Encounters with homeless provide reflective questions


Anna Wright

Beggars stand hunched and shivering at various intersections throughout Columbia in the winter, their tattered clothes and tangled facial hair evoking empathy in passersby. Black marker scrawled on scraps of cardboard reads “Anything helps,” “Have a family to feed” or, in an appeal to the more religious inhabitants of Columbia, “God Bless.”
They offer smiles and waves toward those who pass, in hopes that someone might be kind enough to offer up some spare bills.
One particular afternoon in February, as I sat at a red light at the intersection of Providence and Nifong, I noticed a frail looking man leaning against the metal pole of the traffic light.  His skin appeared pale and rough, and his trembling, cracked hands grasped one of the aforementioned signs that I had seen so many times before. As I peered at him through my frosted window, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the guy. I couldn’t avoid the thought that it was my responsibility as a human to help him out.
Now, I’m not completely ignorant.  I am fully aware of the long pitch of reasons why one should never give their money to a beggar on the side of the road.  Perhaps the money will only go to support their drug addiction or alcohol dependence. Perhaps they aren’t even homeless and have their car parked three blocks away, so that they may drive home at the end of the day with their dishonestly obtained earnings.
All of these thoughts raced through my head as I watched him out the window of my suddenly comfortable Ford SUV.  I pictured him waking up in the mornings and putting on the ripped and fraying clothes which adorned his thin frame, skipping his morning shave to achieve the “homeless” look and setting out to spend the day deceiving the generous few willing to spare a few dollars.  I imagined him trading the money for liquor or hard drugs and retreating to his home to enjoy the sinful fruits of his labor.
I knew there was a good chance that this man was not being honest in regards to his circumstances or to the way in which he would spend his money.  I knew that it was very likely he was standing there in front of me, shamelessly lying his way towards the next dollar bill he could scam out of some generous driver with a soft heart.  He wasn’t being honest.  He was a liar.  A scammer.
But carefully and without hesitation, I rolled down my window and handed him a $5 bill.
Maybe he is lying, I thought to myself, watching his eyes light up in surprise and gratitude.  It was a likely possibility.  But regardless of the honesty in their actions, if someone is desperate enough for money to abandon their pride and stand, begging, at an intersection, I think that person is entitled to the helping hand of another.
And if he is simply scamming the city’s generous inhabitants, perhaps a simple, honest gesture of humanity will be enough to open his eyes to the corruption in what he is doing.  Maybe if I show him my own trust, he will realize the merit in honesty and choose to abandon his tricks of the trade.
I know that this entire thought process might be silly and naive. Trusting the untrustworthy might not be the best idea and rolling down a window at a stoplight to give away money to someone who is most likely a desperate and manipulative liar might not change the world. But then again, maybe it will.
By Anna Wright