars who are smoking a cigarette or holding a sign saying they need the money for booze. I can't bring myself to help these people who so desperately need help because I don't want to enable their unhealthy habit. However, to use Marc as a hypothetical example, say that he was trying to get some extra cash out of my dinner so that he could go buy drugs, alcohol or cigarettes. My contribution, dinner, while not exactly the money he will use to buy said items will still help him obtain them because he won't have to use the money other people give him to buy dinner. Recognizing this, I have to decide right up front if I'm going to give people handouts regardless of what they may do with them or not. In the end, because of my Catholic duty and just a feeling that it's the right thing to do, I conclude that I should give and I should give unconditionally and without prejudice. I suspect knowing this won't make it easy but it is what it is.

Marc is probably in his 60s with a full grey beard and, though he told me he was wearing 3 shirts and a jacket, I could distinctly see the outline of his back and shoulderblades. He was polite, if a little unpracticed at being so, and made it a point to remember my name when I took my leave.

This post is already a bit rambly so I may as well add one more random thought I had about this process. I've been thinking about the potential negative physiologic effects my project might have on the homeless people I'm trying to help. I suspect that most people living on the streets have some idea of their allergies and foods they should avoid. However, there is a risk of introducing someone to a substance they have a bad reaction to when I take them to a restaurant they've never been to before and potentially eat food they've never had before. Not something to prevent me from taking people out but definitely something to be aware of. Beyond that, there is diet to consider as well. It may not always be the most healthy thing for someone who has been living out of a trash can on sauce packets and moldy, stale leftovers to suddenly be taken to the Cheesecake Factory, for example, and fed a 9oz steak. I don't know if there is any threat to their system under these circumstances but it's something I feel I should do some research on before I end up doing more damage than good to someone who's got enough problems already.

Thanks for reading, I'm enjoying the project and this blog has been one more thing I look forward to as an incentive to find people to help. I hope you're all having a great week.