I set out to change the world. Instead, the world has changed me.
I think I may have said that before and I don't apologize for repeating the words for they never seemed truer at this moment than now. I have been spending the last 12 weeks speaking with directors of homeless shelters, food banks, city officials,asking how I can help them along the way. While in California, I have discovered that most directors don't want to talk to me. Fair enough. They all think I'm a bit crazy and I may very well be, but I get a bit discouraged just the same.
Over the last weeks the plans have changed a bit here and there. We began by passing much of the rural areas where there are only mile after mile of fields or beaches. As beautiful as these things are, I am not out here to be on a vacation. This allows me that more time to spend in the urban areas where more and more homeless can be found each day.
Another thing that has changed in California, if the fact that we don't just limit our talks to the directors of the shelters. We talk to the clients as well. One of the things I have learned did not come from the directors however, but from a veteran who had been homeless for than 12 years. We both have several things in common. He has been housed now for several years. His homeless roots are something he will never forget, nor does he care to. He has dedicated the rest of his life to helping the homeless and teaching the community he lives in that homelessness is not just about alcoholism or drug addicts.
When I talked to him about how he feels about the panhandlers he had the following to say:
Why wouldn't you give money to them?
Well, statistics have shown that most of the panhandlers do make a good deal of money and/or they're probably just going to go buy a pint or a fix or something.
And if they do? What business is that of ours? That fix you don't want them to buy may the matter between living or dying to them. Who are you to judge that?
I see what you're saying.
Do you? Do you really?
Maybe not. Why don't you help me to understand?
One of the guys in the recovery program was a Vietnam vet. He and his best friend in the world served together. They were childhood friends. Knew each other since they were still at their mamma's knee. One day they're laying in the grass talking about chicks, the next day they are scared shit less, hiding in the grasses in Nam.
At night, layin in the trenches, Jim and his friend talked about what they'd do when they got home. They only had three weeks left and they were looking forward to going home. The next day, they were ambushed. One minute Jim was talkin to his friend, the next minute, Jim was scraping pieces of his friend off his face. They call it pink mist. When someone blows up like that and there's nothing left but the blood that hangs in the air. Jim has PTSD. He needed the fix to get him through the guilt. Survivors guilt.
We got another guy in the program who's wife and daughter were killed by a burglar. They were murdered for $96.00. Every night he drank himself into oblivion. It helped him to forget that they died because he was late in coming home from work.
So you may think you're helping them by not giving them that dollar, but some of them may really need it, and who are we to cast that first stone?