Who Am I?

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A nobody; a nitwit; a pilot; a motorcyclist; a raconteur; a lover...of life - who loves to laugh, who tries to not take myself (or anything) too seriously...just a normal guy who knows his place in the universe by being in touch with my spiritual side. What more is there?

05 December 2012


Poverty and homelessness is a big problem in this country, no doubt. But we’re becoming callous toward the poor. We know that there are plenty of social services and programs for those in need. In most cities, no matter how poor you are you don’t have to live on the streets – not anymore. There’s welfare and food stamps. There are shelters and food kitchens. We’ve come a long way since the days of The Great Depression. And we’ve gotten to a point where some people scoff at those…the “takers” of society who’d rather shirk their responsibilities and live off the generosity of others.

And so our growing skepticism and cynicism causes us believe it when we hear apocryphal stories of beggars at street intersections who at the end of the day drive off in a Cadillac. We get to thinking that if not all, then most homeless people we see are homeless by choice and probably a lot better off than they’re letting on. They’re poor because they want to be!

Recently, a picture made the rounds on the internet. It was shot by a tourist in New York City. This tourist happened to witness an event where a police officer in Manhattan gave a barefoot homeless man a pair of boots. The cop bought the $75 boots out of is own pocket. The photograph “went viral” as it is called and the story made the national news. The officer was justifiably lauded for his generosity and we all felt the warm glow of one human being kind to another. A true holiday “feel good” story.

Well, you know the expression, no good deed goes unpunished.

The headline: Homeless man spotted shoeless again! What the deuce? His explanation was that he could be killed for such expensive shoes and so he “hid” them in a safe place. Hey, in New York City that actually makes sense. If you’re sleeping on the streets and you have on a nice pair of shoes, they very well might be stolen from you before you wake up…*IF* you wake up at all. When I saw the original picture I said, “Nice try, officer, but those shiny new Redwing boots aren’t going to last more than a couple of days before somebody steals them.”

It gets worse. The local media found out who the “Homeless Guy” is and did a more in-depth investigation on him than a certain Barack Obama was subjected by Republicans to when he announced he was going to run for president. And it turns out, according to the New York Daily News that, “Homeless Guy,” aka Jeffry Hillman is not so homeless after all. Turns out, he’s got an apartment in another part of the city and receives money from the federal government for housing, Social Security disability and veteran’s benefits. Hillman was in the U.S. Army. Does he have to live barefoot on the streets, panhandling for money? Nope.

You think there’s a lot of homeless in your town? New York City has a whole Department of Homeless Services. And they know Jeffrey Hillman. A spokesperson for the NYCDHS says that Hillman has repeatedly turned down their services and offers of help. Hillman’s family was contacted; his brother said that Jeffrey had not been in touch with them lately and that he “preferred this way of life.”

And so we are left feeling empty…feeling cheated by a phony homeless person…again! For some, it will reinforce the impression that the majority of "homeless panhandlers" are nothing more than scam-artists. Because every time something like happens it makes us just a little bit more cynical and indifferent to the plight of the truly poor and needy. And that's sad.

At the end of the day, no matter how anyone else acts, WE still have to act in a Christian way. And despite hearing disheartening stories like this latest, we must not let that stop us from performing acts of charity for those less fortunate than us. As my blogger friend Debby points out, we ARE our brother’s keeper. For some of us, that will never change, even with all the scam artists in the world. But they don't make it easy.

For the Daily News story on Hillman click HERE


Bob said...

So much I could say here, Bob. It is easy for those of us to have plenty to eat and a roof over our heads to judge the plight of others. I applaud the actions of the New York City cop. He was acting out of compassion. For every guy like this supposedly gaming the system, there are plenty of legitimate folks in need. I would commend for your reading a book titled "Same Kind of Different as Me." It will give you new insight into the life of the homeless. Thanks so much for this thoughtful post.

Capt. Schmoe said...

A great post Bob. I think that it was best summed up when you said: "At the end of the day, no matter how anyone else acts, WE still have to act in a Christian way."

I have struggled with this for most of my adult life. My compassion, sympathy and desire to do the right thing was at continual war with my cynicism and my experience of seeing how the public is continually gamed by drunks and drug addicts standing on the corner with "will work for food" signs.

After a few years of working the streets of a mid-sized city, I came to the conclusion NOT to ever give cash to someone begging at an intersection. If I want to buy booze, it is going to be for me.

I also came to the conclusion that there needs to be a method to help people who are truly in dire need and who want to make the necessary changes to improve their lot.

Where I live, the best solution to my quandary is to support the Salvation Army, who provides feeding, shelter and treatment programs for the indigent and poor. They send me a bill every month, I pay it when I send out the rest of my bills.

There are similar organizations in most communities. Research should be done to ensure administrative and marketing costs aren't excessive.

Although it lacks the instant "feel good" sensation of helping someone on the street, it is a way to help without supporting the local liquor store or drug dealer.

Thanks for the post.

Bob said...

Could not agree more, Capt. Organizations that help the poor have done the research and have the infrastructure and staff to maximize the dollars given and have the most effective results. Many also have life recover programs that give people the chance to turn their lives around.

Bob Barbanes: said...

Here is the possibly-flawed way I rationalize *not* giving to panhandlers:

1. If you gave even a buck to every panhandler you saw in a given day, you would soon be completely out of bucks and unable to pay your rent, etc. Yes, there are that many of them even here in Pensacola, Florida.

2. People do not have to beg. There are all kinds of places that people can go in this town for a free meal and a place to sleep.

Nevertheless, I'm often conflicted. I see the panhandler, and then I fondle the $5 bill in my pocket that I'm not going to give him. I'm wracked with guilt and at the same time sanctimonious. "Go to a shelter!" I say to myself. But then I feel like a cold-hearted little shit.

But ultimately I get the feeling - rightly or wrongly - that giving money to the homeless does not do any real good...that, as Capt. Schmoe said, the money would only go to buy booze or drugs, not help them get their life together and get off the streets.

I just don't know. I try to do my part, but lately my part has been awfully small. (And if anyone so much as makes a wisecrack about that last line, I swear I'll...I'll...well, you'll see what I do!)

Jack said...

The closing paragraph is great!