Xavier & Homelessness

scottfinn
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Xavier & Homelessness

Unread postby scottfinn » Tue Jan 30, 2007 9:01 pm

I don't know if this is the right category for this posting, but it feels like social justice to me...

Today, our washing machine broke down in the middle of a wash cycle. My wife started to wring out the clothes and put them in a basket. I finished the wringing, removed the water from the machine with a shop-vac, and looked at the basket of dripping clothes. I figured that my best bet was to go out into the 11 degrees F weather with the wet clothes to the local laundromat. I wanted to re-wash them and dry them.

I got to the laundromat, and it was nearly a ghost-town. One guy was in there reading a book. I thought he might be waiting for a train, and sitting inside to stay warm, since the train platform is right outside. He went out for a smoke every now and then, but he was there when I got there and still there when I left. He should have caught his train by then...

Anyway, I kind of welcomed the break. It was quiet, so I read for a bit, and then listened to a few podcasts. I was there for over an hour.

While I was folding the dried clothes, a guy came in and asked me if I was almost done there. He looked to be in his late 40s or 50s, he spoke somewhat haltingly, so I was not sure if he was shy or anxious, or perhaps disabled in some way. I did not know where this was going, so I told him that I was about to leave. He told me that he lives in apartment near the laundromat, and asked me to drop him off at the local grocery store, since he does not drive, and is below freezing outside. I told him that I would. He introduced himself. His name is Xavier.

So I got my clothes folded and we headed out to my car. I confirmed where he wanted to go, and we headed out. As we drove, he started to talk about how he is disabled and has seizures, which is why he can't drive. He takes medication for it, and his disability payment is coming in next Monday. I figured that he's be asking for money, which was fine. I am always willing to give people money if they need it.

As we approached the grocery store, Xavier finally got to the point. He showed me his empty medicine bottle, and asked me if I could help him out. I expected him to ask me for $5 or $10 dollars. He asked for $35 dollars. I had just over $40 dollars in my pocket, and, for some reason, I could not give him all of my money. I offered him $22 dollars, and I had a few more dollars in change in my pocket from the laundromat, which I also gave him I kept the other $20, and he got about $25 dollars from me. He told me that he wants to pay me back. I told him to forget it.

Since I didn't give him the $35 he asked for, he then proceeded to ask me to drop him off a few blocks away so he could walk to the pharmacy instead. He then told me that he was going to buy some food, and then walk up to the pharmacy for his medication. He chose his medication over food.

[Cynical side-bar: The grocery store does not sell liquor. The pharmacy does. I believe that he smelled slightly of liquor, but not in any major way. Was he going to buy medicine? I choose to believe so.]

I told him that I would take him all the way to the pharmacy. On the way, he told me how his seizures started. He got into a fight with a guy that was bothering his children. He had the guy arrested, and the guy got out on bail. When Xavier got home from work the next night, the guy was waiting for him, and jumped him. Apparently, he had some kind of head injury, which caused the seizures. His mom lives out of state, and his four kids are all grown.

I dropped him off at the pharmacy, and that was that.

Now, however, I feel an incredible sense of guilt that I did not give him that other $20. I had the money on me, and he seemed to really need it. Did I miss an opportunity? Never before have I given more than $5 to someone that needed money. This time, I gave $25 and feel like cr*p. If he did not ask for a specific amount, I probably would have given him about $5, and would have just gone on with my night.

But since he asked for $35, and I only gave him $25, I feel like I cheated him.

I am sorry, Xavier.

Mercuryotis
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Unread postby Mercuryotis » Wed Jan 31, 2007 8:07 am

I think that would be a hard choice for anyone in that position. Your "cynical sidebar" might have been his true motivation. It does challenge us to be more mindful of the poor, and reminds me a little of the story of St. Martin.

I think when our virtues are tested; itÂ’s a natural thing to wonder if we should have done more. ItÂ’s possible you would have felt the same way had you given him all you had. But that feeling is also a gift from God, so many people are numb to the predicaments of others, and many others donÂ’t see the small impact they can make is actually something worth doing.

scottfinn
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Xavier

Unread postby scottfinn » Wed Jan 31, 2007 11:31 am

Basil -

I am feeling less awful today. That 'cynical sidebar' honestly didn't really strike me until I was writing that post. I just wanted to help this guy without being taken advantage of, I suppose. It all happened so quickly that I did not really have time to process it.

