Chasing The Dollar

Posted: August 21, 2007 in Homelessness, Misconceptions, Money, Panhandling

Yesterday, while on the bus, I saw one of the homeless men I know heading toward one of the recycling centers. He was carrying two large plastic garbage bags, so I’m guessing that they were full of plastic bottles and aluminum cans.

Since he’s not a large man the bags were a bit unwieldy so he had them slung over his shoulders. His clothing had the tell tale stains of having been digging through various trash cans and dumpsters. As the bus passed, I was going to try to catch his attention, but then thought better of it – best not to bother a man trying to make a living, you know.  

Because of the stigmas associated with homelessness, many of them are unable to find gainful employment and must rely on day labor, part time jobs, or even seasonal work – none of which is the key to getting out of homelessness. Consequently, those who are unable to find any type of work will resort to either recycling or panhandling just to come up with a few bucks.

The thing that popped into my mind is that more of the homeless I know do more recycling than they do panhandling and I started wondering what percentage of homeless actually panhandle. So I tried finding some statistics on panhandling, but I couldn’t find any whatsoever. But in truth – not that many homeless panhandle. My personal guess is that only about 2 to 3 percent of the homeless engage in panhandling.

Of all of the activities that the homeless engage in, panhandling is the one that the majority of people despise the most. Yet, for some homeless, it’s the only way they can put a few dollars in their pockets.

Perhaps what bothers most people about homeless who panhandle is this false assumption that the homeless are basically lazy. To be sure, there are homeless who are lazy and want nothing more than to have everything handed to them, but there are, likewise, many homeless who are out "beating the bushes" to try and find a way of surviving.

Unfortunately, because panhandlers are in "plain sight" they are the ones who are more likely to get the backlash from the community. They are the ones who most prone to be treated with disdain, looked at with scorn, called names, have things thrown at them, and are even threatened by some of the "fine upstanding" members of the community. And after a day of being put down something has to give – the result is that some of those who panhandle eventually lash out verbally at someone who says something nasty to them.

I’m not saying that it’s right or justified, but I can understand how after a while a person ends up venting their frustration.

If you stop and honestly think about though, a homeless person who recycles or panhandles isn’t all that much different than a person who goes to work each morning – both are just trying to survive in the best way they know.

In the 90’s there was a group called Blessed Union Of Souls. They released a song titled: I Believe. The opening verse of the song was:

"Walk blindly to the light and reach out for his hand
Don’t ask any questions and don’t try to understand
Open up your mind and then open up your heart
And you will see that you and me aren’t very far apart"

If we starting noticing the similarities between ourselves and those who are homeless instead of seeing only the differences, perhaps we’d be more willing to reach out a helping hand. Because in the end the only real difference is the places each calls home…

…We’re all chasing the dollar.

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