I gave a homeless guy $10 today. I know you're not supposed to encourage pandhandlers, and I rarely give them money, but he was in his late twenties, disheveled, talking to himself. When he walked toward me outside Bartlett's Restaurant off Anderson Lane in Austin, I shouted a very loud "No!" to keep him away. What did I know about him? Was he violent? Did he have a knife?
He answered, "No problem, ma'am, have a nice day." Then he went away, talking to himself.
When I got in my car, I felt awful because I have so much, and this guy was clearly in trouble. He was limping and used a walking stick. He wore only a thin t-shirt with no jacket in what was chilly weather. And his expression looked rather desperate.
I checked my wallet and found a $10, but decided I couldn't risk my safety by walking back to him. So I started the engine, locked my doors, then tucked the $10 bill in the top edge of the window. When I drove up to him, he saw the bill, took it, and gave me a grateful smile.
I gave him a thumb's up and a nod wishing him well.
Believe me, I'm not one to hope Austin turns into San Francisco, where bodies camp out on sidewalks, and homeless swarm the streets to the point you can't feel safe walking alone, especially if you are female. But this guy, well, he just looked different. And I thought to myself, this was somebody's son.
In fact, he could have been my husband's son, Patrick, who's mentally ill and would be on the streets of some city, somewhere, were it not for a felony arrest 15 years ago that landed him in the state mental health system. That's why I felt better for having given this guy my $10. I would help people like these more often, but I don't want to be frightened or threatened. And I don't want my money spent on liquor or drugs. It was my hope this fellow would use it toward a hot meal.
What's the solution, other than donate to the Salvation Army? I did find an interesting article on the Texas Tribune page about varied solutions to Texas's homeless problem. It's a good read, if you'd like to click this link. And it helped me to know that some cities and organizations in Texas are actually doing something about homelessness, other than shrugging and looking the other way. I'd rather this fellow today had somewhere better and warmer to go than a restaurant parking lot. I just wish I knew where to send him in Austin.