Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Introducing: Joe

I met Joe downtown. He may or may not be homeless, although he asks for spare change or food. He told me he's from Native American stock and comes from out west. His childhood dream was simply to get out of the Indian Reservation.
Yesterday, he shared some stories about the people you see asking for change on the way to work. Joe is very intelligent and quite self-reliant. He never bums cigarettes - he'd prefer to buy them himself or pick butts off the ground. He considers this to be more dignified than asking people for things. He doesn't even really ask for change - he just has a sign that requests it.
He also doesn't dumpster dive. He says that many bakeries have a system where if you wave to them through the window at the end of the day they will put the day's items in a plastic bag for you and leave it outside.
He doesn't hold many of his fellow panhandlers in high esteem. Some of his pet peeves are:
1. Aggressive beggars ("Give me money"). These tend to be drunks, he said, and prey largely on old women and young girls.
2. Scammers - People who give you a little something (like a flower) then ask for a donation and if you don't give one they take the flower away.
3. People who fake illnesses or who play up their woes for your donations.

He said to NEVER give panhandlers money - it all goes to coke, crack or booze. I already knew that, but it was good to hear again.
Also, he told me a story that really hit home:
A group of Jewish teens came in from out of town with a bus full of goods to give to the homeless population. I'm familiar with this program - I chaperoned a few of these bus trips from RI to Philly. Anyway, Joe said a bus rolled in and, as usual, there is a hustle and bustle of the locals trying to get goods before anyone else. One girl was handing out goods with a smile, and commented that one particular gentleman seemed to be really eager to clothies and other items. Joe told her to watch him. She saw the man go to every teen and collect bulk items - 20 packs of socks, etc. - then walked half a block away to where a group of guys were standing. He dropped off the stuff with them, and then went back for more. "He's going to sell this stuff for booze," Joe told her. The little girl went from happy to furious, and kicked at the dirt in frustration. It was some lesson he taught her, although I'm not sure if it's a good one or not.

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