January 19th, 2010
12:38 PM ET

A handout for the homeless

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/01/19/art.homeless.line.backs.jpg]

Dave Schechter
CNN Senior National Editor

It was my wife's doing.

We were on our way home from a Thanksgiving visit to family in the Chicago suburbs. Somewhere in Kentucky or Tennessee, we got off the interstate to fill the van's gas tank, get food and stretch our legs.

The man was standing at the top of the ramp.

He held a sign identifying himself as a homeless veteran in need of help. What caught my attention was the emblem on his black ball cap, the colors of the South Vietnam flag. From his gray hair and beard and the lines on his face, I guessed him to be in his early- to mid-60s. His fatigue jacket showed years of age.

Now, I've always been conflicted about giving money to people panhandling. Advocates for the homeless have told me that giving money does not help the homeless improve their long-term situation. Others tell me that such generosity more often than not is used for food, not alcohol as some stereotypes would have you believe.

So here we were, inching forward on the off-ramp, approaching the left turn. I figured we would pass the man, glancing at him, but not long enough for guilt-inducing eye contact.

And then my wife reached into our bag of snacks and handed me two large oranges, which I handed to the somewhat startled, but appreciative, veteran.

And on we drove.

But that experience helped me with a similar dilemma I face most nights driving home. There is a younger man, holding a sign saying that he is homeless, on the on-ramp I take to the highway. At night it's easier to avoid eye contact and not slow down (any further) the traffic behind me.

Tonight, however, I have two oranges in my bag.

Filed under: David Schechter • Economy
soundoff (18 Responses)
  1. sue scott

    sure it's easy, and best to give food; however, sometimes, may I suggest one more step;when in public and if they seem sain, take them out for a meal and and have light conversation...give time along with food.
    Ewa Beach,HI

    January 19, 2010 at 9:34 pm |
  2. Sally Kosmalski

    I read some of the comments and I never thought of carrying things like energy bars and water, both on our person and in our cars. I'll do itl


    January 19, 2010 at 7:45 pm |
  3. Jane

    As a "starving artist" I have been homeless several times ...usually managing to stay at a shelter and maybe even have a low wage job at least part time. I never thought I would ever be someone with a cardboard sign next to a highway. And when the need arose and a shelter was not available or acceptable to me, I am still too shy to stand before people with a sign. I had a buddy however that was not too shy and for about a week one winter we survived be panhandling daily for enough $ to stay in a warm motel room at night. When we collected enough about 37-40 $ we would check into the motel for the night, and in the morning go out again and hope to have enough contributed for the coming night. Which we managed to do for the week that we needed. It's not for us to judge another person,s circumstance or stereotype them. And although for many years I had been able to depend on an ex-Catholic priest for a shelter program in the winter; He is now semi-retired and giving most control over to someone else who threw me out of the shelter for a year saying for a reason that I was not taking RXs. She was mistaken; I was taking them. Even though I thought that it was confidential between me and my physician and had never been advised that taking or not could be an excuse for expulsion from the only safety net I knew or had. People who have jobs working with homeless people do not know everything, and are not infallible. And one size does not fit all.

    January 19, 2010 at 5:16 pm |
  4. casey nunez

    Twice a week we visit one of our local supermarkets and gather the hundreds of dollars worth of perfectly good food that otherwise is headed to a public landfill.
    There is no need for hunger in American given the tons of food that is thrown away daily by both stores and also restaurants

    January 19, 2010 at 3:42 pm |
  5. Megan Bishop-Scott

    Last Saturday night in Calgary, Alberta, Canada I attended an opera written about the homeless, and five of the key performers were homeless artists, musicians, and singers. Brought me to tears and they got a standing ovation, it was a sold out crowd. Times are changing.

    January 19, 2010 at 3:12 pm |
  6. DeLia CA

    It's pretty sad the way this country treats the people who put their lives on the line so that those of us in the comforts of our homes can enjoy the lifestyle we've become accustomed to. I wonder if that will be the case in 50 years regarding the men and women lucky enough to return from Irag or Afghanistan. Hopefully we will have learned a lesson; learned to be more compassionate.

    January 19, 2010 at 2:12 pm |
  7. Roberta Cruz

    As a woman in Sacramento CA, i see this all the time and as much as I empathize with these guys, a man begging from a woman has a neutering effect. So many times have I "almost" been approached. What I mean by almost, I never allow an unknown male to get within 10 feet of me, because I am a target to them. Don't get me wrong, I used to give food and $ years ago, but now one can tell that they are using the $ for drugs and alcohol. And some tend to have violent tendencies.

    January 19, 2010 at 1:59 pm |
  8. Abe Emile

    Noble of you....but such social ills speaks to are ability to see the superficial events of young and veteran homeless individuals but not question the underlying causes...that would set accountability to this country to assist in the aid of the disenfranchised.

    January 19, 2010 at 1:47 pm |
  9. Susy Golden

    Bless you and your wifes hearts. What a kind thing to do for our homeless. It is so easy to turn our heads and ignore the plight of these poor souls who desperately need our help. What every person should remember is there for the grace of God go I. All of us could possibly end up in the same situation. More people need to reach ou and give a helping hand.

    January 19, 2010 at 1:26 pm |
  10. jack russell

    They appreciate a sandwich and hot coffee a bit more than oranges in the winter, but every little bit helps.

    There should be more done with food left over from corporate meetings. I hate to see it go to waste.

    January 19, 2010 at 1:20 pm |
  11. Laura K. Andlauer

    such a kind thing to do. I've stopped down the street to try to do the same. Near us is a freeway on/off ramp and there is usually someone at each point. We also have some homeless people at an intersection near a grocery store. One day I saw a woman with a sign outside of our CVS pharmacy. After I left the store I went to a deli and paid for a sandwich order to give to her. For some reason she refused it. I guess she wanted money instead.

    January 19, 2010 at 1:18 pm |
  12. Victoria Kover

    Food is lfe....

    January 19, 2010 at 1:15 pm |
  13. Sue

    What a perfect solution...your wife is very smart ! Giving food in place of money assures that if the person suffers from addiction, they will at least have nourishment and you can feel good about helping those less fortunate. Bravo!!!!

    January 19, 2010 at 1:13 pm |
  14. rangan

    giving money to any one in the hindu philosophy -specially if you do not know what the money is being used for increases your bad karma specially if it is used for bad purposes. it is better to give in kind.

    January 19, 2010 at 1:05 pm |
  15. Becky Gruebmeyer

    Granola bars are great to carry and easy to keep on you! I keep them in my pockets or glove box. They last longer and provide nourishment.

    January 19, 2010 at 1:05 pm |
    • Louise

      Wonderful explanation of facts availalbe here.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:38 am |
  16. DustyU

    That is the best thing you can do for a homeless person without getting involved in their lives. Sandwiches and bottled water are good too. 🙂

    January 19, 2010 at 12:58 pm |
  17. Mary

    So valant! I concur....Wouldn't it be nice if the United States had empty Military Bases and VA Facilities to help out these "homeless" too?

    January 19, 2010 at 12:47 pm |

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