The Charity of Strangers – A Blast From The Past post from June 2007

*Note from 2014 — yes, I was doing my best to be non political.  Eh.*

I should be working on my overdue novel or writing my overdue short story. I’m not. The reason I’m not is because I’ve been turning an ethical problem in my mind.

And this is going to lead me to break one of my longstanding rules, which is not discussing religion or politics in public.

Not that what I’m about to discuss is religion – exactly – or politics – exactly. But it touches on both.

The fact is, I’m aware that some of you are going to be very angry at me. I’m aware some of you will be angry enough never to read me again. I’m also aware that I’ll be violating one of Heinlein’s rules – to wit – “Only a fool or a sadist tells the unvarnished truth in social situations.”

Perhaps I’m going menopausal. Or perhaps I simply don’t care anymore. Or perhaps sometimes – SOMETIMES – the truth needs to be told.

I know I will get a very strong reaction to this because I’ve discussed this topic before, years ago, in a women’s writing group. The group consensus was that I was “mean” or perhaps “evil” and there was nothing I could do to change it.

And yet – and yet – I see evil in what is going on. And I think it should be stopped.

So I’ll begin at the beginning. Let’s talk about charity.

I grew up, like any normal kid in a fairly “nice” family learning to share and to give to those who had less than I. This was so emphasized that until I was twenty eight I thought I had killed my cousin Dulce by refusing to share my bread and butter with her. (She died in the last small pox (not confirmed, mind, but likely, given the distribution of the blisters AND the mortality among the unvaccinated) epidemic to sweep through the village. As I had it too, I’m sure some reference was made to the fact we were playing together a week or so before. That my mind attributed this to my refusing to share just goes to show how I was brought up.)

Beyond that, I always had a sense of empathy. Like most of your nerdy writers, as a child I was excluded from enough games and clubs to give me a sympathy for the underdog. So far so good.

And then when I was eleven, I joined a youth group. This was the seventies. We were for social action and justice. Which was our parents’ charity and poor relief dressed up and nice and with a new hairdo.

We spent six months – SIX months holding fund raisers and collecting money. One of the girls in the group had come up with this idea that we should help this family that lived next to her. Six kids in a shotgun apartment, no decent clothes, no toys and most of the time no food on the table.

We worked our behinds off. We were that kind of earnest young people. And I was so proud, so incredibly proud, when we collected the equivalent of about six months’ salary and delivered it to these people. I could imagine what a difference it would make in their lives. I could JUST see it.

I felt very virtuous. This lasted until I told my mom what we’d done. Mom was horrified. Turns out the parents were both alcoholics. Not only wouldn’t the kids get any of the money, but the parents would use it to get stinking drunk, which in turn would result in more aggression towards the kids… you get the point.

Turned out mom was right – bummer – and I’ve never felt that virtuous since.

This is apropos what?

Well, bear with me.

Thirteen years ago when we moved to town – an apartment near downtown – I loved this city. One of the things I loved was how SAFE it was. There were exactly four “homeless” people identifiable as living downtown. I’m sure there were more served by the various shelters, which demanded sobriety or a modicum thereof before you used their services. But downtown, we saw four. And, really, downtown was a safe, friendly place, with a lot of small businesses in place. I could, without driving, buy most things I needed, from groceries to office supplies. The kids could sit out on the front porch, when they were toddlers. It was just nice.

And then it changed.

Because I don’t follow such things it took me time to figure out why – all of a sudden – every corner had people pushing shopping carts. Aggressive people; people mumbling to themselves. It took me time to figure out why the little park in the middle of town was now infested by people sleeping on the grass, threatening (and mugging) passerbies. Why the little businesses were fleeing downtown. Why my friend who worked downtown had issues with people coming into the bookstore and urinating on the carpet.

The city hasn’t grown that much. It might have doubled in size, but I don’t think so.

And the local economy was not worse. On the contrary. We’ve been ranked as one of the more affluent towns in the US. So… how come this problem suddenly?

And then the city forbid panhandling – this is not related, except where it got me to understand the situation a little better – and all of a sudden the newspapers were full of interviews with the people affected…

Do you know, with a few exceptions – families fallen on hard times and the like, though they’re not the kind that haunts parks – the “homeless” population could be divided in two: Young kids – teens to twenties – who’d run away from home. And people who had been living a rootless, boundary-less life since the sixties or seventies.

The funny thing, you know, is that I’d always thought kids who ran away from home did so because they were being abused or there was another huge problem. And some of them did mention that. However, the vast majority of the young indigent said a paraphrase of “I left home because my parents had all these rules. And now, man, if I can’t panhandle, I’ll have to go back.”

The adults, otoh had various expressions of confusion as to why we were doing this to them and how – with no provocation – we were taking away their means of livelihood.

Since that time I’ve been a little skeptical about the type of charity that just gives “services” to the homeless.

My skepticism increased when I realized a) the reason downtown was now full of homeless was a “no questions asked” soup kitchen run by a religious charity right smack downtown. b) Homeless were taking the bus from the largest city nearby. (This is not a conjecture. I overheard them talking and on one signal occasion was approached by one demanding to know where the soup kitchen was because he’d just taken the bus to our town. They’d told him there was this great place…)

Okay – hear me out – I’m neither mean nor stupid, nor have I arrived at this opinion without a lot of thought.

Look, I’m not saying we shouldn’t feed the hungry. Yeah, we should if we can. I assure you that for a long part of my teen years I needed – and received – both food and clothing from the charity of strangers. One of the reasons the Red Cross will always get a check from me is the clothes I wouldn’t otherwise have had after that growth spurt at fourteen.

That’s not the point. The point is that the first rule of charity should always be: First Do No Harm.

I still live downtown. I walk by the park a lot. And you know what? I’m sorry for these people. Really and truly sorry. Most of them not only lack the skills to integrate in society – they lack an understanding of WHY they should.

They get food. They get clothes. They get a place to sleep. WHY should they change anything about how they live? Why shouldn’t they do drugs and have promiscuous sex? Those of them who are mentally unstable not only have no reason to seek treatment or to take their medications – they don’t KNOW they SHOULD.

Oh, I’m sure people who volunteer at the soup kitchen – and other places – tell them they should. But… the thing is, they are human right? Humans work mostly on inertia. If you don’t make it difficult to just drift on, why should they try?

Now and then you hear of people who clean up, who move on and up. But these are the exceptions. Like people who lose 100 lbs, they are the exception and display immense willpower.

Our society is so affluent we can afford to give these people a life that’s downright luxurious compared to the peasants of most societies in history. Food everyday. Enough clothes to cover themselves. Clean places to sleep at night.

And we demand nothing. Absolutely nothing.

I realize part of this is a reaction to Victorian times, when it was assumed that people were poor because they’d done something wrong. I know many people are poor through no fault of their own – or at least no fault of their own that they can easily remedy. Lack of skills, lack of will power, just a lack of ambition, are enough to keep someone born outside the right conditions “down.”

But most of the time, none of those are enough to make the person outright “homeless.” That requires worse. A stroke of bad luck might do it, if bad enough. A mental condition. Or… a drug addiction. Alcohol abuse.

