I Am a Monster

“Does anyone have any change, any food?” – cries a homeless man who looks no different than the average Angelino.

When I think of the homeless, I imagine dirty, stench-covered, subhuman, ex-drug addicts and alcoholics.

I realize this is a very sadistic and inaccurate description of unfortunate few, which puts me on par with all of the assholes in this world.

This man, dressed in a regular shirt, earing clean pants, hair trimmed and styled just sits there –one hand open, begging for food.

A typical pedestrian knows better than to hand over any money to a homeless, and thus, in an almost robotic sort of fashion we all walk by without as much as glancing at the poor souls.

It’s an unspoken code among us day-slavers: if you see a homeless, do not make eye contact, just keep on walking and if at all possible pretend they don’t exist.

“I’m not a wall” – he says, raising his voice.

This single statement stops me in my tracks.

A feeling of disgust and that which follows lasts for what seems to be an eternity, even though I keep on walking.

“What did he just say?!” – I think while turning around.

It hasn’t occurred to me that the ten or so people directly behind me are also purposefully ignoring him in much the same way I follow the code, looking in another direction, almost stumbling over his slumped chunk of flesh and bones.

“I’m a human being, god damn it!” – he says, this time even louder. “And I’m hungry!”

It’s not at all unusual to see raving lunatics who best suit psychological care facilities rather than streets of L.A. to roam downtown and scream profanities. But I can tell he isn’t one of them.

This man is perfectly sane, capable and most likely a victim of our crumbling economy.

The “code” doesn’t mention homeless getting upset over unsuccessful panhandling. They are supposed to do it quietly, repeating the same phrase like a broken record.

How dare he break the code!

He can’t just get upset because hard working people choose to ignore him! He can’t yell back at us! No, no … no!

But he is.

If I open my mouth, the first expression will be: What an asshole! Get a job!

But… I don’t dare say those words. My programmed behavior to treat homeless worse than pigeons (at least I throw some crumbs at them) is about to be shattered.

There is something wrong with me!

I could be in his shoes any day! I am no longer my own boss, I could be fired. I could lose my job, never find another one and end up on the same corner, occupying a small, dirty patch of concrete.

His luck had run its course and he’s merely looking to be fed, perhaps searching for that last glimpse of hope from what he used to call a normal life.

Feeling as though I can somehow redeem myself for allowing such thoughts to occupy my mind, I search for some change.

“I can be good” – I say to myself. If I can only prove that his cry is heard and that he is not indeed a wall, my conscious will clear.

I dig deeper and deeper, faster and faster. “Where the hell is my change?”

Joyous thoughts fill me. I’m a good human being for doing this.

I’m nice to people, I listen, I give free advice and do things for strangers without expecting anything in return.

I’m not greedy.

I can do this.

I’m a decent human being.

I’m an idiot!

I don’t carry cash. My bus is here, I have to go.

Who am I kidding? Redemption doesn’t come that quick. Giving away a bit of money won’t change the fact that I allowed my opinion to be shaped so harshly against anyone who begs to survive.

It won’t change the fact that I’m a hypocrite.

It won’t change the fact that…

I am a monster.

36 Comments

  1. Moving post. I always tell myself I am going to put a bag of food/water/etc in my car and hand it to anyone I see panhandling on the corner of the freeway exit. I haven’t followed through yet : / Homelessness is such a difficult topic to deal with, especially because of the stigma that culture has put on it and “the code” you mention where you should not make eye contact. Truly one of the great tragedies of our society.
    DC @ Young Adult Money recently posted..10 Expenses to Consider When Buying a HomeMy Profile

    • You know, that’s not such a bad idea to carry food. I always lug around a backpack so it wouldn’t be too difficult to throw some non-perishable food in there.

  2. Well, I wouldn’t say you’re a monster. Sometimes you can help, sometimes you can’t. It’s funny though that you said, “A typical pedestrian knows better than to hand over any money to a homeless…” I guess that’s true, I guess most people walk right by, but I really don’t. I remember when I was a kid, my sister and I would be given $5 to spend in the city and if I saw a homeless guy, I’d always run up and give it to him (and then beg my sister to share her $5 with me). And I still do that now. Well, I don’t run, and it’s usually not $5. But I do carry cash a lot or change and so I do dig into my pockets and see what I can scrounge up when I see someone. Someitmes it’s nothing, sometimes it’s something. I dunno. Like you said, who knows how people got into their situation, who knows if I could end up there, who freaking knows. Just help out. Don’t judge. Right? Yo’ure not a monster though — although I bet now you start carrying some change :-)
    TB at BlueCollarWorkman recently posted..Blue Collar Roundup — Arsty Fartsy Fall Photos EditionMy Profile

