Disclaimer to the Reader:
Below are three examples of homeless people with good hearts that have chosen the path of honesty rather than deceit. Since I came across these examples within 2 minutes, I believe it is safe to say that there are plenty more out there that can be trusted. All I ask is that you read the following blog with an open mind and an open heart. You are entitled to your own opinion, as I am to mine. I hope you try to see where I am coming from on this topic. My ultimate goal in this is that we can learn to treat others as equals, and to find a way to trust in humanity once again.........
Since I am choosing to reflect on a controversial subject, I am fully prepared for varying opinions on this particular topic. Many of you have most likely had a personal experience with a homeless person and have thus formed a strong opinion on the subject. I, for one, have had mixed feelings on the matter for years, but have finally chosen to believe the best in others.
Since moving to the 3rd largest city in the United States just over two years ago, my eyes have been opened to immense diversity. I have also encountered more homeless people in the past two years than I have in my entire life. Now, I know merely mentioning "the homeless" is making several of you roll your eyes due to preconceived notions or past experiences. You're probably thinking something along the lines of:
"Why can't they get a job like the rest of us?" "What makes them think I have any money to spare? These are tough times for everyone!" Or, even more commonly, I hear:
"Why would I waste my money on a pan-handler that is just going to spend it on drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes?"
Now, I am in no way saying that these opinions are not warranted. Even in my own personal experience, I have been disappointed more than once by the reactions of some when offered food instead of cash, or warm socks instead of a beer. However, I believe with all my heart that there are countless homeless people that genuinely prefer food, a warm coat, and a bed to sleep in over alcohol and drugs.
While there are plenty of individuals on the streets that really are lazy and show no effort to get a real job, I know for a fact this is not always the case. What about the sixty year old man that lost his job due to company lay-offs? Is it fair that 3 months later he had to foreclose on his home because he could no longer pay the mortgage? How about the woman whose husband divorced her after 35 years of marriage and left her with no money, assets, or home? Unfortunately, there is a growing number of people that have encountered tough enough circumstances to force them onto the street.
But really-- who are we to judge them?? Maybe they are a drug addict, a scam artist, or a struggling alcoholic....Or maybe--just maybe-- this way of living is new to them. Perhaps it is simply a means to an end; the only feasible option to feed themselves while they search for a new job and a path to a better life.
I am tired of people mocking me for having compassion for the homeless. Is it that amusing that I choose to drop some spare change into a cup? Or, if I happen to have warm socks in my purse and feel compelled to give them to the man outside with horrible frostbite walking on self-made cardboard shoes in the middle of January? Maybe he appreciated the gesture, maybe he didn't. Perhaps he used the cash for McDonalds...but he could have just as easily used it to buy a beer. The truth is I really don't care anymore. The fact of the matter is that even when I feel I am in extreme financial trouble, I still have twenty times more than those out on the corner that are struggling just to eat once a day. If it makes me naive to give someone the benefit of the doubt every now and then and drop some spare change into a bucket....then so be it.
I don't care what people think anymore. If there is even a slim chance the homeless woman on the corner of LaSalle and Wacker used the money for lunch, the gesture was worth it to me. With the holiday season right around the corner, I hope we can all find it in our hearts to treat those less fortunate than us with a little more respect. If you cannot help them monetarily, that is absolutely understandable. Just try looking them in the eye next time you pass them on the street rather than avoiding eye contact altogether.
The bottom line is that it is not our job to make assumptions. I am guilty of doing it myself. I'll admit that it is hard not to draw my own conclusions about why they may be begging instead of working. But only God knows their circumstances. It's taken me a long time to realize a very simple truth: that they are people too....people that deserve to be given the benefit of the doubt.