The stroke of bad luck usually leads to people living in their cars or crashing with friends. It leads to people who are TECHNICALLY homeless, but not the visibly so. Not the ones who haunt the park and mug passerbye. These people – the homeless with cause or, to use an old-fashioned term, the deserving poor – are undoubtedly there through no fault of their own. And there are already several organizations that assist them. If they need anything, they need an explanation of how to get there from here – how to apply for help; whom to ask.

And then there are the others – the VAST majority of others – which are the ones who patronize this “no questions” soup kitchen. The ones who don’t know why they should change. The ones we are ENABLING in their dysfunction.

Yes, yes, I can hear the shouts now. I’m mean. I don’t care about poor people. I am made uncomfortable by the presence of the needy.

Except… That these “needy” are shutting down businesses and driving other people into poverty. Except that I do donate money/time/service to various causes helping those less fortunate than I. Except that I think what these “needy” need is help of a different sort. Help seeing the way out. Support on their way up. NOT “no guilt” help that keeps them trapped.

HOW can it possibly be that allowing them to self destruct helps them? Or society? Or the communities blighted by their presence?

Look – we’re back to that family and how GOOD I felt “helping” them. Except that I didn’t.

There was a way to help them – oh, sure there was – or at least a way that would have done no harm. We could have bought groceries for them for six months. This might still have led to more drinking as the parents might have sold the groceries – but it would have been more difficult.

Or – and far preferable – we could have given OF OURSELVES. We could have befriended those kids. Eventually taken them home to our comfortable houses for meals/playtime/interaction. This would have helped far more.

BUT that wasn’t easy. And besides, it wasn’t what it was all about. It was about social action. And justice. It was about collecting money and handing over a check. It was about the charity of strangers. And it was about a bunch of pre-teens feeling good and virtuous.

I think this soup kitchen – which is now undergoing a massive fundraising to expand – is about exactly those things. I’m sorry, but I believe it is about people who volunteer there and people who donate to it feeling good about themselves. D*mn good.

And who am I to grudge people a bit of self-satisfaction?

Well… perhaps I’m an evil bitch, because I feel that self-satisfaction arrived at at the expense of other people’s lives is bad. Perhaps I’m an evil bitch because I care not only about the small businesses being driven from downtown and the families that can no longer work in the park but these people who are being “helped” to remain lost in a moral no-man’s land. With no way out.

I’m not against charity. I’m against charity to faceless strangers. I think most of the time it ends up doing evil.

There are ways to help – but those demand that you actually get close and personal. That you find out what’s holding these people down. That you CARE. For more than feeling virtuous. And that, let’s face it, it’s more than most people have the time or patience for.

Recently, reading St. Dale by Sharyn McCrumb (excellent book, btw) I came across a joke she quotes. A man is struggling in the water. “Help, help, I can’t swim.” Another man is standing by and says, “I can’t swim either. Will $20 help?”

This is what this “no strings” soup kitchen reminds me of. This is what catering to people’s physical needs and not their mental/spiritual ones reminds me of.

The charity of strangers. Well intentioned, perhaps. But mostly about the giver.

And in the end, I think in more than fifty percent of the cases it violates the dictate to “First, do no harm.”

*And more from 2014 this post came with a note later that same day, so I’m copying and pasting it here also, particularly since recently we’ve had people claim that the fact that Africa hasn’t developed “despite” all the aid we give it is a sign of inferiority or… something. This was the article I was thinking of but couldn’t find at the time.*

The Charity of International Strangers

I’m not going to make this into a political blog, [note from 2014 Sarah — Fate mocks our best intentions.] but I found this article ties so much into my previous post it’s hard to avoid.

I have to confess THIS had never occurred to me under “first do no harm.”

http://www.spiegel.de/international/spiegel/0,1518,363663,00.html

163 responses to “The Charity of Strangers – A Blast From The Past post from June 2007

  1. and how much splatter happened from this little bit of … common sense?

    • Back then, tons. People told me I was an awful person…

      • Sarah,

        You still are. Just not as bad or as big a meany as me.

        If any one gives you any probs today just point them at me and go, “You could be dealing with that guy.” I’m here to make you look good.

        😉

        • Ayup — Josh can explain to them how Free Markets will eradicate free-riders, free-loaders and free donors. THAT will make them realize how nice you are, Sarah.

      • the first sign you were correct in your thinking.

      • When people tell me I’m an awful person I a) consider the source b) blame the manufacturer (Who I acknowledge was forced to use inferior material.)

        But telling people that they should practice actual charity instead of check-writing charity suggests their self-satisfaction is insufficient and thus does damage to their self-esteem.

        • Not to mention those “Tax Deductable” charitable contributions….

          • I’m still trying to figure out what the right thing, morally, for our family will be if we ever make enough money that it’s rational to itemize our deductions….

            • It’s in the tax laws. The government has said it does not want your money if it falls under those exceptions.
              And who are we, to question the government when it says it does not want our money? Best to take it and run before it changes its mind.

              • I’m more worried about it corrupting my motives for charity, or causing me to corrupt someone else’s.

                • It might. But, assuming you get to that point (and I hope you do), just give as you think best. If the first thought in your head is “tax deduction” don’t give.
                  As to corrupting someone else, I don’t think your example in that regard will corrupt anyone.

                • The less money you send to the government, the more you have for charity.

                  • The more details I give them, the more they can screw us up, and the more I work to keep my money the more leverage they have on us…even if the greater amount might be more beneficial in the short run.

                    There’s also the crazy junk that goes on if dear husband should ever actually lose his mind and run for office. I hate all the garbage that comes out of picking apart folks’ tax returns.

                • Highly unlikely. FIRST decide what allocations you deem prudent and appropriate, then figure the taxes.

                  On the day you decide the government will dispense your funds more effectively than you, get your brain examined.

                • William O. B'Livion

                  Given that all a tax deduction does is direct the tax money away from D.C. it’s all good.

              • Keeping the money out of the hands of the government may be good reason enough. 🙂

            • Don’t stress about it too much. St. Vincent de Paul’s may prefer you to give out of the kindness of your heart, rather than in order to avoid taxes, but they’ll take your money either way, and spend it just the same. And the people who receive the benefits of it through them won’t know why it was given.

        • Actually, the worst offenders don’t write checks. They pass laws that force YOU to write checks, and then act like self-righteous twits about it.

        • When they made me, they broke the mold.

          Rumor has it they beat the crap out of the moldmaker too.

  2. Ah my young Portagee, between then and now you obviously have come to the realization that politics is part and parcel of the human condition. Whether it be how we treat the homeless, other charitable acts, our interactions in social and professional associations, or at its simplest our treatment of friends and relatives.
    Speaking of which, excellent piece over on MGC, an interview with the former editor of the SFWA newsletter. Now there’s one group that could profit greatly by a dose of “first do no harm.”

  3. “I know I will get a very strong reaction to this…”
    Yes you will, I will even yell: GOOD JOB, This needs to be said over and over.
    Years ago, I went to Narcotics Anonymous meetings weekly (don’t ask and I will tell no lies). Charity let people spend years on the streets and destroy themselves. Without it, they would have hit bottom and gotten help much earlier.

