Since I stopped using at the beginning of this year for (I hope!) the last time, I also stopped giving any cash to people begging for money. I mean, I’ll occasionally give (up to) one dollar and some loose change, but nothing more than that. I know that (in my area, at least) more than 99% of the people I see begging for money are begging for drug money. If I am no longer buying illegal drugs, to me that means that I no longer buy those drugs for ANYONE, not even indirectly.
I’ll admit that I have no problem buying a cheap beer for someone who is really dopesick or in alcohol withdrawal… I know from repeated observation of “close friends” (regular using buddies and “patna’s” I teamed up with) just how hellish and life-threatening opiate/alcohol withdrawals can be… and alcohol is legal and socially acceptable (at least for those who are “productive members of society”). I never have a problem (if I have the means) with giving a person in need food, hydrating beverages, blankets, warm clean clothing, hygiene items, bus tickets, dog food, time spent looking up resources for them, etc.
But if I have any resources other than monetary ones, I don’t give street folk money. If I give out money, I never give more than two dollars. Period. I no longer am willing to accumulate more guilt about helping anyone (including myself) destroy themselves (and everyone around them) by committing suicide by the most painful route possible.
Also, I don’t get involved. I spend as little time as possible near them, because I know all-too-well the risk I take by getting too friendly, too comfortable, around the people with whom I used to beg and live and get high and commit crimes, day in, day out, year after year.
That being said, I made an exception. I let myself become moderately involved with a man for the better part of an hour tonight. On the way home from picking up arthritis supplements for my four elderly cats, I stopped at 7-Eleven to get a soft drink. I had just lit up a cigarette, and didn’t want to put it out in the soggy excuse for an ashtray out front and waste a perfectly good super-snipe that someone not too proud to smoke someone else’s lit cancer stick, especially a near-whole one (and a Camel at that).
There were two guys out front. The one farther away was clearly “out there” double-fisting Four-Loko’s (the current-day usually-available corner-store equivalent of Mad Dog 20/20 – 12% alcohol) and seemed likely to misunderstand my intent and either manhandle me uninvited, and/or to turn violent unexpectedly (or, rather, fairly predictably). The closer one was clearly in severe pain – I couldn’t see his face, but even so his fetal posture and shaking-bordering-on-convulsions broadcasted pure suffering.
I thought he was dopesick, so I walked over to where he was crouched on the ground, sitting on some of his gear, hunched over his knees, shaking and quietly keening. He had a cigarette long-ago burnt down to the butt in one hand, and an unlit rollie (hand-rolled tobacco cigarette) in the other hand. I tried to get his attention. “Hi… Excuse me? … Sir?…” I finally touched his shoulder just firmly enough that he could feel my touch through the thick, dingy, Carhartt-knockoff he was wearing. I couldn’t see his face, but I could see dirty blonde and gray long dreadlocks (pretty well cared for ones, now that I recall… the dreads were all the same thickness and tightly locked… that takes a fair bit of effort to maintain, especially on the street) hanging down under an oversized, lightly-stained, yellow-tan “crown” (very large rasta-style beret-like knit hat). After the second touch, he looked up a bit. He was gritting his teeth and tear tracks had dried in lines down his cheeks. He was surprisingly clean-shaven, and not one of the locals I knew… I still know most everyone who lives outdoors in my neighborhood.
He didn’t make eye contact directly. I offered him a cigarette, then noticed he wasn’t smoking the ones he had. I asked him if he was dopesick, would he like a beer? He shifted, hunching back over a bit, and said no, he had been passing kidney stones for he-didn’t-know-how-long, and the hospital (which is about 5 blocks away) had kicked him out, saying they couldn’t help him. I asked him what I could get him. It was very difficult for him to talk, he mumbled close to a whisper, his line of thought frequently derailing as his words trailed off. After a bit I was able to hear what he was asking for – cranberry juice. I went inside, quickly poured a Slurpee for myself (I am fairly expert, after working 7-Eleven graveyards for more than a year in my late teens), grabbed a few pocket packs of ibuprofen, a few to-go servings of honey-roasted peanuts, a 2-pack of pocket Slim-Jim’s with cheese sticks, a roll of Tums… and a double-serving bottle of Ocean Spray.
(Note: when buying food for the homeless, I buy things that are self-contained in pocket-sized single servings and/or resealable, high in protein and fat, relatively low in salt and preservatives when possible, and unlikely to be crushed when heavy things are packed in tightly and/or on top of them. Generally, tastes among people living on the street trend toward sweet and meaty things, and things that can be chewed easily with missing and broken teeth, or with no teeth at all. Usually that precludes crispy granola bars with and any hard or unshelled nuts that can’t be swallowed whole. If buying anything that upsets the stomach, like aspirin, advil, or aleve, I make sure to include either food or a roll of antacids to keep their stomachs from exploding in pain, since their stomach linings are very likely to already be inflamed.)
I brought him the cranberry juice, and gave him the advil. I suggested that he make sure he eat whenever he took the advil to help with the pain and inflammation… he started crying when he replied he didn’t have any food. I handed over the honey peanuts, meat sticks, and Tums. He wasn’t able to acknowledge the resources, or even to stash them so his hands weren’t full, but that wasn’t the purpose. I just hoped he would be able to pull it together enough to help him reduce the pain a little… I tried asking him if he would let me help him stash some of it in a pocket or a bag for later, but he wasn’t able to answer, or even understand what I was asking, I think.
I wished I could have helped more, but I knew hubby was worrying about me at home, I knew he wasn’t able to accept or use any other help from me, and I knew I had pushed help on him as far as was prudent at that point. I’m praying for a swift end to the pain, though, and that what little I was able to make available to him doesn’t end up getting stolen or lost while he’s tortured by those horrible crystallized calcium caltrops passing through his ureters.
While I don’t advocate giving street folk money, I do exhort you to pay attention to each individual you meet. Whether it’s a simple human meeting-of-the-eyes and acknowledgement of a person’s presence in your sphere of influence, a regretful shrug followed with “good luck!” in response to a request for monetary assistance, or whether you are willing to go farther and give a person food or whatever non-tender supplies you can spare, please consider helping another person out regularly in the future. Being human to someone, even someone heavily addicted to alcohol or hard drugs, helps them feel like life is still worth living, offers a sliver of hope to many, and (for me) reminded me that I was still human, and that I could act like one again eventually… which, hopefully, I do a better job of manifesting both outward and inward toward others and toward myself.
Thank you for reading. Sorry I spent so much time navel-gazing instead of writing, or this post would have been much shorter. I’ll try not to wait so long in between posts. 🙂
Featured Photo: An edited picture of the sign I used the last time I went out to “fly a sign” (beg for money standing/sitting in one place holding a sign). It now resides as part of a large piece of art-in-progress titled, “And No One’s Getting PHAT ‘Cept Mama Cass”. Image (c) 2014, Venushakti Autumn Velatura. All Rights Reserved.