  3. I agree with DC, moving post. I remember living in San Diego/LA when my wife and I were first married and being much more common to see homeless people than it is here in the Midwest. I know that there are some out there who for one reason or another choose to be homeless. But, I know there are many more out there who are victims of the current economic climate. In any event, it’s sad that it’s the issue it is in our society. I, like DC, have not followed through on my desires to help out regularly. My younger brother lives in Washington DC and as opposed to just giving money to someone, he’ll actually take them out for a meal. Lat year for Christmas he took a homeless gentleman out for dinner. It helps meet their more immediate need for a meal and in the end I think he appreciated it more than just having money thrown at him. Thanks again for the post!
    John S @ Frugal Rules recently posted..What Earnings Season and the iPad Mini Have in CommonMy Profile

    • Wow, what your brother does for some homeless folks for Christmas is so heart-warming to hear! I’m just ashamed that my behavior has been shaped so radically by … well I don’t actually want to blame anyone or the society as a whole, maybe it’s just me… shaped by my own misconceptions.

  4. You are not a monster, you did not do anything to make him miserable or put him where he was. Sometimes we want to help and we can’t, and even if you could, you couldn’t help the whole world! I don’t like giving to panhandlers but I give to NGOs, volunteer a lot and always help friends in need, doesn’t make me feel bad.
    Pauline recently posted..Moving abroad: The Check-listMy Profile

  5. You’re definitely not a monster….the guy accomplished exactly what he was trying to….pull at your emotions of guilt. I live in a relatively small city (about 100K), but the median income of the city is pretty high since probably over 50% of the population is employed by either IBM or the Mayo Clinic. We have panhandlers on several of the major exit ramps in the city. I see them every single day. I hope I don’t come across as cold here, I certainly don’t mean to. but I have a huge problem with giving money to panhandlers – and here’s why:

    1.) I’m just getting my own finances back on track, giving money to someone else wouldn’t be very wise on my part.

    2.) We don’t know anyone’s story, and should never assume to – which is why I have such a huge problem giving them money. I would view giving money to a panhandler as a charitable donation….but what do you know about the charity? Nothing. I’ve seen these guys coming out of McDonalds (near by) talking on a cell phone. I’ve seen a guy that was panhandling on the same street corner drive up in a car and hand a lunch to the guy that was standing there THAT day. Are these guys working together? If I’m going to give to a charitable cause, I want to research it and know where my money is going.

    3.) It just rubs me the wrong way to see a guy standing on the offramps (and the most popular just happen to be the ones where the IBM and Mayo clinic are stationed) 50 feet away from a sign on a local business that says “Help Wanted.”

    Just my 2 cents worth….
    Travis @debtchronicles recently posted..Done Living Paycheck to Paycheck? It’s Up to Us!My Profile

    • #3 – wow. #2 – I guess it’s hard to know what they are really up to, right? The reason I’ve been so devious in the past is that I once saw a local homeless person come into a grocery store and pull out a wad of what looked to easily be $500 or more in cash and buy a bunch of food. I figured, if one can amass that much cash through panhandling, why would they need any of my help? I’m not rich and certainly don’t have the means to give out money, but volunteering is something I’m considering more strongly now. Thanks Travis, you cheered me up.

  6. I certainly wouldn’t say your monster, but dealing with “panhandlers” can be tricky as many times “begging” becomes their own personal business instead of finding a job. This isn’t true for all of them, but is true for enough that you have to navigate this part of life tediously.

    The problem here is many of us want to help those in need, especially those who are hungry. I believe the best way to do this is to give to the local charities that provide this food and shelter (Salvation Army comes to mind) for the homeless.

    Personally I like to do both and can accept if I’m getting ripped off. The money I give to a panhandler is never more than I would waste on an “upgrade” at McDonald’s so it is never a big deal if I pass them a few bucks every once in a while. Usually I offer to buy them a meal (which many times gets rejected) That being said, if you choose to not do this and provide for the homeless in other ways – there is nothing wrong with it at all. Choose another option for helping those in need instead of passing out dollars on the side of the road. The options are numerous.
    Jason Clayton | frugal habits recently posted..Five Ways to Help your Kids Learn about MoneyMy Profile

    • “Usually I offer to buy them a meal (which many times gets rejected) ” – interesting. Those are probably the few that look to buy cigarettes or alcohol instead. I’m starting to believe that volunteering is the only way to go in these types of situations.