    • I am sure that what you meant to type was “Years ago, someone who might very well be mistaken for me went to Narcotics Anonymous meetings weekly …”

      • Well, you see there was this woman who had a problem and I wanted to help. It didn’t work is the short answer.

        • “Just asking for a friend…” And, No, you can’t get someone else sober or clean, it’s an inside job.

        • You can only help those who want to help themselves, I have been singularly unsuccessful at helping any who didn’t have a strong desire to claw their own way out of the hole they were in.

    • I went to a few of those years ago; I’m sure they help some people, but my thoughts on them closely mirrored those of a guy I knew who was court mandated to attend AA meetings. He told his probation officer, ” I need to get at least half drunk to be able to stand to listen to those people whine for two hours.”

      And yes from what I could see, charity (sometimes from family, sometimes of the type Sarah talks about) was a huge enabler of many addicts. Not saying that you shouldn’t be charitable, but putting requirements on your charity is NOT unreasonable.

  4. Was this prompted by the dismantling of a huge homeless camp in the Bay Area?

    http://www.news.com.au/finance/money/police-clear-away-residents-of-the-jungle-silicon-valleys-largest-homeless-camp/story-e6frfmci-1227145966632

    I wasn’t sympathetic to the homeless there. Especially after reading this section, which neatly parallels the ‘no need to change’ part of your post.

    Officials found shelter for about 10 residents Thursday, said San Jose homelessness response manager Ray Bramson. Many more refused the city’s offers, citing concerns about safety at homeless shelters, their need to stay with pets and their dislike of sobriety rules.

    Several homeless-assistance groups also stepped in to help.

    HomeFirst, the largest provider to homeless people in the county, set aside 27 beds at a nearby shelter. Another 50 beds are open in a separate cold-weather shelter.

    San Jose has spent more than $4 million over the past year and a half to solve problems at the encampment and has housed some 135 people from the site. But it’s become increasingly polluted and dangerous.

    In the last month, one camp resident tried to strangle someone with a cord of wire. Another was nearly beaten to death with a hammer. And state water regulators are demanding that polluted Coyote Creek, which cuts through the middle, get cleaned out.

    Why, exactly, is trying to make a place safer for the working, taxpaying, law-abiding residents supposed to be a bad thing?

    The article annoys me by making it sound like that the residents are ‘mean, and greedy and heartless’ because they’re well off in comparison. But from what this sounds like, the Jungle was comprised of people who do not want to live by reality’s rules, and have their lifestyles aided and abetted by bleeding hearts.

    I don’t have much sympathy for the ‘poor folk’ who choose to continue to live in squalor. I’ve had my kindness and help abused too often by people who ultimately got upset that I didn’t want to be their gravy train any more. I’ve provided employment to people who grew resentful that they weren’t being given enough of something (and no, I paid well) and took to stealing from me and my family, or spreading rumors because gossiping gave them attention they craved. I have no interest in aiding and abetting negative behavior. Would I be willing to give help to someone who wanted to work hard to improve their lot in life? Sure. I know of some who actually took that leg up and their lives are better now, but not because I helped them out, but because they worked at improving it, instead of squandering the help. The credit of their life turning around isn’t on me, but the person who chose not to waste the lifeline thrown to them, and pulled themselves up and out of the quicksand, with their own hands.

    Most of the ones I’ve thrown a lifeline to let go after a while because I wasn’t hauling them up myself, or not giving them ‘what they wanted’ – which was not to change any aspect of their life at all, not even the negative ones. My parents’ house was the place my friends and many others found as a ‘safe place’ – and many still do. We’d given shelter, an ear to listen, food to eat, clothes to wear, employment as household help or as groundskeepers,

    Do I believe that there are people who need help? Yes. Do I believe there are people out there who don’t squander that? Again, I do.

    This doesn’t eliminate the reality that there are people who cheerfully and happily abuse that kindness and generosity and sense of fair play.

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

      My parents (along with their church) attempted to help a woman like that until it became clear that she wasn’t doing what she needed to do to change.

      The woman moved to Texas not leaving any info about where she was going to be.

      We got calls from people wanting to know how to contact her. (My parents let her use our phone number as a contact number when she lacked a phone).

      Sad note, her youngest daughter, pregnant and with a “boy friend” tried to get the church to help her out. Since the daughter had told them that she was attending another church, they wondered why she didn’t ask “her” church for help.

      Oh, I learned about this because the church secretary was worried that the daughter would try to get Mom to help out. This was after Dad’s death and I wondered if I had given the message earlier that I wasn’t willing to listen to a “sob story”.

      • Similar situation here. Tried to help out a couple of friends — we thought they were just down on their luck in a soft economy. At first it seemed to be going OK, but once they got settled in, the problems became obvious. Requests that problems be corrected would get grudging and temporary compliance, and often clear signals that we were being unreasonable in our requests. As things got worse and we started to really bear down about the issues, we started getting outright defiance.

        That was when we realized we had an alcoholic and a co-dependent on our hands, and we weren’t helping — we were enabling. We finally ordered them out of the house, and while I feel bad that it had to end so unpleasantly, it was an unlivable situation and not good for anybody involved. At least we have peace in our own home, but what I see from our ex-friends’ social media feeds, neither have broken free of their core problems.

        • Yup. Some things you just can’t fix, and you have to make sure they don’t drag you down with them.

          • It has been many a year, but as I recall the first lesson given a lifeguard is how (and when) to break a drowning person’s grip. You can’t help them if they’re pulling you down too.

        • The Other Sean

          An acquaintance of mine tried to help out a “friend” who’d lost a job and been kicked out by parents. While staying at his house, the “friend” asked if they could make a quick run over to the grocery store. The “friend” then went and held the store up. He had no idea what had happened until the cops came by later that day and started questioning him. He only lived like a block away from the store, and was well-known to and liked by neighbors and store employees, who supported his story of being innocent. The “friend,” on the other hand, is in jail and (last I heard) still awaiting trial.

  5. I am in a situation through no fault of my own that puts me on the couches of charitable family. However, I am now reaching the limit of their charitableness. One of them doesn’t understand how serious my disease is– and how people can make me sicker. I should try harder. I need to be pushed to be better. I need to work… and so forth. “I work and so should you.”

    The ones who can work or who are the “undeserving” make it harder for those of us who are “deserving.” I would rather be able to support myself… I would… I would like to work. The last time I tried to do it, I was almost back into the hospital within six months. My kidneys started to fail again. So stress, infections, flus, colds, and people make me sicker. I\

  6. We’ve been looking at houses, because rents keep going up and house prices are still pretty even.

    There’s one house I absolutely love– it’s owned by a guy in his 70s, and his wife, both that really sweet, nice kind of Christian that will cut their own throat to do a favor if you ask. Pretty good shape, mostly cosmetic issues, great price, has some elbow room relative to the other houses, big yard.

    There is no way we’d buy it, because right now it’s the go-to place for “just don’t do anything illegal on our property” type shelter. The nice guy who’s watching a house next door (did a bit in the Air Force, guessed that I was either Navy or Army, has The Crazy Marine Uncle and nice manners) praised the quality of the neighborhood because as long as you put your car in a locked garage at night, and light the outside of your house, you don’t have to worry about crime.

