We have a lot of homeless people/panhandlers in this area, and I thought it was interesting to find out during my psych rotation in school that a large majority of them are either people with untreated mental illness, such as schizophrenia, or younger kids or teenagers who have run away from home due to various circumstances (often sexual or physical abuse or neglect).
When you imagine how an untreated schizophrenic's life can be, how difficult and unbearable to them it is, how confusing and frustrating, how they are looked down upon by much of society or how many people couldn't be bothered with trying to help them learn how to live thier lives in a manageable way...or if you consider a 14 year old boy being beaten to hell by his mother's current boyfriend or a 16 year old girl being molested and raped by her father....and then consider how neither the children nor the mentally ill have the capability and/or resilience to cope with these situations in a healthy or effective way- well, I happily fork over my dollars, or buy them food, or place a blanket over a sleeping body under the overpass during winter, or whatever.
IMO, I'd want to get high and forget it all, too, if I were in their shoes.
The world is harsh and cruel to many; it's not my place to judge how they use my money if I am freely offering it to them. I don't feel that our paths would have crossed if there weren't a reason, either for me to assist them in whatever meager way I could, or for them to teach me compassion and empathy. Either way, I do it and I'm happy to do it and will continue to do it.
If someone is so needy that the only way they feel they can make a "living" for themselves is by panhandling, well, that's a sad situation and I am a very lucky person with many blessings, many gifts that I am more than willing to share, even if it means doing without myself.
I give what and when I am able to, and don't when I am not. It's as simple as that, for me. I don't have bottomless pockets or resources, but I know that, at least in this city, there are few resources available to help any of those people have a quality of life remotely near my own, even with all of its drawbacks and difficulties (struggle is nothing new to myself or my husband).
You know, I was on a break one night and was sitting in a courtyard having a cigarette and was approached by a woman who was waiting to be seen in the ER. We started talking, and this woman was extremely bright, but obviously had some mental health issues and told me that she'd moved from Ireland to our area a few years ago with her husband. He became addicted to heroin and overdosed, and she was soon homeless in a strange country. She had attempted to work but was unable to hold a job because of various health issues (mental and physical) and our local system is not great when it comes to affordable healthcare or interventions. She was as sweet as pie, but had obviously suffered a very difficult life. I was asking her where she stayed at night (this was in January) and she said that the shelters let them stay usually for, say, ten days a year. She could use them at once, or bounce around from shelter to shelter, but when the ten days were up, she couldn't return until the next year. She said that to get vouchers to stay at the shelter, she had to travel to various churches in the city, be counseled, and get a small meal (sandwich, fruit, drink or the like) and maybe some "new" clothes, and then she had to travel across town to the shelter she would be staying at that night. The shelters didn't allow women to enter before six PM, so until then she had to find a way to occupy herself. She also told me that in the shelters other women would beat each other up during the night, and people had stolen her shoes, her bag, and her glasses!!! from her while she was sleeping.
Now imagine that. A homeless person with no transportation having to travel all over town each day to ensure that they have a place to sleep for one single night. How does one sleep with the fear of being physically harmed? Or having your meager possessions stolen from you if you dare close your eyes and actually rest? How do they expect for people to travel across the city (large city) to get a voucher, then across again to the shelter? Just imagine yourself trying to do that. Every day. I know I did.
There is a large men's shelter here in a horrible part of town. Roughly 300 men call this place home. They installed portable toilets outside so the men wouldn't have to urinate and defecate on the street. This was all part of the city's "cleaning up" effort, and was actually a nice thing for many of these men- to be able to use the bathroom in peace and have a huge shelter (it used to be a wharehouse) to call home. Some developers decided that the area was ripe for renovation, and bought up a whole bunch of the surrounding wharehouses and made luxury condominiums out of them. The rent STARTS at $1000+ a night for a small studio, $1200+ for a tiny one bedroom, etc. There is an Aveda spa and some high end boutiques built into the bottoms of the wharehouses, as well as a Starbucks, etc. Right in the middle is this men's shelter. Well, what do you think happened? Residents of the condos began complaining that they could see the homeless men lined up to use the bathroom out of their windows and from their balconies, and the paper ran a big story on it. The residents signed a petition to have the shelter moved from the now residential, formerly blighted, area and out of their sight. They claimed that the shelter was an eyesore and that it was devaluing their neighborhood. The city is still attempting to solve this problem, and the residents are still complaining, and the shelter has had to install a huge fence to block the shelter from street view and was last said to have been ordered to remove the portable toilets permanantly until further action can be taken.
It is precisely these types of situations that will continue to motivate me to give what I can and continue to make me ill at the thought of how selfish and short-sighted some people can be.