Friday, May 26, 2006

My Neighbors

Not long ago as I was leaving a neighborhood restaurant near my home, I was approached by a "panhandler." This happens all of the time in this particular place, I suppose because the little shopping center is positioned on the edge of a more affluent community.

As the beggar drew closer, I was surprised to recognize him.

He is my neighbor.

He didn't recognize me, until it was too late to back away.

I shook his hand and reminded him that I lived next door.

He was embarrassed.

A couple of weeks later, in the same location, I was approached again. This time by another neighbor--the first gent's cousin who lives with him.

This encounter wasn't so strained, because the second man recognized me immediately and approached for that reason. Possibly he knew of my earlier encounter with his roommate.

I've followed up with them at home now a few times. We had a long talk last Saturday.

Both of these guys have unique situations and challenges. Both are disabled. One is a veteran. The other has major health problems, complete with seizures and other tough complications.

They rent a small garage apartment in back of the house next door. Their means are meager, to say the least. They have no transportation. They cannot work. They struggle to pay the rent to the property owner who lives across the street.

They are trying to get by.

One is attempting to receive Social Security Supplemental Income--by definition and design an unnecessarily long process, complete with several delaying, automatic denials of claims. I am trying to convince him to see our lawyers, as well as our doctors.

I am sure these guys have not been choir boys through the years! But then, neither have I, come to think of it!

But, they need a hand up right now.

I am trying to be a friend and neighbor.

However, they represent a growing group of Americans who need more sustained, systematic assistance than any one individual can provide. Some of what they need, I just don't have.

Then there is what I call "the shame factor" of their depending on me for longterm support and assistance. We don't talk about this much. Most of the time we don't even consider it because we have so little experience with the poor. But these men don't need to be forced to beg on the streets and they don't need to be forced to beg from me, their next door neighbor.

I am more than happy to provide what help I can. But over the long haul the arrangement will not work for them.

In my view, due to their circumstances and their health and employment prospects, they are entitled to a much more dependable, formalized living arrangement than the ad hoc help I and others might provide. This is true of millions of our fellow citizens today.

Through it all, we will become friends, I know. That is a very good thing.

But being a friend, in this case, must mean more than providing a little extra cash along the way.
These guys need advocates.

How can a such a dilemma be sad, maddening and hopeful all at once?

5 comments:

Jeremy Gregg said...

"Most of the time we don't even consider it because we have so little experience with the poor."

So little experience.... or so little concern?

No one thinks about the dignity aspect of "receiving charity," or of the shame of having to beg. No one thinks about how heart-breaking it must be for a father to bring his family to our food pantry, because his job does not pay enough to buy food.

I think people are happy to give that father the food he needs. But do they really want to work with him to help him get it for himself?

That would require getting to know the man, as you have done. That would require caring about him, caring with him, not just caring for him.

I have my doubts, sometimes. For most of us, that would just make it too hard to go back to our lives and luxuries.

Anonymous said...

We do have a great deal of poverty in this country so why in the world does the Senate want to import more from Mexico? I agree with Rush-it's not about immigration ,it's about expanding government entitlements in exchange for votes.

steve said...

Experience and concern go hand in hand. We cannot love someone we do not know.

Latin Americans come to the states to asuage their economic poverty. The poverty of Larry's neighbors has a spiritual aspect to it also.

I think both of the above dilemmas have a simliar solution. The power of one. Living among the poor. Seeing them. Knowing them. Loving them. then defending and advocating for them.

I wandered through Larry's great link array, and hit an article in "religin and ethics" about my personal hero, Jean Vanier, who, 40 years ago took home two mentally disabled men from an asylum in France.

The healing and dignity that the disadvantaged neighbors have found in hundreds of L'arche communities around the world might be an example for our innner city community disolution.

I lived for a year with a Herion addict (Viet vet) and his family of five children. He had spent 75% of his adult life in jail. He was the strain on and joke of the deacon's fund of the church that he stubbornly remained a member of. They sayed he got out of jail just long enough to get his wife pregnant.
The two most beneficial things I did for him, was to teach him to grocery shop ( and overcome his mistaken assumption: the best prices are in the richer suburbs), and to be there...24/7, warts and all. I single handedly shattered his discouraging and isolating impression that christians have it all together.

Larry: you are a shining light. Don't grow weary in well doing and well speaking.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, so you are saying that President Bush is all "about expanding government entitlements in exchange for votes"?

Don't you think that is a silly notion? Really now.

Anonymous said...

He listens to and believes Rush, so clearly, "thinking" is not his forte.