About Who to Ask for What

This is a completely spontaneous request of my readers to give me feedback on a delicate issue.

When I was homeless, I spoke the words “can you spare some change?” exactly once. From the reaction of the two men walking past me, I told myself instantly I would never put myself through that awful combination of guilt, shame, embarrassment, and anger again.

From that moment on, I either busked or sat silently flying a sign which read:

BROKE AND HOMELESS
OFTEN HUNGRY
PLEASE HELP IF YOU CAN

If I had it together well enough to busk (e.g., had a musical instrument I could keep from getting stolen or from the fear thereof), I would sometimes make up to $100, and on one unusual occasion got $100 for a single song (that I was singing while playing drums on my pants legs). The guy who gave me the $100 (a Ben Franklin) later turned out to be a street dealer suspecting me of being a “meth-head” and looking for a customer.

I never talked to him again and in fact $60 was stolen from me later that evening. (I didn’t like to keep cash on me because it would get around, and one of the local alcoholics had witnessed the deal from nearby.)

I don’t think anyone particularly likes to ask for money in any context. I feel weird about even having a donate button sometimes. But there is a parallel between “flying a sign” and a “donate button.” In each case, I am not verbally requesting money. I am only presenting the fact that I would like some.

I know some fairly well-off people in town here, who will testify to the truth that I have never asked any of them for money for personal needs, although they have seen the “donate” button on my blogs and newsletters.

What are your feelings about asking for money? On the one hand, I don’t like to go through that awful sensation. On the other hand, I sometimes think that — given my circumstances — I am just too afraid to ask.

I also do ask God sometimes for money, and sometimes later on somebody gives me some money, sometimes even the exact figure I asked for. This leads me to believe that God probably wants me to ask Him first, no matter what choice I make later. But those events are far and few between. God doesn’t just dish out the dough like a sugar daddy.

Matthew 6:33

25 thoughts on “About Who to Ask for What

    1. Thanks Ashley. I’m getting some great feedback here! My current thinking is that in some contexts, asking is the right thing to do; and in other contexts, not.

      I definitely don’t feel that “asking” on the streets works very well. When I flew a sign I believe I made more money in the long run than those who verbally asked.

      Of course the manner of asking is a factor. San Francisco at one point permitted “panhandling” but outlawed “aggressive panhandling.” (Not sure where they drew the line.)

      You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar. Once a guy gave me five dollars ONLY because he had walked by for two weeks and had never once heard me ask for change.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hard to say what housing and social services can do (or not do) when it comes to actually helping the homeless. “Aggressive” might be part of the picture but I would like to add “benign” and “respectful.” Most of the “housing” that was recommended to me either criminalized me or forced me to participate in religious activities that may not have jibed with my worldview.

        My personal philosophy (as I think you know) is that we need to respect a person’s right to live outdoors FIRST and then take it from there. From my view, even the “Housing First” model falls short.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. This is a tough one. I will have to give it some thought.

    My husband and I live on social security and his VA disability. So we have enough now to meet our needs, thank the Lord, but not a lot extra. When I read a blog and it has a donate button, I usually feel a twinge of guilt for not giving anything. But maybe what I should do is pray about that, and ask the Lord if He wants me to give, and if so, how much. But then I also have to ask my husband, because he handles all of our finances. Sigh.

    Before we finally won the very long fight for my husband’s VA disability, we lost two homes because we could not pay the rent/mortgage, and we sometimes sold our blood plasma to buy food and to pay the electric and gas bill. The bad thing was that my husband had to stop taking his heart medicine before he could sell his plasma. Those were hard times.

    One time, we sold our plasma and right after we left, as we were on our way to buy food, someone on the street asked my husband for change, and my husband gave him $20. Which was more than half of what he had just gotten from selling his plasma. I was a little upset with my husband, although I admired his generosity, too.

    I like the way you ended this post. Prayer — yes! I have had some amazing, miraculous answers to prayers in my life. Our God is so good! But when I see on the news the stories about all the thousands of immigrants living under a bridge in Texas, and the Afghan immigrants, and so many others — it’s overwhelming! I want to help them all! I am praying for the Lord to help the poor immigrants. And then I feel guilty for buying a candy bar or a carton of ice cream from the store when we don’t NEED candy or ice cream, and so many other people could use that money for something they truly do need.

