That is a very tough question.
It’s hard to walk past a destitute looking person huddled on the street with a description of dire need scratched on a cardboard sign and not have your heart strings tugged, especially during the holiday season.
They certainly are out in force this time of year. While Christmas shopping in Salt Lake City the other day I must have passed someone asking for help every twenty yards.
I’ve seen the special on 60 Minutes. I know there are those who collect for the day then walk around the corner, zip off their hobo get-up, hop in their ferrari in the Armani suit they wear underneath, and drive back to their penthouse laughing all the way.
And after the cautionary tale of Elizabeth Smart, it’s not like we’re going to take literally the “Will work for food” plea anymore and bring someone home to do odd jobs around the house.
Once on the Sean Hannity Show a homeless man called in from his cell phone to whine about the lack of resources for people like him. I wonder, do shelters let you put their address down on cell phone applications?
I don’t know what is the right thing to do. All I know is after passing about 25 beggars on the street with my shopping bags full of frivolous stuff, I couldn’t help myself. I wanted to give someone something.
I had just passed an older man who looked particularly desperate. I reached into my purse and pulled out a few dollars and turned around to go back and give it to him. But just as I turned, I saw him turn his back to the street and, while he thought no one was looking, pull a lit cigarette he had been hiding under his dilapidated coat sleeve and take a big drag. As he turned his head into his coat to try and discretely blow out the smoke, our eyes met.
We both paused, me with my money and him with his ciggy.
He looked at the change in my hand, looked back at me, then looked at the ground. He blew out his smoke and waved me off.
Stuffing the money back in my pocket, I stood and watched him for a minute. He carefully tucked his cigarette back under his sleeve and turned back to the street with his sign, ignoring me.
I walked away.
It’s not like I thought he was really going to spend the money at Whole Foods or save up for a warmer coat. Maybe I was just trying to appease my own conscience. I do feel sorry for him, and anyone who finds themselves impoverished and addicted with nothing to look forward to in life except bumming enough change to buy another pack of smokes.
But if I’m going burn money anyway this holiday season, it’s certainly not going to be to let someone smoke it.