I am a bit overwhelmed right now. I should be trying to do something about a website but instead I am in a daze. I think there is adrenaline running around my system, or more than usual, I feel the need to take short quick breaths and I feel on edge, I certainly want to get away to some peace and quiet rather than the roadworks I can hear below the window. At the same time I feel a bit silly and ashamed of myself, and in the back ground there is the hint of depression that has been with me all morning. What momentous thing have I done? I have just had a conversation with a homeless guy and bought him something to eat and drink.
Why such the big deal? Well I hope it isn’t a big deal for most people but it is for me. Guys begging on the street are the catalyst for a dilemma in me. The problem being that I want to help them in some way but I don’t want to enable them to drink alcohol. In an ideal world I would not make a judgement over how anyone spends their money; my decision is to give the money or not, theirs is how they spend it. However I don’t feel able to do that when alcohol is involved because it feels disrespectful to the people who have donated livers and saved lives like mine. Alcoholics are self-harming by destroying their livers. I know it is an addiction and is usually caused by underlying mental health issues, but by enabling the purchase of alcohol, I feel I am supporting that person to self-destruction rather than trying to help them cope better with their lives.
I’ve closed my eyes for a bit and now I find myself shaking; time for a biscuit I think.
Back to the dilemma then. Okay so I don’t want to support people to get drunk. I have a similar beef about smoking too. This is the excuse (notice judgement there) that I use so that I don’t give homeless people money. I think a better approach therefore is to give them something to eat, but I also feel that assuming that someone is hungry and giving them something I choose is not appropriate either, again that is not my decision to make. Right then, so it looks like I need to have a conversation with the person then and therein lays the barrier I have so far been unable to overcome; talking to a homeless person.
Today was different for two reasons: first I was aware that although I was functioning okay on one level (discussing things with my wife) I also recognised that I was feeling rather depressed again (despite the wonderful still, blue sky, sunny day we are having); secondly, I didn’t recognise the homeless person (there is often an ex-soldier in the spot whom a friend of mine has tried to help) and assumed because of his long hair that he was a women (bloody hell, I am getting old). I was aware of this as I went into the shop they were sitting by, to buy myself a meal deal (it was an effort for me to get something to eat for myself) and by the time I came out again, I had decide to talk to “her” because despite of all the things I have in my life, I was still feeling down, so how much worst might she be feeling?
I knelt down and asked if she wanted something to eat. He replied asking what I had in mind. I said I had thought about buying a meal deal from the supermarket. He said he would like a ham sandwich. I asked what he wanted a drink; on the second attempt I understood he wanted Iron Bru. Then I asked if wanted any particular flavour of crisps, he said it didn’t matter. I went back into the shop and found what he had asked for and decided to buy some Tortilla chips on the premise they might contain more energy. I was slightly conscious about paying for another meal deal shortly after the first purchase (what was that about?), but it was a different teller so I dismissed the feeling. When I came out of the shop, the guy was counting the money he accumulated in his cup, an action that seemed a bit incongruous in the open. I crouch down again and said “here you are mate, enjoy”. I got up and walked away before he had a chance to respond but I think I heard a “thank you” in the background, I wasn’t looking for it. I think I may have been a bit preoccupied with the thought that by buying him some food, I was perhaps still enabling him to spend money on alcohol or cigarettes so what was the difference? Was it just my conscious that was salved, my money didn’t directly contribute to an addiction, but my action may have indirectly. I consoled myself by realising that I had taken a step to treating a homeless guy with compassion. I had found out a little about him and made a start in making a connection; maybe next time I can ask his name.
As I walked away, I looked up and saw my wife looking at me. It was obvious she had seen me giving the guy the food and drink, and I know she would approve of the action (she once set up a homeless charity in Oxford). It was funny really, normally I wouldn’t have told her about my helping somebody like this, it isn’t the reason I did it, but she found out anyway. Now I have processed the experience I can also feel good about helping myself by helping others.