The man waved Andrew and me down as we were walking to Andre House this morning. He warned us that everything was closed so that we could not get any services where we were headed. Andrew and I responded that we worked at Andre House, and that even if everything else was closed, we would be open for dinner. He then asked for some spare charge. We responded that we don’t carry cash (a lie) but that we provide plenty of services at our facility which is open most of the day. He persisted though, noticing my sun glasses and asking for them. I refused as politely as possible, but if I had been thinking, I simply would have told him that we have sun glasses at Andre House. I cut the conversation short, telling the man that we had to get to the hospitality center in order to prepare to open for the day, and said I hoped we would see him later.
I have always been torn when a poor person asks me for money. I want to help the poor, but I want it to be substantive help; I do not want to enable them or have the money used for vices like drinking; I want to build up their lives, their dignity. This incident was the first time that I knew how to answer the man. He seemed either a bit tipsy or mentally unstable, so there is a good chance any donation I would have made would have gone to drugs or alcohol. Additionally, he was only a few blocks away from a number of Phoenix’s social service agencies. Right next to Andre House is St. Vincent de Paul which provides free breakfast and lunch, not to mention CASS (Central Arizona Shelter Services), the LDRC (Lodestar Day Resource Center), and St Joseph the Worker (job training and placement). He had plenty of resources to provide for his basic needs without asking for money. Saying no was easy.
I have heard of two of the regular guests at Andre House going across town to panhandle for beer money. The money they get only makes our job harder because dealing with drunks is as trying as it gets. If I want to give money to the poor from now on, I will forgo handouts and instead donate to established service providers. Then, I know my resources will be used to better the lives of many, instead of possibly eating away at the life of one.