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The House of Hagar

Catholic Worker

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Keep Your Money-We Want Change: An Open Letter to the Sunday News-Register

Posted on July 12, 2016 at 9:20 PM


 

 

 

  Was it ironic coincidence that the morning Scripture Readings at Mass this morning was about the Good Samaritan (LK 10:25-37).

  Our Priest reminded us of the story.- .A “scholar of the law” asked Jesus who his “neighbor” was. Jesus told a tale of a Jewish man who fell victim to robbers. They stripped, beat and left him half-dead in a ditch. A Jewish Priest happened to be walking by and saw him, and walked to the other side of the road. A bit later a Jewish Levite walked by and saw the hurt man, but he too crossed to the other side of the street. But then a Samaritan traveler came upon him and was moved with compassion at the sight. He approached the victim, poured oil and wine on his wounds and bandaged them. He then lifted him and put on his own animal and took him to an inn and cared for him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper with the instructions, “'Take care of him. If you spend more than what I have given you, I shall repay you on my way back. ‘Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers' victim? " He answered, "The one who treated him with mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."

 

  This message from Mass was in such contrast to what I came home and read in the Sunday News- Register in an article entitled “How To Handle Wheeling-Area Panhandlers” http://www.theintelligencer.net/opinion/local-columns/2016/07/how-to-handle-wheeling-area-panhandlers/

Tears welled up in my eyes, as a poverty greater than money became more evident paragraph by paragraph, as the article’s author went on about trying to end panhandling in our area. One of my fellow Homeless Outreach Workers, Crystal Bauers, who is both a nurse and a friend, put it this way in the article’s online comment section, “The following words were used to describe panhandlers in this article: infested, human leeches, human trash, human parasites, obnoxious creeps, frauds, immoral unethical culprits, unsavory and unscrupulous characters, and miscreants. I'm embarrassed for the person who wrote it. “

The oh so recent story of the Good Samaritan had my heart reeling…and my friend’s words continued “Yes, many struggle from addiction. What you don't know is, what came first, homelessness or addiction? The human beings that are being described are also: sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, mothers, fathers, friends, and most important Human Beings.

You do not know them, or their story. Some of them are plagued by serious mental illness, which no one would pick. Some are victims of neglect, physical, mental, emotional, and sexual abuse throughout childhood. Some are victims of domestic violence. Some were sent through the state foster care system, which if you know anything about is Hell in itself. Some have lost their jobs, followed by their house, and everything else. Some have chronic physical illness and want to work but their illness keeps them from being able to. Some were not addicts but turned to drugs and alcohol to cope with their situation. Some do get disability but cannot live on it and afford rent in this city for what many would consider a dump.”

Suddenly, the Good Samaritan Story was very real! In the story Jesus told, both the Priest and the Levite walked by the hurt half-dead man...neither stopped to inquire what his actual problem was…OR perhaps they KNEW what it was. Perhaps, he was the sloppy town drunk, robbed by those at the local brewery, with his addiction making him an easy target. Perhaps, he laid there in a ditch, beat up, robbed, bleeding, maybe even covered in urine. Perhaps, they would have used “infested, human leech, human trash, human parasite, obnoxious creep, fraud, immoral unethical culprit/victim, unsavory and unscrupulous character, or a miscreant.” as the word to describe him -Words that would allow them to cross to the other side of the street and ignore him in his broken state. The words of the author stung in similarity: “ I implore you, completely ignore these unscrupulous and unsavory characters — who have actually been known to urinate and defecate in public — and these miscreants will have no choice but to move elsewhere or just maybe, change their devious ways! “

Maybe it is us who need to change our ways! Perhaps it has never been the Panhandlers-but how we handle ourselves that should be in question. I am friends with several people experiencing homelessness and sometimes privy to what those panhandling are hoping to collect enough money for: A phone card to call a loved one, cigarettes, a bus ticket, batteries, propane, money that would allow them in a business to drink a cup of coffee and use the restroom etc.. Many homeless do not have addictions and not all panhandlers have addictions but let’s talk about the ones that do!