    Dear Lord, please give us wisdom and guidance…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A lot of people are really struggling right now — more so than at any previous time in my life that I can recall. I don’t feel guilty for mess-ups in my budgeting and an occasional indulgence, but I do feel guilty if I wantonly forsake sound spending principles.

      I think it’s always good to pray first before making any decisions on serious matters. Sometimes when I pray I get the sense that God wants me to pursue something, or to refrain from that pursuit. Usually the intuition is right, though not always. On really important decisions I think one should also seek the help of counselors in fellowship. And always go to the Word for confirmation. 1 John 5:7-8

      It is a hard call — when to ask, when not. The Lord is the one to ask first, because He knows which humans to ask, if any, and which not. But if I go on vague hunches of where He’s at, it doesn’t work. The “still small voice” is a fairly frequent occurrence, but even then, in big things, it needs to be confirmed in the Word and in fellowship.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. If so, it’s only because I’m such a perfectionist I sometimes spend hours editing my comments lol. Thanks Linda. I think I ‘teach best what I most need to learn.’

        Liked by 1 person

      2. We actually ARE related. We’re brothers and sisters in Christ. ;)

        My editor tells me that current standards in journalism are to spell out the numbers if they’re ten or under, and start using the Arabic numerals at 11.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Right or wrong I admit I am turned off by people outright asking me for money. I am much more likely to give to someone with a sign like the one you describe. It explains why the person is asking and is also less intrusive.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Ken for your input. That actually validates my own position somewhat; although like you I’m not exactly certain what the absolute right-or-wrong is.

      I’m a person who doesn’t like to be interrupted PERIOD, let alone if the interruption is a request for money. Needless to say, I was on the receiving end of those requests a lot more often when I lived on the streets. Thanks again.

      Like

  3. I’m sorry you were homeless. One problem is distinguishing people like you from the scammers, the crazy and the dangerous street people. I rarely have much cash on me, so when a person asks for help I will offer to buy him (usually male) a breakfast burrito and coffee. If the person takes me up on it, after I get him his meal and coffee, I engage him and try and find out his background. There are a lot of social services for homeless in Albuquerque, so if the person is newly landed in town I direct him to the services. There were a couple of guys I would buy food for quite often. They were very coherent and interesting to talk to. One man said he got stuck in Albuquerque heading for the west coast, where he said he had family. I offered to call his family and buy him a bus ticket home. That’s when he became disinterested in my help. Sad. My office was downtown for 44 years, we just bought and moved into a nice office building in March. I’ve have dealt with homeless for years and years. I have volunteered at shelters on occasion, and give money to the private charities that help the homeless. But it’s a never ending stream of sad cases that often don’t want to be helped or more often are in no mental condition to be helped other than the shelters feeding them and clothing them. If they have enough sense to be helped by the social services.

    We were involved with a program that helped homeless families get back on their feet, into jobs and housing. That was much more successful than dealing with individuals.

    As far as asking for money, its really tough if you have any pride, dignity and sense of self worth. Go fund me type sources are much more dignified, but you have to have a platform to let people know. It’s not very helpful if you are homeless with no way to set up a go fund me and let people know you need help. Your Eden in Babylon project is a perfectly good project to ask for money to get it going and carrying it through. I see that as no different than asking for venture capital.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great that you were involved in a program that helped people experiencing homelessness get back on their feet. I never found such a program when I was in the Bay Area — not that there weren’t many programs — just that none of them ever helped me. But I may be a different animal than many, because I easily preferred sleeping outdoors to sleeping in many of the situations that were recommended.

      I think you’re on the right track to buy the guy breakfast and get a feel for where he’s coming from first. From my experience, at least in the Bay Area, most people become homeless for socio-economic reasons; in other words, their arrival at homelessness was entirely beyond their control. Many of these people have strong positive values, and those values do not change just because they land on the streets. Only their circumstances would change, and ALL of these people — including myself — would prefer a single “hand-up” to an endless series of handouts.

      I escaped years of homelessness as the result of a single “hand up.” I managed to find someone who believed in me enough to front me a one way ticket to another life, help me with a deposit on an apartment, and give me four small loans until I was on my feet. That was at a time when friends, family and just about everyone else had given up on me. In fact, I had been homeless so long that I came close to giving up on my own self.

