I’d like to introduce you to a woman. She’s probably about 5’2 or so. Longer curly hair and glasses. Her name is Rachel, or at least that’s what she said. She works (or claims to) as a professors assistant at Metro College (Denver in case my Omaha readers get confused) in their day care department. Her problem is that she left her wallet on the mall shuttle and she needs to go pick up her daughter but she doesn’t have enough gas to get there.
At least part of this was related to me as I tried to walk home yesterday. You see, there is quite a lot of panhandling in my neighborhood. I live quite near an extremely large homeless shelter, various homeless assistance facilities, a park where a lot of homeless hang out during the day when they are forced out of the shelters, and so on. That means there are also a lot of panhandlers in my neighborhood. Admittedly, not everyone who panhandles is homeless and not everyone who is homeless panhandles, but the population segments do have their correlations.
Now, I do support the homeless. I don’t want to sound callous and this post may make me sound that way. I want to help the people who can be helped and deserve it (which is probably most). Some do really need help. Some are beyond help, and sometimes I just want to help them out too even though I know it is just hastening their deaths just because at least it lessens the pain. Still, it gets hard to deal with sometimes when it happens day in and day out, sometimes resulting in getting hit up for money five or six times in the space of a fifteen minute walk.
Coming back to Rachel for example, why was she significant yesterday in particular. Well, you see, this was not the first time that I had spoken with Rachel. In fact, she had given me this story quite a few times during the two and a half years I’ve lived in the Ballpark neighborhood. Usually she’s made herself cry by the time she comes up to start talking to you, but not this time. Maybe that’s why I had the gall to say “I’m sorry. That’s at least the fourth or fifth time you’ve told me that story.”
I mean, I wanted to say that after previous occasions of this. I started recognizing her after the first few times and the story never really varied, just a little in the amount of certain details. At the same time, I didn’t know anything about her. It was possible that this really happened to her all the time (perhaps due to a mental disorder) and it just seemed farfetched. That probably wasn’t likely, but still possible. At the very least, I thought she would get indignant and start screaming. I was a little amazed at her gall in repeatedly using the story, but I wasn’t angry at her and didn’t want to humiliate her out on the street. If you have to be a panhandler, life is hard. You need a story even if no one will believe it. I don’t know if Rachel is homeless or not, but she’d definitely a panhandler. Whatever her situation, though, it’s her life. I can either give money or not. There is no need to start a fight or convince other people not to give her money.
Turns out, I had no need to worry. I didn’t call her out in an overly loud way, not talking quiet but not yelling. She just said okay pleasantly and turned to look for someone else to hit up. Maybe she didn’t want me to tell anyone else that her story was false and realized I still had that option but hadn’t reached for that first.
Either way, Rachel, I’m still not giving you any money, but I wish you the best. Also, you might want to come up with another story to work in there from time to time.