While riding the Iron Horse back from work this past afternoon (After taking the work keys with me) I noticed that there were panhandlers on the train. Now seeing panhandlers on the train is not a rare sight. But who they are is what made me think about something Professor Lobel mentioned in my American Urban History class this past semester.
I'm not sure in what context the discussion of judgments that we make when faced with a panhandler was made but I feel that it fit my current situation. There was this white guy on the train asking for money to get a place to stay. Having just gotten out of jail, his family said he could not come back home (Makes you wonder what he did) and after getting beat up at the Atlantic Avenue shelter he was not going back there so he needed money from riders to get a room until Monday. For him, Monday was the day when he was getting his old job back. Now this story can be changed with different situations and language just like we did as kids with Mad Libs. What if it was true?
In my mind, the first thing I did was look at him to see in what shape he was in. He was dressed in clean clothes, nothing too flashy so why couldn't he just needed money for a place to stay. Here's where the judgment issue comes in. Had he been dirty, dingy with tattered clothes would he have made me feel any different about helping him.
I'll be honest, unless you're missing a limb (Like the guy who on the N line in Astoria has no lower extremities and rides on a skateboard to get around) or something comparable to missing a limb you won't get any of my money. But is that the right way of looking at it. I would always say that being poor doesn't mean that you have to be dirty. Allow me to elaborate. People have this idea that if you're poor and live reasonably within your means then you won't get any assistance. This applied when I worked at the law firm doing investigations. I'd go to these apartments in some of the poorest neighborhoods to assess potential lead poisoning cases concerning kids and often I'd walk into a pigsty of an apartment. Maybe they were just dirty people. But when you see it over an over again, you grow to believe that people do in fact feel that they will garner the most sympathy from you if they look as if they need help, in this case living in filth. So how does this fit the guy on the train. I'll get back to him in a second.
Now let me give you the flipside. Those of you raised in Astoria will attest to this. There's was (or still is) a supposed homeless woman that asks for money along Broadway and different parts of Steinway Street. She wears dirty clothes and sunglasses while doing so. In actuality, she's well off and lives in one of the plantation style houses on 12th Street near Astoria Park. Why does she do it? Who can truly tell. Now, if you saw her next to my guy on the train, who would you think would get the money. I'll leave that for you to answer.
So getting back to my original thought, this guy asked for cash and didn't get any from me. He got a buck from an older gentleman. To me he didn't look as if he needed help. He didn't sound like he needed help and he really didn't appreciative at getting the buck. Maybe he truly needed it for a room or for his fix. Who truly knows. Sometimes I wonder if my judgments on who gets my money are correct or not. In the grand scheme of things, does it really matter. Again I say, who truly knows.
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