When was it exactly that we lost our humanity?

by renegademama

The other day I happened upon a post in my town’s “community” Facebook group. It was a photo of an apple and sandwich next to a light post, and above it was the comment “I guess if it doesn’t buy drugs, the homeless in our town don’t want it.” And then it was like a rage face emoji.

Apparently this woman had given food to a homeless person the day before, then happened upon it the next day, in the same location, clearly abandoned by the recipient.

Because I hate myself, I clicked on the comments. The first 90 thousand were iterations of the same concept: Homeless people who take $1 to buy whiskey are losers and don’t deserve our money.

Here’s a summary of the rest of what I read:

Homeless people who buy meth are even worse.

Refusing food makes them ungrateful trash people.

They are trash people because of bad decisions.

They are there because they are bottom-feeding addicts.

Local businesses shouldn’t allow homeless near their dumpsters or bathrooms because “it encourages them.” 

If they’re mentally ill, they should go to the doctor and GET SOME MEDS! “I know all kinds of mentally ill people who hold down jobs!” (<<<<That was a direct quote.<<<)

One genius pointed out that “homeless people don’t need to look so awful. They can wake up each morning and go to the Wayfarer center and get clean and tidy.”

To that woman, I simply say: “I hope you get hit by a large free-falling boulder, you fucking asshole.”

But to the rest, I’d like to chat. I’d like to have a quick convo about this whole “deserving homeless” situation, because I have to say, I really wonder when it was exactly that we lost our humanity.

When was it that we started looking at human beings living on the streets for whatever reason and our response is: “Could you please make yourself more presentable? You are unfortunate on my eyes.”

And when did we convince ourselves that we are some sort of Mother Teresa because we hand somebody a dollar. IT IS A DOLLAR. If you care so much about what the recipient does with the dollar, perhaps you shouldn’t be giving it away.

Clearly that dollar means way too much to you.

And you know these people drip in self-congratulatory declarations of their own “altruism.” You know what altruism is? Giving with no expectation of return.

And yes, expecting that the recipient graciously accept, appreciate, or spend the money on what you deem HOLY and RIGHT and GOOD is in fact demanding a return.

So here’s you: “I believe myself to be a deep and generous person and to confirm that, I will offer you something, but we need to be clear: I’m not doing this for YOU. I’m doing this for ME. If I were doing it for YOU, I wouldn’t give a fuck what you do with my dollar.”

Oh, I know. I know. Enabling! We are enabling the homeless by offering a dollar so they can buy a pint. Maybe.

But maybe they are going to buy tampons. Or French fries. Or maybe they needed that pint to kill the alcoholic withdrawal that would have killed them. MAYBE YOU SAVED THEIR LIVES WITH THAT PINT.

Okay, I’m being hyperbolic. But my point is real: We can’t control the outcome of our attempts to help others, and most attempts to do so are simply a way to feed our egos.

In other words, I’m going to give you this $1 so I can feel good about myself. The moment the recipient doesn’t participate in feeding our egos, we fucking hate them.

OMG SO CHRISTLIKE!

Seriously. Get off that Good Samaritan pedestal.

Here’s what I want to know, pedestal people: If you want to give a dollar, why don’t you do it simply because they are quite obviously not doing as well as you are?

If we have it, why don’t we give it because it’s nice to have an extra dollar?

Who the hell cares why they’re standing on a corner mumbling to themselves and asking for change? Bad decisions, drug addiction, alcoholism…does it matter? I mean, does it really matter? Is the central point of the situation altered in any way whatsoever?

No. No it is not. Because the central point of “giving” is that when you have a little extra, you share it. The central point is that no matter how you cut it, the person standing on the corner in dirty clothes, begging, is, generally speaking, a bit down on their luck and even IF they simply made 12,000 bad decisions beginning at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1985 and ending here, can’t we all appreciate a human who isn’t doing so hot?

Look, I know. I know you have never been that pathetically human before. How do I know? Because you’ve obviously lost touch with what it means to be human.

If you see a person filthy and sunburned and cracked in heart and face, sucking on a cigarette in piss-stained clothes, holding a sign asking for change, and all you think is: “Well that person is clearly a drunk.”

My god. You know what? Save your change. You’re gonna need it in hell. Maybe you can throw some green at Satan and get your fucking soul back.

Damn it. I promised myself I’d stay chill about this. But I’m telling you, it rips my heart out. How did we become these people?

It’s not a bleeding heart thing. It’s not some “liberal” thing. Look. I hate liberals almost as much as I hate conservatives. This is a goddamn HUMAN thing. When did we lose touch with some basic love? Basic concern? Basic goodness toward the people around us?