    Down the road is the on-record address of a half-dozen sexual predators, because it’s a no questions charity place. (as best I can tell, anyways)

    Instead we’re pretty serious about a place that’s smaller, with a worse yard, next to a major highway…but that highway is between it and a sea of reported crime.
    I didn’t talk to the guy smoking outside a house in that neighborhood, because there wasn’t one; there weren’t even any cars during the day.
    Actually, a major factor in us wanting that area was that there weren’t any flags when I went there in the morning…but when we went back after TrueBlueVigilance got off of work, not only did half of the houses have flags, but all of them were properly lit. That means three things: people respect the flag code or at least traditional respect for the flag, people were at work, and they don’t leave the lights on all night.

    I’m sure it’s pure coincidence that there’s a Samoan congregation in the area, and that first generation Cambodian refugee households make up 15% of the area….

    • William O. B'Livion

      Down the road is the on-record address of a half-dozen sexual predators

      Before you decide, double check that they’re real sexual predators, and not bums who got busted pissing in alleys.

      Seems the law can’t tell the difference between “public urination” and fondling a 6 year old.

      • Zero of those listed were Class 1. Most were Class 3, which is the SVU style offender– force, violence, small children kidnapped, the whole nightmare list.

        I’m aware that some people get outraged that exposure around other people when they were “just” urinating in public is considered sexual, as is flashing, some cases of moon, along with hiring an illegal prostitute, having illegal pr0n, “just looking” in other folks’ windows or similar the-victim-wasn’t-physically-harmed crimes.

        I grew up with a class 2 offender who was falsely accused working on the ranch, and is (not-being-insulting, it’s an honest description) a moron. He’s able to function in society without adult supervision, but when told that if he said he did it he would be able to get out of jail before he got fired, he did that.
        The girl recanted when she decided her mom had been punished enough by having her boyfriends kept away, but the state decided that since he’d admitted, they wanted to spend a ton of our money tracking him for the rest of his life.

        • “The girl recanted when she decided her mom had been punished enough by having her boyfriends kept away,”

          In other words, she lied. Was she prosecuted for filing a false report? Probably not. Should she have been? Abso-fragging-lutely.

          • Amen. Being 14 shouldn’t make you immune from being punished when you EXPLOIT THE SYSTEM.

            Instead, she got attention, her mom couldn’t be around her now-ex, and we spent a ton of money.

          • Aw, c’mon — we ALL know: womyn don’t lie about such traumatic happenings … and if they do it is a deeper* truth anyway.

            *Deep enough you probably want to be wearing hip-waders.

  7. The point is that the first rule of charity should always be: First Do No Harm.

    My husband and I discussed this on the way– I really am a bit heart sick about that house– with him actually being the one to argue for “nice.” We came to an agreement: Love is hard. Charity is supposed to be applied love…but so often it’s… more spoiling than being loving.

    • Too often, “charity” is an act of self-love. Real love involves holding the other party accountable without being judgmental.

      • Can’t remember where it’s from, but: “Love is acting for the greater good of another.”

        • Perhaps you paraphrased it from “love is the desire for the good of another person”

          • It’s one of those things where you can HEAR the voice saying the line…but no idea where, when or who.

            It’s pretty obviously the “no greater love hath a man” rule, and thus classic, mostly wish I could remember where I’d heard the phrasing.

      • How do you hold someone accountable without judging them? That sounds an awful lot like “I take full responsibility for Atrocity X that happened on my watch! But I’m not going to quit my job or take a pay cut or do anything, you know, *inconvenient*!”.

  8. When charity works on a large scale, the charitable person/organization head is usually a very matriarchal or patriarchal person who bosses people around, or someone who makes people think they need to do better. There’s usually some tie-in to encouraging people to get jobs or do small things they can sell, or to help out with the charity. There’s a lot of networking and people savvy involved, and a lot of helpers and a lot of personalization of help are needed. There’s a reason why these sorts of people are often compared to mothers or grandmothers – because they stick their nose into everybody’s business like they’re kin.

    Beyond emergency care, the easy handout thing is basically a way not to treat people in need as individual people, and not to know the bad of them as well as the good.

  9. Gotta say it…that was a mighty transparent closet that you were in, back in those days. 🙂

  10. Excellent post & link! Permission to repost on my FB page?

  11. Professor Badness

    I used to work at Penrose Library, (downtown Colorado Springs) which was halfway between a half a dozen soup kitchens and homeless shelters. (I know this because we had to keep a list of addresses for when we were issuing library cards.) We saw many of the homeless come through our doors, looking to either use the computers or just find a safe place to sit and spend the day.
    In my experience, their were two kinds of homeless. The first is the unfortunate homeless. These are the people who have found themselves intransigent do too unemployment, mental problems or other factors outside of their control.
    The second type are the voluntary homeless. They have decided to drop out of the human race, living on the fringes off of handouts, soup kitchens and whatever else they can get.
    And yes. they do live better than many people in third world countries.
    As too alcoholics or drug addicts, which group in which they belong is a matter of personal opinion or semantics. I leave that too you to decide.
    The unfortunate homeless would spend time at the community employment center, (if they were unemployed) or wandering aimlessly downtown, (usually talking to themselves or brooding silently.) We didn’t see either as often at the library as we would of the voluntary homeless.
    The unfortunate homeless were the people who needed services. One to help them get on their feet and the other to help get them mental health treatment/aid.
    But the voluntary homeless were just a drain on the system. I don’t know what they would do without the services offered, and i find it hard too care.
    It’s differentiating between them and getting the aid to the right person/agency that is the problem.
    Their are many good ideas, but getting government to implement them properly is the impossible task.

    • This is why the government is the wrong institution to help the homeless. It should be done by Charitable NGOs

      • Professor Badness

        I agree, but even charitable organizations can just be enablers.

        • Yes. There’s a venerable, well meaning, organization in this area that will not participate in the regional program to vet recipients (confirm that the children really belong to the adults with them, make sure people don’t get duplicate assistance) because the organizer doesn’t want “to keep anyone away who might feel uncomfortable.” Le sigh.

          • Oh Lord, NO — mustn’t make anybody feel “uncomfortable” no matter how uncomfortable they make us feel.

            Don’t demand that they meet “our” privileged standards of behaviour, either, not by regular weekly bathing nor by restricting themselves to only eliminating in traditional fixtures.

          • It really cuts down your “numbers helped” if you eliminate the… random ear pull to illustrate the problem, numbers are going to vary widely… 1 in 100 who are making a living at exploiting it.

            They will present as having, say, five kids and two other adults in the house… at, say, five different outlets.

            Figure that a group helps 300 households a week at each of their five outlets, for a total of 1500 households. The average family is two adults and two kids, ranging from single folks to bigger families with disabled grandparents and/or adult children, so 6000 people total, 3000 adult and 3000 kids.

            You remove the three fakers, and instead of a drop of two in a thousand, it’s a drop of either 15 families/1% by household, or 120 individuals, or 45 adults (half to a third being old/disabled) and 75 kids.

