Sunday, July 12, 2009

What's a guy to do?

Conventional wisdom in Dallas says, "Don't give money to panhandlers."

As a matter of fact, there is an ordinance against begging on the streets of our city.

While I understand the logic behind the rule, I also know that this is a case where "one size fits all" just doesn't apply.

My latest example happened early one morning last week.

I stopped by Starbucks on my way to a meeting Downtown. There on the sidewalk, positioned at one corner of the store so as not to block the entrance, was a man seated in a wheelchair. One leg had been partially amputated.

As I entered the store, he called out to me, "Good morning, my man! Could you spare a little change for an old man?" His smile was wide, infectious and compelling.

"I'll try to catch on the backside, friend," I called back.

"Sure thing, friend," he replied.

When I came out with my coffee, I walked over to him.

"Where do you stay?" I asked.

"Well, I was homeless, but I've got me my apartment now!" he informed me with pride. "My place is just right over here," he explained, pointing down Gaston Avenue.

"What about your SSI," I asked, wondering if this obviously disabled man had worked out the benefits he could access.

"Yes! I've got that all set up as well," he beamed up at me.

He patted the arm of his rather well-worn motorized wheelchair.

"They told me that it would take me a long time to get one of these chairs with a motor. I'd been trying to get one for a while. But, you know, a lady came by right here and just gave me his one! I didn't have to wait, she just brought it to me," he volunteered about his form of basic transportation.

I handed him my contribution to his cause. He thanked me. We shook hands and I went on my way.

As I left, I heard him calling out to a little girl, just barely 1-year-old, walking up the sidewalk with her mother. They stopped to talk to him. He didn't ask them for anything, he just greeted them and wished them well.

Later in the week, as I drove by that same spot on my way up Gaston Avenue, I spotted my friend again, rolling along in his gift chair on his way to Starbucks, I expect.

For him, it was his work. It occurred to me that the gentleman is the unofficial greeter there! And, clearly, no one in the store enforced the ordinance.

Of course, I don't know this man's budget, nor do I know his entire story or situation. But I can imagine a situation in which he has his housing covered, but not quite all of his living expenses, including food, utilities and transportation. He's got to find a way to make the ends meet.

Maybe I'm not supposed to, but I expect I'll give him my "pocket change" again, if he asks me. After all, he is a member of my neighborhood.

What do you think?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The residents we work with in St. Louis are always elibigle for SSI/SSDI and usually receive $600-700 each month -- barely enough to cover an apartment/utilities, let alone food, transportation, other living costs. The application process is very frustrating, because it's a very bureaucratic process that's seems designed to reject people. Thankfully, we we can access Shelter Plus Care vouchers for most, where they pay 30% of income towards rent. This goes a long way in leaving them money for all these extra living expenses.