Dear Tell All: I have felt an almost overwhelming sense of personal failure since last night, when I brusquely shoved past a homeless man asking for help while I walked to my bus stop. While this wasn't a new experience - working downtown offers this chance quite often - this one stuck with me. As I watched this man with a grungy blanket draped over his head pleading with passersby while my bus pulled away, I wondered if he really would use handouts for food or shelter, rather than booze or drugs.
Probably, I will never know. But I realized it really isn't any of my business, either. Am I so perfect that I can preach self-improvement by refusing to help? Can I live with not giving him five dollars if it would help him for even one night? Is my life so solid that I couldn't be in his shoes sometime in the future?
Sure, I lived on the streets once upon a time, but that was by choice (and was also back in the '70s, when such a lifestyle had a certain counterculture credibility to it). So I really have no frame of reference as to what this person is going through.
Panhandling for Salvation
Dear PFS: I fear you are not alone. Many of us walk uncomfortably past those holding cups or open palms. As we do, we wonder what their stories are. At least we wonder for another 20 yards or so.
There is no easy answer. A lot depends on what you are willing to do. Perhaps you don't want to hand out money on the street, but there are still a lot of other options. Look for opportunities on Isthmus' website at TheDailyPage.com/theguide, under "Good Works". Volunteer at Porchlight, an organization that helps the homeless. Work at a local food bank.
This city is filled with ways to get involved in assisting others. The trick is to push yourself out the door and just do it.