            Incidentally, I’m only including things I’ve heard of folks doing either first or second hand– claiming kids they don’t have, claiming dependent adults they don’t have, going to all of the pantries in a chain. I haven’t heard first hand of someone catching someone who was going to multiple different chains. Heck, I’ve been given food from folks who were going to throw it away, because they don’t use that. (Took it to our local Church, which at least checks that you’re not double-dipping from other Church outlets, and only gives anything more than food once every three months.)

      • Professor Badness

        I appreciate places like Goodwill or Deseret Industries for there efforts at work training. They even go the extra mile in trying to help with things like learning time management and personal responsibility. They don’t just assume that the employees have these skills, but instead evaluate their skills and plan for what they lack.
        Lots of organizations exist that have help individuals do better, but I think they are all privately run.

    • +1 this comment.

      I don’t have a problem with the – to borrow your term – involuntary homeless. The ones who REALLY need aid, because of something outside their control. I don’t mind helping them, or helping support them.

      The voluntary poor/homeless who are a drain on the system though… *snarl*

    • Penrose used to be my favorite library to work in. Now it’s totally inhospitable. Fortunately it also has fewer and fewer books, having chosen to become a discount movie-lending service. So, it’s all good.

      • Library at the college I clean is down to one shelf of books and three full of DVDs. They also have Time, Sports Illustrated and People magazines. A few years ago they had Scientific American and Astronomy available. I occasionally get the urge to accidentally knock the ‘Library’ sign off the wall and throw it out, but there’s a security camera right there.

        Homeless people all over the neighborhood too. Security has to call the police on a regular basis since they wander in to take loose articles. Loose articles include laptops, apparently; they can get a lot at a local pawn shop. Worst of all, though, is the stoned homeless; the drunk ones would yell at you if you wouldn’t let them in, maybe kick the door a bit then leave. The stoned ones stand there and try to negotiate their way in, until you call the cops. Which creates new headaches of it’s own, after security hours.

      • I remember my older brother liking the Penrod books when we were young, although for whatever reason I never picked one up. Can anybody tell me if this is worth going back for?

        Oh. You said Penrose. Never mind.

        • The Penrod books are a delight. I was put onto them by both my father and my grandfather. Booth Tarkington is awesome.

  12. A few years ago, while I was on kettle duty, the Major in charge of this Salvation Army district dropped by to check on things and to thank us for volunteering. He and the older gent I was working with got to chatting, and the Major commented that he’s impressed by the amount of effort people will put into not working. This was before the oil boom really got going, but the Panhandle had a softer decline in ’07-08, so comparatively speaking teh economy was good. As a result, a lot of people came looking for jobs, and almost as many arrived looking for charity.

    Over the past few years I’ve noticed many of the groups down here (but not all) have gotten harder nosed about not, let us say, overloading the voluntarily homeless with benefits. And Amarillo cleaned out a major encampment last spring, in part because the highway needed to rebuild the bridge they were under. “But it’s not fair!” and “I don’t want to stay in a shelter. They won’t let me do____,” or “Crazy people go to the shelter, I want to stay here.” The prospect of large chunks of concrete falling on their heads (and arrest and loss of all their camping gear) finally persuaded the die-hards to relocate.

  13. My brother was an alcoholic who was a street person in Phoenix for quite some time. He went through rehab twice and it never took. We tried to help him but figured out we weren’t. Instead we helped his ex wife and daughter. When I got the call he had died badly as a result of alcohol, I wasn’t shocked.

    There is a fine line between helping and enabling.

    • *sigh* unchecked box

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

      A few years back a Chicago columnist wrote about a pan-handler in the Chicago area.

      Among other things he commented on the fact that help was available for the pan-handler (he claimed not to be able to afford medical help) and on a person the columnist thought was “using” the pan-handler.

      Sometime after the first article, the columnist wrote that the pan-handler was dead from a drug-overdose and about a letter he had gotten from a relative of the pan-handler (IIRC his daughter).

      The relative informed the columnist of the death of the pan-handler and the fact that the pan-handler was “on the street” because he was a drug-user.

      The relative said that the pan-handler could have lived with her if only he was willing to give up his drug habit.

      Oh, the relative was a little snarly about the people who gave money to the pan-handler because they were “enabling” him to continue his drug use.

      Oh, the person the columnist thought was “using” the pan-handler?

      According to the relative, he was just another drug-user.

    • That’s because it isn’t about efficacy, it’s about feeling good and Doing Something.

      • Employment for those doing the actual doing, too.

        • Your cynicism and lack of faith in government social programs is dismaying.

          The fact that I share them is not to be a topic for discussion; this is about you being a terrible person.

        • My iron law of government “charity”; any monies the government earmarks for “charitable” purposes have been extracted from the productive with menaces, and are redistributed to a class of parasites. if some of it ends up in the hands of the poor, this is probably an oversight.

    • Efficiency is dangerous. If they are efficient, they might solve the problem, and then what would they do?

      • Given the typical behavior of governments, an efficient government is an authentic menace.

      • There are a few efficient government assistance-type people out there. I once heard someone who was the head of an office of the UN High Commission for Refugees state that his job was to put themselves out of business. He matched action to word, too. It was really inspiring to see how things COULD work, compared with how they usually do work.

      • “I don’t want to stop crime, I just want to fight it!” – The Tick.

  14. There is a “soup kitchen” in our downtown area that feeds anyone who comes in the door a real meal, no questions asked. The homeless know to get a meal there, but so do the casual freeloaders of all incomes. I support their work even knowing that fully half their clientele are simply enabled freeloaders. But they’re set up in an area that was already decrepit, already ruined. An area of mostly industrial uses and some very low-rent residential.

    A few years ago they decided they wanted to open another facility, this one in an old minority (black) neighborhood characterized by low incomes and generational poverty. The do-gooders of the city were besides themselves with approval for the plan. But the neighborhood itself rose up in opposition. FURIOUS opposition.

    They had worked hard for decades to improve the area, with some real ongoing successes, and they didn’t want a “bum magnet” dropped on it. They had organized well over the years, through the churches and their own community groups, to make sure that the truly “deserving poor” (handicapped, overwhelmed families, small children in single-parent households) had food and shelter, and safe places to be when no one was home (or worse yet, when that bad-element parent WAS home). They had set up shelters for the abused, safe spaces for the overwhelmed, spaces for poor children and adolescents to get help with their schoolwork and keep them from roaming the streets in packs and gangs, opened cooperative educational and job training spaces and staffed them, and worked hard to have good rapport with the police who in turn helped them. And they did it all with almost ZERO public funding, working out of their own resources within the community. ,

    Being intimately acquainted with their own community, they knew which families and persons truly needed help, and deserved it, and which were just habitual parasites. They knew who the gangbangers and riff-raff and welfare queens were, who the pot-stirring malcontent race whores were, and so on. And for those, all they would offer was a way to lift themselves out of their traps by their own efforts. They would never let a child go hungry, but neither would they spend a dime or lift a finger to “help” those who were capable of helping themselves but preferred o laze about on the public teat, unless they DID grasp those opportunities to help themselves.