And I don’t give money to everyone asking for it. When I see a group of 20-year-olds chilling with their pit-bulls and skate boards, bright-eyed and scrollin’ their iPhones, asking me for money because they did too much blow at Coachella, I’m like, nah.

Why? Because I am not Jesus, and they irritate me.

I TOLD YOU I AM NOT JESUS.

But we don’t have to be Jesus. We just have to be decent.

Give or don’t give. Do what you do. But don’t give for “altruism” then blame the recipient for not catering to YOU.

 

At one point I had to stop reading the comments. These people were talking about the homeless, mentally ill, and drug-addicted in our community as the “filth” of our world, as if they were not even humans at all, as if cycles of addiction and poverty do not exist, as if they could get out of the whole homeless predicament if they were just better people.

Oh, you mean like you?

Like the commenter who said she was disgusted at a fast food restaurant for giving a filthy homeless man a cup of water and letting him sit at a table? She wrote, “that’s more than I want to share with a homeless person.”

(The filth rubs off, I guess.)

Space. That’s more than she wants to share.

That’s more than she wants to share with our brothers and sisters who are sick, cold, tired, and hungry. And that hunger isn’t always for food. Some of us are dying from a hunger in the soul, so sick we don’t even remember apples nourish the body.

I guess as a recovering addict I see myself in those watery eyes. But I think if we looked hard enough, we’d all see ourselves in those eyes.

When I hand a drunk a dollar, I want to say, “Hey man, buy the whiskey. I hope you get what you need.”

I know what we need isn’t in the bottle, but I can’t tell him that.

I know it’s in our shared humanity, and I can show him that. For a second, at least.

Or not. It’s just a fucking dollar.

It’s nice to have one to give.

***

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more stuff I shouldn't have said out loud:

  • Grace Mandarano

    I LOVE this post. I can’t even tell you how much I love this post. It is no one’s fucking business why someone is living on the street unless they are trying to do something to help. Judge the fucking system for not providing for all of its citizens but fuck judging the person who has less than you or is choosing to live differently than you.

  • Carrie

    Right on. I have had this exact argument with my aunt. The wife of a minister. She thinks they have chosen to be homeless. “They” made the bad decisions. “They” deserve it. Nice for a minister’s wife right? She keeps saying “Those People” so I will keep arguing because “those people” are people. And all people, no matter their situation deserve to be acknowledged and cared for.

    • Pinkie Lynn

      A long time ago I had to have multiple surgeries to remove tumors and chemotherapy that went on for almost two years. On about my 9th stay in the hospital some women from my mother’s church came to visit me. One of them actually told me that I was only sick as some kind of punishment, and that people who are right with God don’t have that happen. I told here that I knew sweet people down the hall who probably had never done anything bad or even said bad words who were suffering and dying. Then she asked if they could pray over me and started toward me, reaching out as if to touch my shoulder. I told her if she laid hands on me I would call security. I also told her that her words were making me sicker than the chemo ever had.She couldn’t believe that I meant it about calling security until I told her that if they didn’t leave right then, I was pressing the button, and also getting on the phone. A nurse was passing and heard this. She threw those “ladies” out for me.

  • Sarah

    Thank you. I totally agree! I’ve been on both sides of the story…been homeless, flying a sign and have given or not at my discretion. We’re all in this together, or some choose to live in a delusional world where their little tiny minds are god. Choice is ours. I choose LOVE!

    • Peggy Miller

      Don’t read the comments. Ever. Comments are too upsetting. Unless it’s comments here. Then they’re awesome.

  • Linette

    I’m not catholic (or even christian), but I try to do what pope Francis said: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/03/opinion/the-pope-on-panhandling-give-without-worry.html?_r=0 (basically, he says give them the money, and don’t worry about it.). Of course, it helps that I don’t live in a big city like NY or SF where you might encounter a panhandler every block. But yeah, at the very least, “Don’t be a dick” should go without saying.

  • Kim

    I used to give money to a homeless, addicted gentleman who would hold the door open at the coffee shop near my office. 9/10 people who walked through that door wouldn’t even say thank you to him, never mind give him some spare change. A colleague asked me why I gave him money when he was only going to use it to buy alcohol. My response was “I don’t care if he uses it to buy alcohol. If alcohol is what he needs to get through his day then so be it. Maybe if he makes it through this day, tomorrow will be better for him. Or maybe not. But if it gets him through this one day then I’m happy to give it to him.”

    I hate the way most people ignore homeless people. If you don’t want to give them money, then don’t. But at least acknowledge their presence when they ask you for money. How difficult is it to say “I’m sorry not today”? They are human beings. At least give them the dignity of a polite response, if not your money.

