Will offers up his experience with beggars and bums below; I maintain a normally steadfast refusal to give money. My refusal is based partly on the behavior of those in Colosse.

When I was still a student at Southern Tech, we had experience with the bums. Generally they didn’t come onto campus (or campus cops did a good job herding them off), but they sat (and sit to this day) at the entrances to campus by the freeway, hounding people for money. Absurdly, they take shifts, and you can see them switching if you know what times they do it; one time we even followed one as he got “off shift” and went to a rather nice and well-maintained sports car to drive off.

The other thing that’s always a lark is their shifting stories. A couple summers back, there were some rather rough hurricanes; the local bums (whose signs had previously indicated out of work status) quickly shifted, all claiming to be refugees or that their places of work were destroyed by the hurricanes. When the second hurricane came by, that name went up on their begging signs, replacing the previous hurricane’s name; as if we wouldn’t notice that they were the same bum who’d claimed to be an evacuee of the previous weather the week before.

There is, however, one person I’ve given to in the past few months. I consider him the exception that proves my case. Driving home late on a wednesday night, I had the misfortune to hit one of the miscellaneous pieces of debris that inevitably come up in Colosse’s roads. It punctured a tire, and a mile down the road I was stopped.

Colosse’s freeways, alas, are severely lacking in proper-width breakdown lanes/shoulders, so when my can of Fix-A-Flat didn’t work, I got out my jack, set up to swap the tire… and realized it would be a VERY dangerous operation by myself.

A couple minutes later, a car pulled over and a gentleman got out and walked up; he asked if I needed any help, and aided me, keeping an eye out so that I didn’t get hit by anyone while the tire was switched. My spare was a bit low, but I was confident I could reach a gas station on it; I gave him what I had in cash ($20) and thanked him for his help.

I got to a nearby gas station, but my spare didn’t quite manage; the old thing had popped on the way up. Called my roommate for assistance, and as I was waiting for him, my earlier benefactor came by; he’d come back to check and make sure I got to safety.

As we were waiting, I got to know him a bit better; he was a military veteran who was a bit down on his luck, had his apartment and a car, but an expired drivers’ license and a job interview with UPS to become a driver later that week. He showed me his documents – they matched. I didn’t have any more money to give him, but my roommate had a few bucks, and we both thanked him – for his military service, for the help, for coming back – and then wished him good luck with his interview and getting the license renewed in the morning.

I refuse to give to a bum – but I also believe that my benefactor that night wasn’t a bum, and he was absolutely welcome to all the help I was able to give him.

Category: Downtown, Road

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2 Responses to Helping and Being Helped

  1. trumwill says:

    The corner people in Santomas work in shifts, too. It makes sense when you think about it. It doesn’t do to have two independent operators at the same corner.

    The best way to tell if someone is on the up-and-up, in my experience, is to look at their teeth. If they’ve got good teeth (or gold teeth) they’re either scamming or only transitionally homeless. While I’m sure people wouldn’t mind missing a shower, no one is going to let their teeth go in order to make a buck on the street. If they’re missing more than a single tooth, they’re probably legit.

    But even if they are it doesn’t really matter. I don’t give them a quick buck because I think they need it. I give it to them because that’s the only way to get them to go away and leave me alone. Smoking is a form of meditation for me and when I’m filling up my gas tank or waiting in drive-through, I want to get my stuff and get going. That’s worth a dollar to me (as I said, I’ve already factored it in).

    There is one guy I gave more than a dollar to. It’s a post unto itself, but the guy demonstrated a good work ethic and I had reason to believe that I would recoup my losses (and if I were less stubborn I probably would have).

  2. Peter says:

    As I’ve noted before (on Subchat, maybe not here), the only effective way of eliminating or at least minimizing panhandling is to make it illegal to give money to beggars. Outlawing begging won’t work because most skells are too far gone to care about violating some new law. There also may be some constitutional issues. Most people who give money to skells, in contrast, are generally law-abiding sorts who will avoid doing illegal things.

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