    And there was NO way they wanted a “feed everyone who comes in the door” kitchen plopped right down in their midst. They knew what would happen, that they would lose much of the ground they had taken, that the crime rate would rise, that poverty would rise as well, and that their community would possibly fracture under the influx of parasites drawn to the area by the bum magnet.

    In the end, the soup kitchen backed down and decided to open elsewhere, serving a more immigrant-heavy even-lower-income area. And the well-intentioned do-gooders not acquainted with the work the original low-income community had been doing for years (with some real success) to help improve itself are still puzzled as to why those “poor folk” didn’t want that lovely soup kitchen there compounding the poverty problem by open-handed generosity.

  15. I hereby propose an aphorism;

    If you give charity in person, there is always a chance that you will do no good, but if you give charity at a distance there is seldom much chance that you will do any good.

    • I like this .

      🙂

    • You’re not wrong. Trying to fix a problem you don’t understand seldom fixes a problem. It’s similar to Chesterton’s “problem of the gate”: if you DON’T know why it’s there DON’T pull it down just because it’s a gate. You don’t know what’s on the other side.

      As a litmus test of a society, how we treat the problem you address here is important: a compassionate society will help its unfortunate who need a hand to get back on their feet.

      A foolish society will continue to shower its largess on those who continue to lay there when they could get up but choose not to. Inevitable, the example of the latter poisons the spirit of the former.

      A toxic society makes it more economically rewarding to deliberately lie down, by means of, for example, providing more financial benefits to household with no male parent. (I believe LBJ, a man of more cunning than brains, believed “toxic” to be the ancient Greek word for “Great”).

      • The irony is that aid to families with no male parent present were originally intended to benefit *widows* with children, not women having children out of wedlock. But somewhere along the line that distinction got lost and we ended up with teenagers deliberately having children so they could get an apartment of their own instead of having to remain in the parental abode.

        • Late 50’s early 60’s was when aid to widows and orphans became aid to families with dependent children. The liberal do-gooder argument was that single mothers were exactly the same as widows. (They’re not…) Daniel Patrick Moynihan warned what would happen if we subsidized single motherhood- we would get more of it. He was pooh-poohed by all the other liberals because no woman would actually want to become a single mom just for the money.

          He was correct.

          • The LDG argumant was also that it was wrong to “punish” the children because of the “mistakes” of their parents.

            • I suspect that’s the real meaning of the line about (paraphrasing) “your family shall be cursed for seven generations:” the parents’ bad choices make things harder for their children, not that G-d is keeping a list and will smite Junior the Fourth’s crops with blight because Junior senior screwed up.

        • Worse, men who might provide a positive role model are forced to live away from families as Social Workers typically tell the moms to A) not have a man in the house B) not have a bank account. There are probably a C, D, E and FU, too.

          There was a news story quite some time back about a young woman (raised by a Mom on Welfare) who scrimped, clipped coupons, worked part-time and all the other tricks for accumulating money to get her started in college, only to have the Social Workers accuse her of being a Welfare cheat and demand payback of benefits.

          • William O. B'Livion

            How dare she try to get out of The System. Doesn’t she know it’s for her own good.

          • Describing her childhood, the young accused mentioned that her mother had once been in trouble with the police.

            “What for?” I asked.

            “She was on the Social [Security] and working at the same time.”

            “What happened?” I asked.

            “She had to give up working.” The air of self-evidence with which she said this revealed a whole world of presuppositions. For her, and those around her, work was the last resort; economic dependence on state handouts was the natural condition of man.

            http://www.city-journal.org/html/16_4_urbanities-language.html

    • A bit too broad. I would suspect this is more true of organizations that exist to dispense charity, such as United Way, than groups that dispense charity as an offshoot of their primary function, such as churches. Usually religious charities rank higher than secular ones in terms of actual pass-through of aid to the needy.

      One of the outrages of FEMA’s conduct during Sandy was their deliberate obstruction of religious groups attempting to provide aid, even when FEMA itself wasn’t.

      • Possibly. But note that much of the charity that is dispensed to the Third World by agencies with people who live with the people being aided is done by religious groups. I am inclined to suspect that the most successful ones are those that leave broad authority in the hands of those at the sharp end.

        • Effective assistance to the 3rd world comes mostly from private groups. Government aid has to go through the filters of entrenched corruption and, at best, the deadload of both originating-nation and receiving-nation bureaucracy.

          • It also provides a positive incentive for the government to keep its population poor, because improving their state would cut off the sipgot.

          • The real problem with aid to the third world comes from a failure to understand what infrastructure is. Literally it means the structure underneath. Here in the first world we use it to refer to things like roads, bridges, sewage treatment, water processing, etc. But there’s another component: the engineers and technicians who keep those things running, and the supply systems that bring everything together. We take them for granted because there’s a well-developed system for training them. All too often a charitable organization will come into a remote village, build a sewage treatment system or water distribution system, and leave only to have the gift quickly fall into disrepair because nobody in the village has the knowledge or resources to maintain it.

            • Or you get weird stuff like I read about in India where an NGO built a new well for a community, but it was “too close” to the lowest caste area and peeved the upper caste residents. So when the people closest to the well tried to use it, one of the women got killed by the upper-caste for daring to use the well. So no one could use the new well.

            • My pet peeve is the assumption that unarmed people are going to be ABLE to keep the life-giving water system you just installed when there’s roving gangs of well armed young men that outnumber them running around looking for metal to steal and sell.

            • This. You wouldn’t believe (or, actually, you would) the number of times a poor community or country gets something (let’s say, a generator) that is out of commission in months because no one knew how to maintain it. Not just communities, but other governments, too.

        • A lot of times the groups are either working with gov’t funded NGOs, or directly for various gov’ts. For example, Catholic Refugee Services is flatly scandal inducing– it’s technically not gov’t funded. It just gets, in at least some cases, contracts for settling immigrants…which consists of bringing them in, settling them into a community with gov’t subsidized housing, and getting them set up on social programs. IIRC they were (ironically) one of the primary groups involved in establishing a Somali community that has provided multiple terrorists. I want to say it was in Minnesota?

          Contrast with those Catholic groups (to avoid a different baseline theology explaining the difference– although I could rant about the theology of some in other groups who identify as Catholic 😀 ) that, due to theological differences when it comes to sterilizing humans as if they were stray cats, do not have gov’t involvement in their actions. The one that pops to mind is a small African country that has a major Catholic presence fighting AIDS. They teach, basically, keeping it in your pants unless you are with your ONE spouse. Major drop in infections, fewer deaths, lot fewer infected kids. Neighboring country has tons of gov’t funding, and is getting worse even if you don’t adjust for relative length of survival after infection. (which is oddly hard to figure out)

          I don’t think it’s so much that gov’t involvement is bad, as that gov’t involvement is going to be small-c-catholic to try to please everyone, and there’s not as much of a push to show that you’re actually FIXING anything. (In part because of cooked numbers– have I ranted about the “I am one out of every five children who doesn’t know where my dinner is coming from” commercials yet?)

          • i’m not sure, being new, but I’d love to hear it. Learning the “food insecurity” and “severe food insecurity” definitions was my first real eye-opening experience for how so much of… EVERYTHING… is a lie. -_-;

            • Muwahaha, sometimes I love a reason to rant!