Yes, there are homeless folks addicted to cigarettes, some addicted to alcohol, some who self-medicate with pot, and a few who choose even more deadly drugs – this is true. However, speaking back to the author of the article, “ I hate to be the harbinger of one of life’s realities”, addicts are going to have addictive behaviors. These behaviors typically are the same in both the rich and the poor. The rich just have more ways to hide it… In this Valley, unfortunately almost all of us know someone who is dealing with a family member who has an addiction. Ignoring them is not the answer. Is it a surprise that someone sick with an addiction would portray sick behavior or make unhealthy choices? Before we write them off however, maybe we should do as Crystal suggested and take a moment to understand what we are seeing.

The traveling Samaritan in Jesus’s story was able to do this! The Samaritan had not fallen prey to prejudice, or been robbed of the ability to SEE the HUMAN in front of him. Because the Samaritan, did not see a label, be it of a “drunk”, “miscreant” or otherwise, he was able to SEE a hurting human and access the care he truly needed.

If we started from this view point, we might begin to see “addiction” is often the secondary infection of another wound or illness. We might begin to understand how being raped night after night as a child might lead someone to try to escape in drugs.

Or let’s talk about HOMELESS Veterans. With the nearly 50,000 Veterans that are homeless on any given night. So what do we call those who “fly their sign” in hopes of getting enough money for a pack of cigarettes and the bottle of Jack that drowns out the war that won’t stop following them. Sadly, 22 Vets a day take their own life. Surely the use of derogatory words does not help, if they have found they have found themselves behind a piece of begging cardboard.

Or the fellow who can’t get a job, because he doesn’t have an ID. He can’t get the ID until he gets a birth certificate. Which he needs $50.00 to order from the state he was born in…except he doesn’t have $50.00. And then he needs to get his Social Security card, which he needs an ID to get, but he needs the birth certificate and proof of an address to get a state ID…If he gets the birth certificate; he then needs to find a way to Moundsville…no buses go to Moundsville…So he needs money for a taxi from Wheeling to Moundsville (at least $40.00) and $7.00 for the ID- That is, if he can find someone to write him a letter and let him use their address for the ID.. So after he has rounded up $97.00 and an address, he can then he can go back to the Social Security to get his card and try to find a job…All this of course can only be easily navigated if he does not have any cognitive delays.

OR the "Shamed", what happens to the person who has lost everything, and then has to poop and pee outside because no one will let “that homeless” person in their home or business to go to the bathroom. How crushed does a soul become when it is stuck outside and cannot even properly wash up after going to the bathroom, hoping to have toilet paper -and hoping you are not a female with feminine issues. At what point does the soul become so crushed it becomes despairing or savage, or in a state of survival seeks comfort in a temporary fix? The down trodden, the abused, the abandon, the addict, the mentally ill, the Vet with PTSD or the mentally handicapped …the list goes on and on - All these can be found in the ditch of poverty.

So what about panhandling? Let’s talk about justifying someone’s ability to write off, wish away, or demean humans. It is much easier to call people names, to label them with crude terms, and dismiss ourselves from caring, when we can explain how little the “other” deserves OUR RESPECT. When we cannot show humane respect or care about someone, we cannot accurately assess what they need to be healthy… If our lens is a demeaning one, then we cannot see that ignoring these folks is the last thing they need!

The author of the article on panhandling hopes, that if funds are withheld “the low-lives” will just leave our area or change their ways…This has nothing to do with healing the problem –Just making the “low lives” go away –become someone else’s problem- not his. Yet this is not what Jesus teaches about “loving one’s neighbor”. He instructs that we are suppose to care and have Mercy on those in life’s ditches. Here is the rub- It is not just what we do but how and why we do it.

If it is just because you don’t want to see “human trash” and don’t want to waste your money-Keep it! You are not in a position to help a suffering person anyhow and have your own ditch to get out of. If however, you care, then there are some serious things to consider- Give CHANGE!