  • GiGi Huntley

    AND to those people who always say things like, “Why can’t their family help them?” Well, my brother is schizophrenic and is often homeless and – guess what? – the government made it so I can’t get him help. I’m not allowed to check him into a hospital; he has to sign himself in. That started in the 80s with Reagan, and you can see a direct correlation between that and increased homelessness and violence. Google it, because I’m tired of trying to educate you on this when you’ve already made up your mind about homelessness, mental health, and what I should be doing for my brother.

    And every day I’m grateful I have a dollar to give, because it wasn’t always that way.

    • Pinkie Lynn

      Bless your heart for struggling with the unfeeling actions from our government that put your brother at risk, and you in a bind. Thank you for reminding people about what happened in the 1980s. The street in my town were suddenly interspersed with lost souls shouting to themselves or wandering into traffic. There were also mentally ill people who were already in care turned out on the streets, and those (formerly state run)facilities were closed. People started to forget that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Any money “saved” by shutting those facilities was quadrupled in debt by an increase in other ills, including some of these people repeatedly ending up in jail. Keeping them on their meds had prevented them from getting that bad off to begin with.

    • Cheryl S.

      AMEN! people don’t get it.

  • Sarah R.

    Oh, how I’d rather be filthy in body than filthy in spirit. Thanks for this!

  • LOU TAYLOR

    Ahhh…yet another reason to love you. You take the words right out of my heart.

  • Kelly Graham

    I blame the “prosperity theology” that has given the greedy and self-absorbed a way to be righteous while demonizing the poor. They’ve managed to tie Christianity into knots, making extreme wealth a sign of God’s favor, despite Christ’s words to the contrary, and making poverty a moral failing and a sign of God’s disfavor. They must have done something to deserve it–wealth or poverty.

    Have a look at Russell Conwell, who founded Temple University, who traveled the US preaching his “Acres of Diamonds” sermon. He and a few others fundamentally changed American churches from houses of prayer to dens of thieves.

  • Sherry

    See, now this is one of those things you post where I’m like, “Hmmm… I think I disagree. But, it’s Janelle. And she is pretty fucking smart. So I’m going to mull this one over. I’m going to give this some thought.”

    So, for that, I thank you. When you agree with me, you’re awesome. 😉 But when you don’t, you really make me think.

    Not that I think homeless or desperate or addicted or mentally ill people are trash. I mean the whole part about giving and my attitudes toward that. Really, this is an interesting perspective that I want to spend some time with. So honestly, thank you.

    But I’m gonna be kind of pissed if you end up turning me into a good person or some such crap.

  • John Hanley

    I *am* a Catholic Christian and I gotta say, I love having Francis as head of my church. Not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but does such a great job of keeping it real within his limitations. That’s right, give ’em money, he says, and fuck your needs test, give ’em all money and for whatever they want. Just one condition: you have to look them in the eye, and make physical contact with them. I can’t argue with that and want so much to believe that it would make a world of difference if we could all do just that one thing.

  • Danielle

    I was in Target at Starbucks and an elderly homeless man approached me with his hand held out, handing me something. I opened my hand and he dumped a few coins into it. He did not say a word and did not look me in the eyes keeping his head down. I got the impression he may have been partially blind and/or could not speak. I asked if he’d like a cup of coffee which he shook his head yes to. I returned his coins and ordered him a cup of coffee along with my own. He grabbed my hand and held it for a moment to say thank you. Growing up it was routine for my mom to go through a drive thru and return with a sandwich for a homeless person. That day in Starbucks I was met with disgust from almost every other person in that line. One woman even commenting to her daughter how I was encouraging him and now he would stay even longer. What has happened to us?

  • Anne

    I fully agree with you. Homeless people reject food for all kinds of reasons – it’s bad for their teeth, dietary restrictions, they’re getting meals elsewhere, or they just plain don’t like the food on offer. I prefer to give to local organizations who can stretch a dollar to serve more people, but when I give money to someone on the street, I give without expectation. I don’t ask them what they want it for. (In fact I’m less likely to give if someone approaches with a sob story – that just makes me feel like I’m dealing with a con artist.)

    At the same time, I don’t judge people for judging the less fortunate. I think of it as a form of self-preservation. They are telling themselves: as long as I make good choices, that will never happen to me.

    Whatever gets them through their day.

    • elysium

      I worked with people experiencing homelessness in my community for several years. A lot of people with paranoid and/or delusional symptoms also won’t take food because it’s “tainted” or they don’t know the source. And yes, I definitely saw people getting a whole apple who have no teeth – how exactly are they supposed to eat that? (Also, there are lots of people with uncontrolled diabetes on the street – an apple with a white bread sandwich is probably not an ideal meal.)

