Monday, March 3, 2008

Spare A Quarter?

As I mentioned in my previous post I am now working downtown. It’s interesting how different “the city” is from out in what may lovingly be considered the suburbs. This has become blaringly apparent to me in the over six months I have been working in the heart of Portland’s downtown.

One major thing that I notice daily, and hope to avoid more often than not, are the panhandlers. Technically they aren’t doing anything wrong as long as they don’t interfere with the “progress” of the pedestrians (the same goes for those trying to get petitions signed and handing out pamphlets) but realistically what do they expect from us, the passerby? They probably know that they aren’t going to get hundreds of dollars especially since a majority of the passersby do so regularly. The panhandlers I pass regularly have found comfort in front of a Rite Aid store that is almost to the MAX stop, so I am forced to walk by them every day in my best attempt to get home.

There are those that my heart breaks for, those I am annoyed by, and those that I wish would just go away.

My heart breaks for: the man who sits in a wheel chair on the sidewalk, no matter the weather, every morning with a small sign that says “I need money for the basics: Rent & Food.” He looks to be a veteran and not capable of doing much else to provide for himself. I would much prefer to buy him a cup of coffee or a sandwich than just give him some spare change and hopes he will get by.

Those I am annoyed by: He is an older man with a long beard and leather jacket. He looks like an old biker type to me. I am pretty sure he is not homeless since I have never seen him with any type of belongings other than what he is wearing. His position floats so I can never be sure as to where or when I will run in to him, but I seem him at least once a week. His standard greeting is an overly enunciated: “Spare a quarter?”. Something just bothers me about his demeanor and tone of voice. I suppose he’s much more abrasive than I expect a panhandler to be.

Those I wish would go away: There’s a group that looks to be in their early twenties that always have a beautiful and well behaved pit bull with them. This group varies between talking amongst themselves with their collection hat set out on the street to asking the passerby for money and then yelling something to / at them after they walk by without responding to their request. I’m pretty sure that this group has chosen this way of life, which makes me feel even less like tossing them a quarter.

I have nothing against these people, or panhandlers in general, but I think I have become hardened to their presence because I am guaranteed to encounter at least one everyday. I don’t want to feel like they are just taking up sidewalk, I feel badly that I have lost my humanity toward them and a part of me wishes that I could help them out and give them what they really need and not just a quarter. The reality is though that I know I can’t give them what they need; perhaps even they don’t know. I can barely give myself everything I need right now. Call me cold hearted if you will, but I realized not to long ago that I would quickly make myself broke if I gave a quarter every time to each panhandler that asked.

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