      That was on July 16, 2016 after having first become homeless in the Bay Area on May 17, 2004. But that guy had talked to me enough to realize that I didn’t need to go through any more hell, had just gotten a large retirement and a large inheritance, and helped me with a smile on his face. Needless to say, I owe that man my life.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. About asking for money, the single time I asked for money on the street really did feel yucky. So yucky I very easily never did it again. It just seemed like I *shouldn’t* have been in that position — and yet I was. The two men walked past and shook their heads looking down, and I interpreted “grimaces” on their faces as though they were saying: “Not for you, buddy. Not for you.”

      It made me feel like a scum bag. Flying the sign was much easier on my pride, dignity, and nervous system.

      Thanks for your input on asking money for the project. I have asked for money in my newsletters sometimes, but not on my blog. This summer I managed to get some good money, and was able to pay singer/actors during in a workshop, pay two sound engineers, make copies of scripts and scores, and buy needed equipment. I think the bulk of that money came from a single request on my Piano List (comes out every Friday, with a link to my piano song), and was able to get $1500 worked up in eleven days.

      Certainly there is nothing wrong with that kind of “asking for money.” The streets may be another story.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. There’s nothing wrong with asking, but I appreciate it definitely isn’t an easy or comfortable thing to do. There’s a reason why, on the Rambam’s rungs of Tzedakah (which translates for this purpose as “giving charity”), that giving charity before the person even has to ask is considered to be at a higher level vs. waiting till they ask and giving then, as asking is so difficult and can be so hard on one’s dignity.

    I’ve found for myself that my willingness to give is less directly related to whom and how it is asked, and more to how I feel re: physical safety. I gave regularly to the homeless man I saw at the train station near my home in the morning on my way to work, because I felt safe getting money out of my bag there. I was less apt to give money in the urban area near my office because I didn’t feel as comfortable taking out money in that area. Not that I necessarily thought anyone was out to harm me, but a petite-statured woman can’t be too careful. That certainly isn’t helpful to the homeless person in the urban area who needs help though.

    Reading your experience is humbling, and it has made me rethink things on my end. It’s not comfortable for me to read this, but I’m glad you shared.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks YJP for joining in. I’m still hazy on the whole theme. The highest standard of Tzedakah would likely make ME uncomfortable. If someone offered me something without my having expressed the need, I would wonder what their “angle” was — what do they want from me in return?

    Then again, when I present my need without asking a direct question (e.g., “flying a sign” on a sidewalk, or placing a “donate” button on my web site), I don’t feel bad when someone gives me money. The reason why they’re doing so is clear, and so I am less likely to think of it as a “bribe” or as “extortion” of some sort.

    I do regret that anyone would feel uncomfortable reading my words. I say this because, when we were homeless, we discussed many things openly & readily that in common culture are considered crass or even vulgar. We found that it enhanced our communication to be “brutally honest” — to cut to the quick, even if it hurt. This may have been because we were all so hurt already, we lived in a continual state of suppressed hurt. So we didn’t feel the sting of hurt, the way we would have, had hurt been rare.

    But in polite society, it is considered taboo for one to talk too openly about one’s finances, one’s love affairs, etc. These matters are regarded as “personal.” But nothing is personal on the streets. There is no privacy. There is neither door nor lock in one’s abode. One is always exposed and out in the open. Privacy — and even safety — are foreign concepts in that realm.

    We got used to it — and in many ways it was better. It was rare that someone spared another’s feelings, but equally rare that anyone “beat around the bush.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Giving before being asked isn’t the highest level either. The highest level is helping someone find a job/livelihood such that they become self-sufficient and don’t need to ask. I agree with you that giving to someone who hasn’t asked is in some ways, even more awkward and uncomfortable.

      Don’t apologize or feel regret! I meant “uncomfortable” in the best possible way, in that it caused me to reflect on what I have/haven’t done and consider how I could do better. Sometimes, we need to read things that challenge us and make us feel a bit uncomfortable, in order to learn, change, and grow

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The highest level as you describe it is indeed the highest level as I have espoused it in my writings. They could have given me handouts for the rest of my life and I would still be sleeping on a stairwell. A single “hand-up” to the tune of $600 was all I needed to end that whole period of my life. (I suppose the guy helped me find a job too, though only because he agreed to provide a reference.)

        But the point for me in the belief that I was able to work, which it seemed not many people shared, from first looks of me flying a sign on a sidewalk.

        I understand what you mean by “uncomfortable” now. Change can be challenging. I’m going through that quite a bit now myself.

        Liked by 1 person

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