What should I do when a beggar asks me for money? Is that person holding the sign that says they are homeless and a veteran really homeless and a veteran?
My oldest son and I recently visited New Haven for the day. We ate amazing sushi, pizza and pastry during our visit. Yes, food was a key to the day's success and it was my first opportunity to try Pepe’s. I’m a new fan and it is worth the trip! But we also spent a few hours in the wonderful (and free!) Yale University Art Gallery. Oh, did I mention it was free?
No sooner had we parked the car and turned the first corner when a man who looked slightly younger than me approached us and ever so gently followed right next to us for half a block asking us to help him out. He said he was a gay, homeless veteran. I didn’t help him. Sometimes I help those who ask and sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I hand them money and a few times I’ve bought them a meal.
You see I had my son with me and it sort of paralyzed me. I felt pressure to set an example to do the right thing, whatever that is. So instead, I did nothing. I just kept walking and politely refused his invitation for me to help him. My son and I discussed the situation, but by then it was too late. Doing nothing is doing nothing. My message was painfully obvious: Ignore people in need.
I’m not sure what the answer is, but doing nothing is not it. Randomly helping people at times is also not the answer. The answer in the long run is complicated. But I can promise you that making sure education, income, health and housing are available to everyone is the solution. These are the focus areas for Middlesex United Way.
It’s a personal decision about what to do today or tomorrow if someone “on the street” asks you for money. But, for me, showing kindness and compassion going forward will be my choice. I will do what I can do given the situation. I’m toying with the idea of buying a bunch of gift cards and handing them out when I’m approached. Yes, I may be taken advantage of in certain circumstances. Yes, the money may be wasted if I decide to give money. The money, however, may buy the next meal (if I don’t buy it myself). The money may buy a bus pass to help someone get to a job interview. My compassion may lift someone’s spirit and inspire someone else.
The bottom line is that people, indeed, have to help themselves in order to sustain positive changes in their lives. But who among us hasn’t needed at least a hand now and then. So let's provide one when given the opportunity. No questions asked. No strings attached.