              😉

              Determining “food insecurity” based on asking little kids if they always got to eat what they wanted to eat, and as much of it as they wanted to eat, is a possibly-an-honest-mistake part of it– well, that and well meaning people making estimates of how many people need help and aren’t showing up in their sampling methods. They think it’s really important, so they’re prone to over estimate the size and severity. (IE, the Genuinely Nice People group of folks who work their hinds off trying to help.)

              Determining stuff by asking those who profit by giving you a specific answer is a…gray area. Some people will tell the truth, or answer the question in the spirit it was asked as best they can, but some won’t. Some folks asking the question are being honest, some are asking the question that will get the answer they want.

              The outright fraud parts I ended up alluding to in another reply here– basically, there are people whose “job” is to watch other folks’ children (or disabled adults), claim additional ones are going to school or working, and go from food pantry to food pantry getting a week’s worth of groceries for their vastly inflated family at each place. There are also people (usually women, traditionally known as “welfare queens,” although theoretically disabled men are an increasing portion) whose income is all under the table– including child support, if they don’t flatly abandon the kids with some other family member– so they can still qualify for help. A lot of the reforms to fix those exploitations are getting gutted via “exemptions.”

              And then there’s the amount of money spent on the @#$@# radio commecials about “you know me, (emotional connection stuff), and I am one of the one in five kids who goes to bed hungry every night…..” or “and I am one of the one in ten Americans who has trouble getting enough food to eat.”

              • I would loooove to corner the head of Snack Packs 4 Kids, smile sweetly, and ask “If all these kids whose families are getting federal aid are starving to the point that strangers have to feed them, why have the ‘parents’ not been investigated and possibly arrested for fraud and welfare abuse?” I suspect the tap dancing would be better than Fred Astaire. (The program is run by Truly Well Meaning people that I suspect don’t want to cause problems by asking various authorities to look into why the kiddos say they get no food at home. None of the kids I or immediate family members have crossed paths with are starving.)

              • Does that one in ten figure include teenaged males? Because these exist on one of only two states: hungry and asleep. Might skew the numbers a bit.

                • Our boys are now past this, but I remember when they were going through puberty, there was this commercial on TV where the kids poured food into their hollow legs. Dan and I would HOWL with laughter at it because it was so true.

    • Which is exactly why personal and private and “hidden” charity is the kind Christ Himself explicitly approves of.

  16. Reblogged this on Quasi Renaissance Man and commented:
    The additional article from Spiegel at the end of the blog post is still accurate, I’m sorry to say. Now, the Ebola situation is a little different, but the challenge is making sure that we leave West Africa equipped to handle the next outbreak of (insert really scary disease here) on its own without it turning into a huge crisis. There are, believe it or not, efforts to mentor and train Liberians in basic health care while they’re working in the Ebola treatment units. We might get it right this time, on this particular issue. If we’re lucky.

    • I doubt it. Training and mentoring are all well and good, but they’re next to useless without proper supplies. Unless we’re training and mentoring the infrastructure necessary to keep these people equipped with everything from vitamins to hypodermic needles, Liberia is at the mercy of dumb luck.

      • William O. B'Livion

        The

        Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded — here and there, now and then — are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty.

        Kind of dumb luck?

      • There are, actually, supply lines that get necessary medical equipment/materials in. They can, in fact, get hypodermic needles, medications, and so on. OK, at least for the capital and a couple of the larger towns up-country. The Ebola outbreak threw a spanner in the works because hospitals, public clinics, and private clinics closed either when they had an Ebola patient (and didn’t know how to disinfect the place after) or when they thought they might get a patient, and were afraid because they didn’t know how to effectively isolate. That, and there weren’t really enough trained nurses and healthcare workers to begin with. They are pitching the training/mentoring to the level of infrastructure (fully inclusive, per your definition) that’s here, not the level in the U.S. Thankfully, someone’s figured out this part, at least.

  17. There but for the grace of God go I.

    At one time, I was on track to become one of the dropouts of society. Fortunately, I woke up and realized I needed to learn discipline and get some job skills, so I paid a visit to an Army recruiting office.

  18. I was one of the homeless and lived in a shelter in West Virginia for a year and a half. I saw all varieties of people come and go. It was determined (with the help of the corporate-funded free community health clinic) that I had two conditions that had gone undiagnosed and had together crippled my best efforts to become self-reliant. But in general, you have a valid point. Most of the homeless, whether their problems are physical, mental, or moral (or often some combination) need help that money alone will not address.

    • Which is what I meant. We have been VERY poor — as in, new baby, in hock to our eyeballs, and genuinely struggling to get food on the table all while husband was unemployed and I was too ill to work. BUT we saw the problems and got out of it. We did have help — from friends — along the way, and we felt we owed them to get out of trouble. We give help where and when we can — we’ve bought more computers for writers and aspiring writers than most people have outfits — but impersonal charity that doesn’t judge and doesn’t demand generally also doesn’t help. (And the way we throw our mental patients out on the mercy of the streets because we refuse to “judge” is a disgrace.)

    • Lack of money is a symptom, not a cause, of poverty.

  19. Well said. I think that’s how most of us working for a living feel.

  20. Government sets rules for “government charity”. The rules are the rules,and if you fit in the rules, you get it, if you, don’t you don’t. No judgement calls, just rules.

    A personal example. When I was stationed in Norfolk, in the Navy, you knew just how much everyone made, becasue if you knew their rank and years of service, you looked at the pay scale, and there it was. Had another sailor I was stationed with, same rank, same years of service, even the same number of years sea duty. And we both had a wife and 3 kids. Difference- he lived in housing, I bought a house off base. His kids all got free meals at school becasue he made less then me, becasue I was drawing a housing allowance. My mortgage was about $150 more then that allowance. Plus I paid for garbage service. And electricity. And gas. All provided gratis as part of base housing. Reality was, he was better off financially then I was, but because his CASH income was less, he was able to get free lunches and food stamps. I don’t blame him for doing so, but he was able to do so because government rules are based strictly on numbers, which may or may not actually reflect a persons need for help.

    I’ve never been a fan of “government charity”. And have never seen a reason to change my mind. Government charity, i.e. welfare, is nothing more and nothing less then organized theft.

    • William O. B'Livion

      I don’t blame him for doing so

      I do.

      As member of the US military you know exactly how much you are going to make pretty much throughout your career, and if you do your job and keep out of trouble you know *pretty much* when your next bump is going to be.

      This means that you know (or should) what you can and cannot afford. Kids included.

      • You missed the point. As a breadwinner, it’s your job to maximize your family income WITHIN the rules. The rules said the government should give him more money, so he took advantage of it. Within the rules, no cheating required. Point of the story was- the rules themselves were stupid.

        • William O. B'Livion

          I didn’t miss it. I just disagree with it.

          Those programs are intended to be for “the needy”. If you’re not needy you should not be going after them.

          I consider what he was doing was basically cheating the system. The system was designed for the vast majority of americans that have to pay for their housing and utilities out of their income. Because his position with the military got him free housing he was *less* needy. He is, in my eyes, no different than the person who collects welfare while running an off the books day care facility in their home.

