Friday, May 13, 2005

$5 & a Can of Dog Food

Tonight, while out, I was approached by a homeless man and his dog. He asked me for some change so he could buy dog food. I gave him the few coins in my pocket.

I also had a $20 bill. I went to a local store here in Salem. I bought a can of dog food. I returned to give him the dog food plus a $5 bill.

In years past, I would have easily given the former, but not the latter. My worry about giving money to transients is that they might then use this donation to purchase alcohol or drugs. In this current situation, that assumption would be a good bet as this individual smelled of cheap alcohol and appeared quite tipsy.

My recent change of heart regarding monetary donations has come about because I've never been homeless. I don't know what it's like in the least. I'm certain it's a difficult way to survive and I wouldn't be surprised if it's even more stressful than NOT being homeless.

While I'm a big believer in the necessity of good (in my case, organic) food, who am I to say that food is the one thing this particular person needs at this given moment? Maybe a shot of whiskey or snort of whatever will allow this person to face another night of uncertainty in the cold under a nondescript bridge.

More importantly, I realized that, in my choice of a handout, I was judging people. I was trying to decide what was best for this stranger right now. Each time I waved away a plea for change and instead purchased a hamburger and/or a bag of chips to give to the person, I was imposing my will and beliefs upon them. That's not what they had requested and, regardless of their situation, it's not my place to confer such judgment.

All that said, I did STILL impose my will to a degree in this situation. To help insure the dog indeed would be fed, I specifically purchased a can of dog food (with a pull top, no less).

I realize the possibility exists that this man may eat the dog food himself. However, I think that is a remote possibility. In my past experience with homeless people with pets (generally dogs), I've often found that they treat their dogs better than they treat themselves. Their dogs are not only companions but provide them with a measure of protection. So, it's important to keep their protector happy AND fed.

I hope the dog had a good meal and the stranger used the money for what he felt he needed most tonight be it food, alcohol or whatever else.


  1. Sophisticated transients frequent city hall, and Salem too. A guy and his dog might only harm himself by partaking in the pleasure of drowning his thoughts and frustrations in alcohol. The sophisticated transient might be empowered to create misery for others; they might also fuel their own misery of satiating their lust for money but never ever reach the point of saturation. They both need mental help. (All things are relative.)

    If I held a cardboard sign at a freeway off ramp asking for funds to get APE ( going (for stamps and such) what would be on the minds of the drivers passing by? Would that be qualitatively different than a non-profit group seeking aid from city hall? At least the bum is not pretending to assert that it is for the greater good; other than for the personal comfort of the giver? (All things are relative.)

  2. I have no problem making the judgement that I do not want to give $x for the next pack of cigarettes or bottle of cheap wine.

    Instead, I choose to make donations to organizations that provide various types of assistance to homeless folks.

  3. I find that most of the homeless are lazy and would rather not work. Those that are temp. out of luck use the many available professional resources to help get them back on their feet to be productive members of society. Giving money to these people simply encourages them to continue with their current life path and they will choose not to try to improve themselves. Rather, they find there are many people that, upon seeing them with a dog or clever sign, will perhaps feel guilty within their souls and reach into their wallet and give them money. I'm sure you and all those that keep them in town are appreciated by these homeless.

    Let's see, wasn't it P.T. Barnum that said There is a sucker born every minute?

  4. To JustaDog,
    Look, I grant their are hucksters out there. I once saw a so-called transient get into a nice late-model vehicle (several others were in there too) after their "begging" shift came to an end. I made a mental note of their faces!

    That said, I think most of them are sincere. Begging on a street corner for spare change is really demeaning. I can't imagine scores of people choosing to demean themselves.


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