One less thing to feel guilty about

A little while back Daltongirl wrote an excellent post about homelessness in which she drew on her experiences as One Who Serves the Homeless Community. So if you want to read something eloquent and thought-provoking and faith-in-humanity-inspiring, go read that. If you don't, you can read my post about homelessness, which follows below.

Anchorage has homeless people. I think it would be a very bad thing to be homeless in Anchorage because of how cold it gets in the winter. A few people freeze to death every year.

(And before the Alaskans can grab their pitchforks, I'm sure they have homeless people freezing to death in Minneapolis and Boston and all those other places that are in fact colder than Alaska. I get that. So you can just settle. And this is my blog anyway. And I'm leaving. Neener.)

When mom and I drive into Anchorage in the mornings we go through the Seward Highway/Lake Otis Blvd intersection, and nearly every single time we see several people on the corners begging for money. One is an elderly Native Alaskan man who may believe he is holding up a cardboard sign, but there's actually nothing in his hands. Still he stands there as though holding up an invisible cardboard sign for us to read. I have no idea what it says. Other people have shopping cards, actual cardboard signs, and all the usual stuff.

Yesterday, though, a man at the intersection was waving around these huge stick-looking things and shouting at the passing cars. Turns out he was selling whale baleen. Which is a thing I never supposed I would see when I left the house this morning.

Mom told me that Anchorage recently passed a city ordinance that fines people who give money to panhandlers. She didn't know what the fine was. You can give them food, or you can buy their whale baleen, or you can tell them where the soup kitchen is, but you can't just hand them money.

So. Remember that when you come to visit.


noelle feather said... [reply]

There are quite a few homeless people on the way to the LA Temple. I heard someone say that EVERY TIME his wife goes to the Temple, she prepares a brown bag lunch. Then, right when she gets off the freeway, and stops at the stoplight, she gives it to the person who is standing on the corner with their sign.

I think I might want to adopt that habit.

DP said... [reply]

I once heard about food vouchers you can get, so you can hand them to people like that. Then, they can take them to the grocery store and use them for food. I like the brown bag idea, too, except that nowadays beggars can be choosers and might be skeptical of a homemade lunch. It's a crazy world we live in.

Scully said... [reply]

Tell all those pitchfork wielding Alaskans that there are lots of homeless people in Salt Lake, where it gets really, really cold. And they all hang out in the park across from my complex. Which is why the park, officially known as Pioneer Park, is generally referred to as Homeless Park. Except for Saturday mornings in the summer when it is called The Farmer's Market.

kristen said... [reply]

I read daltongirl's post....that's pretty much been my thinking. I don't trust panhandlers, and I know that there are plenty of programs and resources in the community to help these individuals.

It's kinda sad that we've gotten to the point where we have laws on giving money. I can see the point, but still.

amyjane said... [reply]

My grandma always carried McDonald's gift certificates for homeless people--it may not be nutritious but at least it's not booze!

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rivenrock said... [reply]

I've heard of places clearing out beggars, but I've never heard of anywhere making it illegal to give someone on the street money. One part of me understands the why of it, but mostly that just seems sad.

daltongirl said... [reply]

I have been wanting some whale baleen for a while now, and had no idea how to get it. Can you bring me some when you come, Nem? Pleeeease?

The story provides more food for thought--as do the comments. The cynical side of me thinks that some legislator got tired of feeling guilty about not giving people money, so sponsored a law that let him/her off the hook. That kind of irritates me. (I was reminded in church today that anger is a sin, so I'm not going to let it go too far.)

Nemesis said... [reply]

I wanted to hear what you thought, Daltongirl. I don't know what arguments were made for the rule. It could be that they just want people to go to the shelters and to Bean's Cafe (the city's big soup kitchen) rather than panhandling. But yeah, I don't know what the right choice is there.

daltongirl said... [reply]

This is a tough one. Sure, I think it's not a good idea to give money to homeless people as a general rule, but I also think it's a very bad idea to make a law that essentially tells people they don't have to care. I love the stories NF and Amy told--about people that think outside the box and try to give real help to others. THAT is compassion!

But is that law going to cause people to think, "Oh! No more giving money. What else can I do to help?" I doubt it. It's probably going to make most people more apathetic, which no one needs.

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