The Samaritan in the story really is a good example for us in this situation. He is traveling and on his way to some place. Isn’t this often our predicament also when we see panhandlers. We are on the move. Sometimes with a bit of time to spare and sometimes not. The Samaritan, could see there were at least three needs. These are the ones I would like to address. First, the Samaritan did not act with prejudice but with humanity. Treating someone with respect and humanity is first. Second, acknowledge the immediate need and do what is in your ability-Even if it is only to Pray. Third, recognize that long term care and healing is needed and financially support those able to do it!

When Jesus asked who the “Good Neighbor” was in His tale, the Scholar of Law answered, "The one who treated him with mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise." How do we as a community, go and be merciful...Well, mercy allows for Change and Healing, so this is a good thing to keep in mind as we decide on OUR actions towards our hurting community members.

“Change” might not always come in the form of money, and Healing might not only come from a doctor in a white coat. As a Community, we are also a family of sorts. And as Christians, we are called to help create Heaven’s family and help those in the “ditches”, the same way God came into each of ours. So what do we do?


1. Give a small moment of Humanity-Smile and treat those panhandling with kindness. By showing Respect, you are also teaching it.

 

2. Carry “Blessing Bags” – Ziploc bags filled with useful items like a soft granola bar (some folks don’t have teeth) or other snacks, chap stick, baby wipes, q-tips, tissues, playing cards, tooth brush, tooth paste, razor, shaving cream, socks, feminine items for ladies, seasonal items such as sunscreen or hand warmers AND put in phone numbers of area resources that can help. An addict “jonesing” might not get excited about it at the moment, but it will all be useful items that they need at some point. That is care! Helping them hopefully get one day closer to treatment. The phone numbers will not only give them access to further help but show them you care about their long term future as well.

 

3. If you have time, find out what they really need. Be direct. Tell them you do not have cash, but will go to the store for a small item. Many folks will tell you, “I need a phone card”, “batteries” , “A pack of smokes”, “food”. Ask them their name and use it while talking to them. Then decide if you can help them with that need. (I am an ex-smoker and I tell them that. So I also tell them I cannot buy cigarettes because that was my addiction, so I ask them to tell me something else I can go to the store for.) Again, carry cards with local resource phone numbers on it. Give it to them and pray with them or tell them you will –and do it.

 

4. If you decide to give money, give as a secondary action. Remember “Change” is what you really want to give them. Tell them! “Hey Bro/Sista, it’s only a little bit of money but I’m praying to a big God for you friend.” –and then do it.

 

5. Got Work? – If you have a small job that you are comfortable offering-do. There are several homeless who are very skilled in yard work and small engine and construction but do not have an id to get a "regular" job – Call an organization that works with the homeless and see if there is anyone they would recommend.

 

6. Give a Voice. - If you have time, ask them. “Hey I want to get involved with local agencies helping those who are struggling. Tell me one thing you think would help, because I want to tell them what you think.” The poor are not often asked what they think.

 

7. It should always be a human right to ask another human for help. However, if you ever see someone being aggressive or in a “crisis” state-Call the police. It might be the opportunity to get them to help.

 

8. Give both money and time to local organizations helping the poor. Also by helping, you’ll soon find you know almost all the names, and stories of those standing on corners and you’ll have a better understanding of their circumstances. This will add another layer in being better able to access the longer term care they really need.


9.Don't pass the buck! Engage in finding a solution by learning the real dynamic of the problems. Help create creative solutions (both through organizations and community efforts) ,and policies that work (like a mobile ID center that comes to Wheeling once a month) both locally and on a state and federal level.

 

10. Point out prejudicial and inhumane behavior. When we allow someone to demean, devalue or dismiss a human in our community for whatever reason they feel justified to do so, we are opening the door for someone else to treat another in the same manner for whatever reason they hold. Be it socio-economic, race, gender, religion, what-ever, we should be striving for a more connected caring community because we are a Friendly City-This is healthy…I’m holding my cup out to you-Wheeling for that!



 

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