And I would do it again.

- Scott

neilinphilly
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Re: Xavier

Unread postby neilinphilly » Wed Feb 07, 2007 3:18 pm

Hey Scott -

Living in downtown Philly, I deal with homelessness on a daily basis. There are some people who live on the street and sleep there even in the bitter cold. They don't want to go to a shelter because it can be dangerous.

One time I was leaving work and a 26 y.o. homeless guy named Louis asked me for money to buy food. I told him I could buy him some food instead of giving him money. (That's my policy). He was happy that I offered. We went to the local deli and I purchased a sub for him.

The next day he met me outside of the office, but this time he asked me if I would buy him something to eat. After I agreed, he informed me that there was deli about two blocks away which sold subs for a dollar less. We chuckled together at his suggestion of saving money and we walked to that deli where I bought him a sub. This time I also gave him my phone numbers and asked him to call me if he needed something.

Over time I got we got to know each other and spend time together. He would meet me outside of work or we would encounter each other somewhere downtown. He seemed anxious to develop a friendship as I'm sure he was lonely.

One afternoon we were sitting in the train station and he told me his story. His parents were alcoholics. To keep him quiet as a young kid, they started giving him alcohol at the age of five. He grew up becoming an alcoholic at a very young age. This resulted in his inability to support himself. He eventually even started shooting heroin.

During that conversation he told me he was chronically ill but didn't want to tell me the type of sickness. I asked if he was HIV+ to which he immediately said, "yes." He had acquired the disease from using dirty needles. He seemed glad to share it.

I invited him back to my home so he could shower while I washed his clothing. He was welcome to stay, but he declined because he felt like he didn't deserve to be treated so well. He sincerely believed he deserved the worse in life, so he acted out his beliefs.

Over the next 2 1/2 years I would spend time with him after seeing him somewhere downtown. He knew where I lived, but he never stopped by, but he would call occasionally just to talk and ask me how I was doing.

One day he was just gone and I never saw him again. Over time I felt as I realized I would probably not see him ever again, I became increasingly sad about it. I blamed myself for not doing something more. My head tells me I did everything I could, but my heart told me that I could have rescued him.

Because of my "policy" not to give money, but rather offer a meal, I got a chance to develop a relationship with Louis which is what he needed. I shared my faith and he told me he had a relationship with Christ when he was younger, but he knew he wasn't walking with God. I had an opportunity to not only encourage him in his faith, but to actually to meet his practical needs.

Have I taken the time to do this again? Nope. I offer people a meal sometimes when they ask, but only if I feel like it. (Almost always they tell me they need the money for the train or some other reason and get angry if I don't help them).

Maybe I'm rationalizing, but we can't help everyone all the time. What you did for Xavier most people would not. We can't rescue everyone, but we can help a few.

Xavier will probably remember your generousity. I think what you did was admirable!

-Neil

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Unread postby musicmonkey » Wed Feb 14, 2007 7:02 pm

Canada is viewed by many as having far too high a number of homeless people, with some of the highest per capita rates of any developed nation. We are second on the list trailing behind the United States, but just slightly ahead of Japan which places fourth.

During the 1990's homelessness emerged as a major issue in communities across Canada. In Greater Vancouver, homelessness continues to be a complex and growing problem. A recent report warns that if nothing is done, the number of homeless people on the streets will triple by 2010 when Vancouver hosts the Winter Olympics.

Personally, I admire what both Scott and Neil have done. I have a friend who gives every panhandler/beggar at least a few bucks. I just can't afford to. I don't even have a decent winter coat and haven't bought a pair of new pants in over 5 years. I live hand to mouth as it is and have to be very frugal. I often justify not helping the homeless because we have so many of them (many wear shoes better than mine) and I myself am living below the poverty line.

It's a very tough issue, though. Personally, I would rather volunteer at a homeless shelter or "soup kitchen" than give them money. I hope one day I follow through on that and volunteer for Union Gospel Mission or something like that.


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