Upset at beggars? Pick the right target
The Chronicle’s C.W. Nevius writes about a woman with a four-year-old son begging on the street in the Financial District. Nearby office workers, led by a sympathetic woman named Anna Samovol, got the woman and her child winter coats and Christmas gifts and eventually paid for them to go live with relatives in Pennsylvania.
Feel-good story? Not anymore. The woman and her kid are back. Samoval said, “I saw her at the BART station. I was pissed off.”
I’ve felt frustrated by beggars too. When I worked downtown I would encounter the same beggars on the same corners literally for years on end. When a familiar face was replaced by another mendicant, only to return a day or two later and reclaim his spot, I joked with co-workers that the unfamiliar guy must have been a temp. On another day, I passed a beggar with an amusing sign, then encountered another beggar a little farther on.
Me: You should have a sign like that guy back there.
Second beggar, unamused: The other day he had a kitten.
But generally I found them not a source of amusement but a pain in the ass. I told myself that they were lazy, that it was their fault they were there, that if it wasn’t their fault then they probably had something wrong with them that couldn’t be helped by my small donation. A story like the one about the woman and her son who were shipped to Pennsylvania only to return to the streets of San Francisco seems to reinforce that idea. If a ticket back home to relatives won’t help, then what good can I do by giving a dollar, or even a hundred dollars?
Finally I realized that all these projections on my part were futile. If I give someone a quarter, or a plane ticket, they don’t owe me anything in return. They don’t owe me improved behavior, or recovery from whatever is oppressing them, or disappearance from my sight. They don’t owe me anything. A gift is just that.
If I want to be pissed off by the fact there are beggars on the streets, there are plenty of good targets for my anger: start with Proposition 13 and the war on drugs, and go from there.