Growing up in suburban Philadelphia, I can say that the better part of my life I was isolated from city living. I did the occasional trip into Philly to watch a sports game, maybe visit my father's office, see Franklin Institute or a holiday at the Union League.
Upon moving to Hoboken in 1995, I learned about living in the city from trial, error and exploration. During that time, I had lots of various experiences that I would never forget. Like the time when I first moved up, I offered a seat on the subway to a woman. She exploded in seething rage, snarling at me saying, "Do I look like I need your seat!?"
Plus, there were the homeless. After years of taking the PATH I would see Teddy. Teddy was a small African American man, who would claim to be collecting for a homeless shelter to give "bread, juice, milk" and other things to the homeless.
Later, I learned from Hoboken411 that Teddy was not working for a homeless shelter.
As the years passed, I can say that I have seen it all. With the harried people at the Port Authority Bus Terminal coming up to me saying, "Hey man, I lost my wallet. I need bus fare to get home. I'll pay you back, you give me your address and I swear I will send you the money!" to the woman dressed as a nun collecting money to the homeless guy outside of Bloomingdales at 59th who somehow trained two cats and a poodle to sit/lie perfectly still while he begged for money (trust me, the animal act was heart wrenching, that poodle had perfected the begging look).
So, like anyone who has lived here for a while, and at first was free with giving money to the homeless (or the so-called homeless, who were really scammers) - my heart slowly hardened and mostly my attitude towards giving money to homeless was "I pay my taxes, that's how I help."
I was out at Mulligan's last Friday. We had a nice Phillies crowd of about 15 people at the bar, watching the Fightin's vs Pirates. I didn't have a lot to drink, left around midnight and walked home. I got to the corner of Willow and 1st, turned and walked towards my condo. I walked past an African American man and woman who each had a bicycle. The man says something quietly to me to get my attention, and I turn to him.
"Yes?", I ask.
"My wife and I are homeless. We are both very hungry. Can you spare any money for us to get something to eat?"
Now, like I wrote before...99% of the time, i'd say no, and just walk away. But looking at the guy, and the woman they didn't "look" homeless. Nor did they strike me as your typical people looking for drug money.
Oh, I know. My jaded readers are all rolling their eyes, like I probably would be doing right now also.
But my spidey senses didn't say they were homeless, and I can't say that i'm always right, but I have a fairly good track record of being more right than wrong.
Yep, there's another eye roll out there from the readers.
So, to continue the story...
I could have given money, but I don't do that anymore. I simply don't. But, he said he was hungry. OK, fair enough. So I turn to him and say:
"No problem. Lets walk up to Washington Street and i'll buy you and your wife anything you want to eat."
They immediately agreed and we turned around and walked up the four blocks to the main street. While walking I find out that the man worked for a contractor as a painter, but all the jobs have dried up...and he couldn't find any more jobs. The homeless shelter in Hoboken was full, he told me, and they were going to try the one in Union City next, but they weren't sure if that was full. He said they might just sleep outside tonight. He said they didn't eat since that morning. I asked if they had any family in the area, and he said they didn't.
The story was, with this economy, believable. Plus, I called them out. My attitude was if they are hungry - fine, i'll feed you, but I won't give you any money.
Since it was late at night, I had a choice of pizza or Cluck-U. I asked them what they wanted, and they asked for Cluck-U. We walk into the store and they ask nicely, "What is our limit?"
I tell them to order whatever they want, there's no limit.
They ordered some chicken, not asking for sides or a drink. They got it to go, and I paid the cashier the money and we walked outside. I kindly explained to them my reasoning about not giving them money, saying that it wasn't personal to them - it's just a conscious decision by me. If you are homeless and hungry - I have no problem helping that way. They both thanked me, and I went home.
Now the moral of this story isn't about "Boy, is Sean generous! Lets all pat him on the back!" - it's more about how sad it is that our society has come to this. I can't discern between those that actually need and those that do. Yes, I fully recognize and understand there are legitimate agencies that collect money to fully help the homeless, and I could have donated my money to them instead.
Also, after reading books like The Soloist, you also glean a bit of a better understanding that you can't paint a broad stroke to explain all homeless people. Some have mental issues. Some have, in fact, fallen between the cracks. There are people working day jobs in cash-only businesses and only a bad recession away from losing their homes.
Personally, I think (and in a way hope) that it was the case on Friday. Both of them seemed like nice people who fell on hard times and weren't drug addicts looking to score. They just wanted something to eat and a place to sleep.
Would I do it again? Maybe. Maybe not. But it is like my mom used to tell me as a child, about The Parable of the Good Samaritan. I would come home from school, and tell her about doing something nice and she would always reply, "See, you did a Good Samaritan deed of the day!"
I always try to do good things like this. Always. But, like I wrote there are people who take advantage of kindness. If I can give out kindness in other ways, then I try to do that. Even if it is offering a seat for a woman, or opening a door for someone holding packages or helping people down on their luck.
There's no real moral here. I saw. I helped. I blogged. Take it for what you will. Maybe next time you see someone begging and asking about something to eat, you can do a Good Samaritan Deed, too. No one is keeping score, except God.