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?