      I generally do not give change to people experiencing homelessness, as I prefer to donate to organizations that will help them in more robust ways than I can. But I look them in the eye and wish them well when I pass them on the street.

      You’d be amazed at some of the stories I heard during my work. There but for the grace of God go any of us.

  • Michelle

    When we first moved to the city I live in, it was the first time my daughter experienced the homeless. I would give whatever I could spare. She asked me, “Mom, how do you know they aren’t going to use that for drugs or alcohol”? I told her, I don’t, but it’s not my call. If that pint, or hit off a pipe, or a burger from the dollar menue is going to get them through the night, then so be it. I, like you will not give to teens or 20 somethings hanging on the corner pan-handling with cell phones. To them I say, get a job! Only because after my daughter was active at a teen center in high school, she knows that the majority of them pan-handle because they make enough money and they don’t want to work full time or part time. Some people truly can’t help themselves because of whatever reason. More fortunate people should be more compassionate, because in today’s world, a lot of us are just one paycheck or one disaster away from being homeless or helpless. Be nice people. It’s not that hard.

  • Amber

    I overheard a woman at the mall one day complaining to a cashier that there was a homeless lady in the mall–why should she be allowed to stay at the mall? Doesn’t security know that she’s bothering everyone?

    There was a nasty woman at the mall that day, but it wasn’t the homeless lady. I wanted to wrap her Williams-Sonoma bag around her face.

  • Tuna

    Thank you for this. I keep money in my coat pocket so it’s easy to give to those who need it. We’re all in this together, if we don’t help each other out we’re screwed.

  • Suzanne

    Thank you SO much! I love every word you wrote. Give without expectation, love without limits. Look each other in the eye and DO BETTER!

  • Rachel

    Sometimes, though… you can do more good by not giving them easy money.
    It’s all situational and circumstantial.
    Neither approach is correct when what you’ve done is judged all as a collective (i.e all homeless are disgusting losers unworthy of help OR all homeless deserve help) … even those who decide they won’t give to the homeless, they have a story too which colours their decision and outlook about it and that can be as valid as anyone else’s outlook.

    But I do agree that being a social justice warrior is more about you, than about the cause you’re supposedly fighting for. Unless one applies their principals precisely and equally to every instance then that’s all you would be doing – moral posturing – which is okay too, so long as you admit that’s what you are doing.

  • Meg

    Holy fuck! THANK YOU!
    Reading this gives me flashbacks to the exact conversation had in my local town FB page.
    Our city Council is currently trying to make it illegal to busk or panhandle downtown. The reasons given for this are “it’s a safety issue” “people are bothered when approached” and “local businesses complain”

    Now, this is Pensacola, Fl. home to the Pensacola Christian Collage and the Pensacola Bible institute, degrees from both of these require “street preaching” where they stand on the corners Screaming…. no bullshit…. screaming at people. You can walk up to them and attempt discussion but all you will get is a face full of scream.
    In fact last week a street preach kicked a homeless woman off “his corner” so he could scream God’s love and wrath for all to hear while the poor starve in the streets.
    God fucking bless!!
    In Pensacola they LOVE Jesus but couldn’t follow his teachings if they were forced by law… can’t have a motherfucker gettin their hands dirty

    Check out Father Nathan Monk on Facebook, he has a video of it posted.

    You are amazing, keep that shit up!

  • Mae McDonnell

    Amen.

    Also, I can’t read my local community’s Facebook page either. They are horrible people who apparently can’t even recommend a plumber without going into homophobic or racist tangents.

  • Susan

    I used to work for the state as a public assistance specialist, interviewing people who were applying for public assistance. My office was six blocks from the beach, and a majority of my clients were homeless. Most of those were the kindest souls I have ever known. It breaks my heart to see how they are usually treated.

    On a lighter note, “Could you please make yourself more presentable? You are unfortunate on my eyes.” Can I please use that quote on my husband who has an inability to see which clothes match each other and also which clothes match the event he’s about to attend?

  • Chantelle Pinder

    Thank you for writing this. I could not have said it any better.

  • Amanda

    The Good Samaritan never asked questions. He saw a man in need, and he helped. He didn’t ask where his “dollar” went. That is a very important part of the story- help is needed, so you help.

