Learning about the homeless – January 3, 2009

I have a friend Ivy Gordon who is a fellow Vistage Chair. She described to me a new practice her group was doing for 2009. It’s called “random acts of kindness”. Each month every member would give the hosting member $10. Ivy has about 16 members in her group, so the total would be in the $140 range assuming an occasional absent member. The hosting member has an assignment to find a person (or several) that could use a cash gift with the understanding that one day they will “pay it forward”. The only rule is that they can’t give it to a charity unless they can give it directly to a person they have met who needs it. The next meeting the host will tell the stories of the people he/she gifted and why. I liked the concept.

I had a Vistage member in my group named Fredrica (Freddie) Thode. Freddie had a mentor that encouraged her to give a $100 bill to someone each month for a year. I like that concept also. I tried this practice for a year. It was thrilling to give the money away. I remember one time giving it to a homeless lady in downtown San Diego. I walked by her, turned around, pulled a $100 bill out of my wallet and handed it to her. I quickly walked away with out saying anything. She said “Oh my God”. My heart was racing and I had a huge smile. I wonder what she did with the money?

Based on my learnings from Ivy and Freddie, I have decided to give a $20 bill away each week to a homeless person or someone I think looks homeless (I should not be presumptuous). I also have decided to tell the person my name and ask them theirs. I am then going to tell them that I grew up in Chicago and ask them where they grew up. I have been anxious for the past few weeks about starting this up. I have all sorts of strange fears. What happens if after I do this, the person is always coming up to me and greeting me and thanking me? What happens if homeless charities find out and get mad at me for give the homeless money directly instead of through their charities? What happens if they just use my $20 to buy booze? What happens if I can’t find new homeless people and I have to give the same one money multiple times? What happens if they begin to recognize me and always ask me for money?

These silly fears and living with them are going to be the best part of this project for me!

Today I gave my first $20 away. I gave it to Ron from Ft Worth, Texas. He was hanging out at this sidewalk by Vons. He was very grateful and said he was going to buy a new pair of pants. Ron is a classic homeless person with dirty clothes, bad teeth and many belongings in a shopping cart. I see him around town a lot and have given him money before. He said he remembered me. I wished I had spent more learning about who he was. Next week I will ask more questions if appropriate.

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3 Responses to Learning about the homeless – January 3, 2009

  1. Kristen Luke says:

    I found your blog to be very interesting. I often debate whether giving money to the homeless is helping them or enabling them. I still haven’t made a decision but your blog definitely gave me a new perspective. I look forward to hearing more about your experiences giving $20 per week away.

  2. Wendy G says:

    A few years ago I was sititng in the green room of a local tv program waiting for my turn to be interviewed. Father Joe walked in, he was on after me…in prime time. Somehow this subject of giving directly to the homeless came up. He was furious that I would even consider it and told me that it was a big syndicate. I’ve been so curious ever since that I’ve considered going undercover. I thought I would “go homeless” (how does one do that?) and go stand on a street corner with a sign and see what happens. Would I get kicked out by the homeless person who was on the syndicate’s schedule that day? Would anyone talk to me? What would they say? How much money would I bring in? What if I stood there coiffed, not dirty? I have a few friends who are reporters and passed the idea by them. No one was interested. But I still am. I bet you will learn a lot.

  3. karim p says:

    Stumbled upon your blog and enjoyed reading some of your entries…Am completely in sync with your concept of giving and have practiced a variation of your method for a number of years…When living in NYC, I would identify a needy person either on the street or on the subway, fold a bill real small so that nobody is able to see, and quickly pass it on to the subject and disappear in the crowd…the feeling of exhilaration that you so aptly describe is inexplicable…it truly is beautiful. Have not been practicing it as frequently here in San Diego but now after reading your blog, have made a commitment to myself to begin anew…Thank You for providing the impetus.

    A comment if I may regarding the so-called “part of a syndicate” label…Father Joe may very well be right that many of these people may be “professionals.” But we cannot and must not pass judgment because by refusing to help, we may pass up on helping that one person who may be in a very desperate need for our assistance and instead of helping to make a difference, we, by labeling them all as “professionals,” will also end up losing our opportunity to enjoy that feeling of exhilaration that only comes from giving…For once being selfish helps in being generous…LOL!

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