  7. This is a really great piece. My cold, hearted conservative views always come across in my opinions of this matter. You’re not a monster. You’re not a bad person. It’s okay to feel sympathy for a person in need. But I certainly don’t believe its up to you to solve this man’s (or the world’s) problems. If you wanted to give him a dollar or whatever, that is fine. But people should remember that when they’re asking for a handout, its not an obligation.
    My Money Design recently posted..Confessions and Resume Screening Tips from Someone Who InterviewsMy Profile

  8. You are not a monster. Obviously it is different in a small town, but we have our share of homeless folks. Some are truly down on their luck, and some choose to be that way. Our office got really close to one such gentleman a few years back. He came in every day and the receptionist gave him a dollar. He cleaned up for a while and had a place to live and veteran’s benefits, but decided he didn’t like being “confined.” and chose to be homeless again. He wasn’t able to keep sober at that point and he froze to death one night two years ago right across the street from our office. It was very upsetting, but that was his choice. In our area, there is a homeless shelter that provides breakfast and dinner. You can get lunch at one of two soup kitchens. Some people panhandle. Others go to day labor and try to get a day’s work. There are organizations in the community that make sure no one has to be hungry or without a bed at night. I would offer services to a place like that. Our homeless shelter always needs volunteers, so I’m sure others do as well. Maybe panhandling was that gentlemans only option, but maybe not. I wouldn’t beat yourself up over it. Yes, we could all end up in a terrible situation, but I wouldn’t make some else feel guilty over my misfortune.
    Kim@Eyesonthedollar recently posted..Inspired by Malala Yousafzai, 14 Year Old HeroMy Profile

    • Wow, that really puts things in perspective for me. I’ve heard that there were shelters for homeless but never knew where they were, even more so wondered how the homeless are supposed to know.

  9. Volunteering is an excellent alternative, and will help assuage that lingering nag of, I am not ‘doing’ enough. Tragically if I entertained every panhandler near my apartment, I would be dead broke. Here the majority are young and healthy Once we spotted a college-aged girl in the dead of winter, sitting cross-legged near the off ramp, with a sign: NEED MONEY PLEASE propped against her knee, as she shivered and blew into her hands. It is pretty bizarre seeing the young faces and they seem to work together in rings because each day is a different face but the same damn sign! It makes me wonder how much these kids are raking in each day to make it worth freezing their bum off by being stationary for hours at a time like that, just to beg.
    Jennifer Lynn @ Broke-Ass Mommy recently posted..How Much Cash Do You Carry?My Profile

  10. *Warning, sweeping generalization incoming*

    It feels like most homeless people that you give money to either go buy drugs or cigarettes rather than food.

    I have a friend who agrees with my sentiment. She has started to take the homeless people into food shops with her and then buys them what they want just to avoid them spending it on things other than food.
    Glen @ Monster Piggy Bank recently posted..Move Out and Rent or Stay with ParentsMy Profile

    • Glen, that’s what I’m hearing more and more from people. I’ll have to give this a try and see if my offer for food gets rejected. I have been looking into volunteering and there is a homeless shelter in our area I might try.

  11. Good post, V.. but don’t be too hard on yourself..

    I try to have a big heart when it comes to those in need.. When I worked downtown, there was a few occasions that I offered my lunch to someone who was begging me for money on the way into work, only to be rebuffed.. It was odd..

    I didn’t let these experiences change my approach.. If anyone needs a dollar, and I have a dollar to give. .I will generally give it..
    jefferson @SeeDebtRun recently posted..How to Ace Your Yearly Employee Performance ReviewMy Profile

    • Thanks Jefferson, makes me feel better that perhaps I’m just being deceived a bit. Will offer food next time to see what happens.

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  15. I too would say that you aren’t a monster. I’ve given to some and not given to others just based on my general feeling of that person.

    I myself have been homeless before, and sad to say I am about to be facing it again. I’ve never done any pan handling, begging for money or any of that sort and definitely don’t plan on doing it this time around either. If I can’t get to a place where I can get some food free of charge, I don’t eat plain and simple. But i’ve always been the type of person who thinks “if i can’t afford it, i don’t need it”.

    Good on you for this great post and not what I expected it to be as I was searching google making lists of resources that can be of most use for me when this inevitable homelessness hits me again.

    All I can say, is never take for granted the things you have in life because one day you could be forced to sell all of your possessions or even just lose them all together. Humanity has gotten into the mindset that we gauge self-worth by our clothing, the kind of car we drive, how much money we make or even who has the most toys or possessions.

    • Justin, what’s going on? Why are you facing inevitable homelessness? Also, thanks for your kind words – they mean a lot, seriously.

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    • I like it – “we’re human, like it or not.” I guess we’re made to make mistakes once in a while and to be imperfect.

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