Tuesday, December 11, 2012
DRIVE BY COMPASSION
Panhandling on the Street, Chicago, IL
It’s the holiday season once again and most folks are generally in a holiday mood. My adult Sunday class recently spent time ringing Salvation Army bells around one of those ubiquitous red kettles that sprout up all around the city at this time of the year. And it was a great way to start the holiday season to once again be part of an effort to facilitate the generous outpouring of my fellow citizens to give a helping hand to those less fortunate. It’s especially gratifying to watch proud parents stand aside while young children joyously place coins in the kettle.
The experience of our class members prompted a discussion last year about not being able to ignore the folks standing on street corners and medians with handmade signs asking for money as we drive by them. Some of them expressed feelings of guilt if they didn’t give the person something. And I suppose we all really have to quickly assess each circumstance to attempt a good decision because unfortunately, many street people are afflicted by addictions or mental illness. In many cases, giving money on the street only enables the person to continue their self-destructive behavior. This situation was amplified recently with the much publicized photo of the New York City police officer buying a pair of socks and boots for a barefoot man on the street. Reporters soon found that the man had a government subsidized apartment in the Bronx and spotted him soon afterwards back on the street walking barefoot and panhandling.
Sad to say, but it would seem that when we’re confronted with these situations, it might just be in the best interest of all to reconsider a direct donation to these people on the street. That “drive by compassion” may provide us with a short term feel good fix, but it doesn’t provide the recipient with any sort of long term quality of life. It just extends their life on the street for another day. Rather, when we’re confronted with this situation, a donation to a local shelter or a low overhead organization like the Salvation Army might be the best use of our hard earned money. These groups can assess situations and provide basic needs of food and shelter and even counseling for constructive change and hope for the future, rather than enabling a hopeless life on the streets which I don’t believe any of us would consciously finance. Loving our fellow man sometimes requires a form of tough love instead of a "drive by compassion" which doesn’t help anyone.