          • Someone drawing welfare while running an off the books day care facility in their home is not playing within the rules. I feel the same way about them as I felt about a past female acquaintance who thought taxes should be raised so government could do more things. She had 2 under the table jobs with relatives- so of course she thought taxes should be raised. She wasn’t paying them.

            The rules for welfare ensure that a lot of non-needy people can collect. And still be playing within the rules. They’re also inflexible enough that real needy people are left out of the system. Because government is not allowed to exercise discretion, it must obey rules and regulations and establish measureable standards. You,and me, OTOH, are allowed to look at someone and say, “He may need something, but he’s not worthy of my time, effort, or money.” And then turn immediately around and look at someone with the same MEASURABLE by means need, and help him, because we see someone trying to help themselves, who can and will use a hand up, and won’t be dependent on us foreever.

  21. When i was… between places of residence, it always greatly disturbed me the number of perfectly physically able people eating at the shelter with me.

  22. “I realize part of this is a reaction to Victorian times, when it was assumed that people were poor because they’d done something wrong.”

    There was a lot of variation in that. Henry Mayhew’s famous and popular work on London’s poor concluded that half were poor because of structural reasons in the economy, a third, personal flaws such as drunkenness, and a sixth, being handicapped or frail.

  23. I had a friend who had a food ministry inside our church, older, retired Air Force with a tongue that only knew one truth, what he thought and believed. Checked his clientele, and refused service to confidence people. One day a man and his family came in, he gave them food but, laid in on the father who had lots of excuses. Six months later, my friend received a letter from another state addressed to the church. “Thank you for making me realize that I was allowing myself to excuse myself and go downhill. I have a new job and things are working out for my family.

    A Jewish person told me that Jewish Charity was- giving someone a job.

  24. “Why, exactly, is trying to make a place safer for the working, taxpaying, law-abiding residents supposed to be a bad thing?”

    Because everyone thinks it a good thing. It doesn’t give you a position to preen about your superiority to ordinary folks.

  25. Personal story here.
    Back in college, I had no car, so I walked everywhere unless I could catch a ride with somebody. One day, the route I was taking went under an overpass, where, that day, there was a homeless fellow.
    Being as it was daylight and the road was busy, I stopped to chat and listen–mostly listen.
    He was transient, had gotten a bunch of food from the locals–the man gave me some of it, he’d gotten so much–and only lived on beer. Which seemed weird until I realized he had only three teeth.
    Anyway, his reason for leaving the house about three or four decades before was that he wanted to wear his hair long and his mother cut it off.
    Interesting fellow, and sometimes I wonder what became of him, but I had little sympathy.

  26. My mom told me once that either a woman in our little town had purchased, or she’d been given money to purchase, or someone purchased for her kids… three new pairs of pants for school in the fall. And her drunk of a husband had taken the new pants to JCPenny, returned them, and used the money to buy alcohol.

    The thing about local charity for people you know is that when stuff like this happens people know to try to think of ways to get around the bad parent or drunk. Sometimes you can’t, but sometimes you can. And Sarah’s story about her teen group that “helped” the poor family and her mother’s reaction to that reminded me of that story. There are ways to help that the parents can’t turn around and turn into drinkable money. But that’s only possible if the charity is for people who’s situation is known. And that’s only possible with personal, rather than impersonal, charity.

    I do sometimes give money to beggars. I gave $5 to a guy in the Home Depot parking lot today. It doesn’t really matter to me if his sad story was true or not, if he’s actually got a wife and kids waiting for him to buy some food at Walmart or not, or if he’s going to drink it or not. Somewhere in the NT it says “Give to those who ask…” and I decided that it wasn’t an accident that it didn’t say “give to those who deserve it”. I just took it to mean that it’s not about them, but about me and obedience. So none of that sick in the stomach feeling that you’ve been extorted or “had”. I hate that sick feeling. But nor do I make up some vision of myself as this terrifically good person over it. If the person is obviously a “professional” or if I just don’t feel like it (or if I’m broke) I say no without a twinge of guilt. Since it’s not about me being a good person, this is pretty easy to do.

    • Matthew 5:42 (No, I didn’t know it off the top of my head. 😀 )

      Your decision, of course, but there are a lot of assumptions built into the most direct instructions; such as the “eye for an eye” thing being a limiting factor. They can be simple because all the complicated stuff is already there*.
      Speaking of which, the paragraph of “give to those who ask of you” opens by mentioning that, then goes on to forbid offering any resistance if assaulted, robbed or enslaved– and in fact to give double what they try to get from you.
      I know the non-charity-related stuff in the list are all things that were done to shame people, or demonstrate power over them. I vaguely remember a tradition of using folks’ traditionally required hospitality to shame or hurt them, too, although I don’t know if that was used as often. (It’s alluded to things like the widow who only had enough oil and flour to make one cake, and it kept replenishing because she was TRYING to do what’s right.)

      Good mental jujitsu, though.

      *which is part of why I mentioned that simple things have a lot more than what can be seen– I’m quite sure you’ve got more reasons involved than part of a line from the NT, even if that is a really good way to simplify it.

  27. Every year at this time my Lady watches 4 or 5 version of A CHRISTMAS CHAROL (not back-to-back, thank God). I don’t mind them, per se, but as I grow older only one of them real strikes me anymore.

    The one starring George C. Scott.

    most Scrooges strike me as miserable little men, even in their “reform”. They don’t convince me as men of business (how the hell could such crabbed and inward men DEAL?). and they sure as hell don’t convince me as men of effective charity. Not so much actually improved but trying to avoid being punished by passing out candy and treats.

    Scotts Scott is a different matter. His scrooge is a dynamic presence; powerful in his miserliness and avarice. Under the lash of the Spirits he actually seems concerned with something other than himself; he is appalled by the Spirits of Want and Ignorance under the robes of the Spirit of Christmas Present. He seems harder hit by the news of Tim’s future death than by his own.

    And if, on his return, he starts by throwing gifts about, there is that air about him that says that that mood will not last. A week or so after the film’s end he is going to come striding into his office and boom “Well, now, Cratchett, this is all very well, but it’s time we got busy. Tell me, Bob, what kind of business do you think I should start to employ some of the desperate people in London? Eh? Where could we put my fortune to work where it would do some lasting good?”

    Dickens didn’t put that in – I doubt he would have understood why it was better (I don’t really think much of Dickens) – that”s the work of Scott, or the screenwriter (doubtful), or possible the director.

    I wish somebody would elaborate on it.

    • Interesting observation. I’m going to need to watch it for a mind to the details you mentioned (including the Gospel of Wealth aspect at the end).

      What’s your opinion on the Patrick Stewart _Christmas Carol_? Certainly Stewart played Scrooge as a commanding, even at times defiant, figure, but my biggest problem was that he never really became the role the way he did Captain Picard in ST:TNG or Captain Ahab in his adaptation of _Moby Dick_. The whole time, I remained very conscious of him being Patrick Stewart playing Scrooge, which hindered my ability to forget I was watching a movie and sink into the story in spite of the gorgeous special effects.