I always smile and acknowledge people on the street–which gets me in trouble when walking past a homeless person because I am usually asked for money. And in Los Angeles, with 51,000 homeless people JUST in the city, (considered the homeless capital of the USA) the opportunity for that to happen is literally on almost every street corner. I recently watched a documentary on Netflix called: Lost Angels: Skid Row is My Home and it was particularly eye opening, and a lot of times shocking, when seeing what the city does (and does not do) to help the homeless. Like, criminalizing them in order to throw them in jail to get them off of the streets. Would you rather be free and destitute or fed and a prisoner? I think free and destitute would be my choice and the choice of many of the people they incarcerate.
I don’t mind when I am asked for money because when I refuse, the person I am speaking with often lets it go. BUT, that wasn’t the case today.
Today, this conversation rubbed me the wrong way:
Homeless Man (in an incredibly bold voice): Care to make a contribution?
Me: [Not wanting to ignore a fellow human being but obviously in a rush, I responded without stopping] I’m sorry, but I don’t carry cash [totally the truth and I keep walking].
Man: Well could you go into Chipotle and charge me some food?
Me: [Chipotle isn’t really in the end of the month budget for me. Did he really just ask me to go into debt for him? I stop anyway, which was a mistake–guilt does that to my better judgement] Umm…what would you have?
Man: [Takes out a single cigarette and rolls it atop a fresh package of Camels] I’ll have a vegetarian burrito with black beans, pico de gallo, lett–
Me: Uh, I don’t have that much money and I’m in a bit of a rush.
Man: [Raising his voice skeptically] A burrito is only $6!
Me: [Awkwardly] I’m sorry.
I’m not sure if it’s sticking with me out of indignation that his cigarettes cost more than the burrito (although, someone could have purchased them for him), guilt from a lost opportunity to appease my moral obligation to help others, etc.
Or maybe it was the fact that he assumed I could afford his Chipotle burrito when there were other, less expensive, places in the area. Yes, I am clean and my jeans, t-shirt, and sandals are in good condition, but that doesn’t scream “money bags” to me.
I am of limited means to begin with and I obviously can’t help every time someone asks me for money/food–so how do I decide who is worthy of my attention and funds? This person didn’t have the usual piles of personal items stacked around him like most here do. That doesn’t necessarily disqualify him from being homeless, but how could I be sure he was? After all, I am under the assumption that he is, in fact, homeless. However, Homeless Fraud is a real life thing, you guys.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this one–leave them in the comments, please!