  • Alice

    I love every word. Thank God for you

  • Lisa

    Powerful. I consider it an honor to be able to help anyone on the street. I’ve always thought it is none of my business to concern myself with what people do with anything I give. There is no one looking over my shoulder breathing down my neck about what I do with my money. Well, except taxes. I began to give more money, less often. I usually give $5, sometimes $10; to the young woman nursing her baby on the steps of the Geary theater in San Francisco as all of us well-dressed people walked into the opera, $20. I don’t care I’m thought of as a sucker or she, a thief. There’s no room for error, for my error, in that scenario. I go further and when I give to people who need help, I suggest to them that next time someone gives them 50 cents, tell them it’s an insult. I don’t want to see someone who is homeless and money-less have to eek out a candy bar for dinner. I want them to feel relief…..omg…..I just got some real money and I don’t have to choose between food and cigarettes, or meth. Whatever. I’m just happy I can help someone feel significant monetary relief, once in a while.

  • CrushLily

    These people who consider the homeless filth are probably only two or three poor decisions and/or an unfortunate event away from homelessness themselves. Sometimes all its takes is limited savings + high levels of debt + job loss/relationship breakdown and before you know it, you’ve no alternative but living on the street. They should be wary who they are casting their judgement upon.

  • Rachael

    You did it again! I felt a resounding “YES!” in the depths of my soul as I read this. I don’t know why it is so hard to just not be a dick. If I was homeless and cold and lonely I would drink the day away too.

  • Jen

    One time there was a homeless man sitting on a median on a very busy street in SF holding a sign asking for food. Just that. FOOD.
    I gave him the only food I had with me at the time, while I sat in my car waiting to turn left.
    It was an apple.
    He refused it, informing me that he didn’t have any teeth left. He gave me a toothless smile, and went on his way.
    Before that moment, I never considered that someone may be so altered in a physical way that they may not be able to accept the food/drink offered freely to them.
    Just something to keep in mind.
    I love humanity, but can’t help despising humans.
    We’re all in this together!

  • Daniela

    I was driving to work a few days ago, late, irritated that the amount of people in the city I live in has quadrupled and gentrified the hell out of everything, and now there is traffic at all times of day. By the freeway on ramp, two men (regular spare changers on that corner) were standing with their arms out. They were holding up handfuls of birdseed. Both men covered in birds, smiling. Spreading some light. Living life.

  • Annemieke

    Personnaly I do not believe in altruism. You don’t do things completely neutral. If people get a good feeling from being altruistic, it immediately becomes a contradictio in terminis. I believe acting pro-social gives people a good feeling (and thank God for that, otherwise a lot of good things probabily did not happen anymore)
    And what gives you a good feeling I think differs from person to person. Maybe that the person who knows from experience how good it feels to get help without restrictions, gets a good feeling by knowing that the person he helps might feel good by it too. Another person however, gets a good feeling from knowing that the money he worked for is spend in a way that is responsabele to him and will therefore spend it to organisations that act that way. Nobody spends without opinion, I think.
    Personnaly I like to spend money to people that I think of as being capabele to make desicions that are beneficial to them. Of course we can argue about what is ‘good’. But as II said: I am not without an opinion. And like most people I support the things and persons that more or less share my opinions.
    But I do not think that people who will not spend te money geven to them in a (to my opinion) responsabele way, should not be helped at all. Some (not all) people are in need because the thing they suffer from witholds them from making good desicions. Then I rather help them indirectly, through organisations that help them to get clear sight. Comletely non-altruistic. But does it make me a bad person? I still help.

  • Lori

    I totally agree, I’ve always said that I feel like I am just one mistake away from being homeless myself. Customarily, a person would rely on their families if they lose a job and have no savings, but what if a person doesn’t have a family to rely on? And why on earth would anyone feel so certain that they are infallible and superior that they are entitled to be a dick about people who are struggling to survive?

    • Katie

      This is exactly how I feel. I’ve come to realize how easily I could find myself in a similar situation. As someone else commented but for the grace of god.

  • Laura Morzov

    The people in our community were recently saddened by the loss of one of our homeless. Here is a great article the local newspaper wrote on his passing.

    http://www.mtdemocrat.com/news/the-life-of-elliot-cohen-in-his-brothers-words-2/

  • Miranda

    I give change when I can because I only feel human when I treat others like humans and I want my kids to do the same. I wish I could do more, I wish I could hear their stories. I think many “disconnected” people are terrified of the reality that that could become their reality, we don’t get to choose everything that happens in our lives, you don’t make all the right choices and get rewarded. Did a child born into a slum do something wrong? It’s terribly sad that we can’t just be nice, especially to those who need it the most…however maybe it’s the hateful people who need the most love? Rex Hohlbein is a great man doing great work in Seattle, check out his FB page, Facing Homelessness. Along with many other things, he photographs and shares the stories of the many homeless folks he encounters, quite a guy!