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Sunday, April 20, 2014

No easy answer on how, where to help the homeless

By Bonnie Bing

My column last Monday brought a deluge of phone calls and e-mails. It seems many of us share the dilemma of when and how to help the homeless.

I heard lots of stories of past experiences. Many people said they’d given money to a homeless person only to find the story they were told was a lie, or that the person asking wasn’t truly in desperate need of money.

Everyone agreed that I should not give people rides in my car and, while I can’t promise I’ll never do it, I promise I’ll be very, very selective.

My first call regarding the column came at home from my friend and faithful reader Joyce Gregory.

“A dollar? You gave the man a dollar? Inflation, Bonnie, remember inflation. You can’t buy lunch for a dollar,” she said.

While it wasn’t the comment I was expecting, she had a good point. But when I gave the homeless man the dollar, I wasn’t buying his lunch, I was contributing to the collection he was getting from most of those he was asking. Some people don’t agree with Joyce and advise those people who have no money and are hungry to go to The Lord’s Diner or one of the other services that offer food to the homeless.

Joan Fox, who has worked in programs that help the homeless, wants to remind us that many homeless people have mental health issues, which, in some cases, makes the person very unpredictable.

“We in this country could do a whole lot better by them. This is something we should be talking about,” she said.

It was interesting how many people said they always give money to those who ask and know the money may be used for liquor and drugs. But as a very insightful reader pointed out, “It’s best to error on the side of compassion.” That came from Mike Moxley, who gave a guy money to buy a hamburger. Mike said he watched the man go to the Dumpster behind Burger King where he ate the remains of a sandwich out of the dumpster, then went to the convenience store and bought cigarettes with the money Mike had given him.

Sally Thompson says she gives money to those who ask. “It’s good to know you’re helping. And yes, you can be lied to or whatever, but who cares, its all about good karma,” she said.

A note signed “Concerned in Wichita” said, “ ... it’s sad that society has become a place where we cannot do good deeds anymore. It’s sad that we have to think about all of the things that could go wrong by merely trying to help and maybe make a difference in someone’s lives. I still am not sure what the answer is, and like you, still am contemplating those many questions from time to time.”

Re-reading emails and the notes I made while listening to people who called, it seems most aren’t sure about when to offer money or help and feel it has to be a personal decision on a case-by-case basis.

Jerry Malone wrote, “Just continue to follow your instincts on this matter, and you will help some folks, and still stay reasonably safe.”

Kimberly Sanderson-Stringer knows exactly how she feels on the subject. She says to “go with your heart” and “give, give, give whether it is your time given to the residents of a nursing home, or children who need some extra attention and love, or money to whomever may need it. It is not our job to be the judge of why, or how the needy got to their place in life. It is our job to come alongside, as a productive and caring citizen to help out, even if it is just a little bit. We can all change lives if we would be a little less selfish and a lot more giving!”

Some of the suggestions and tips that were sent or called in:

•  If someone needs a ride, give them cab fare, not a ride in your car.

•  When asked for help, offer to call the community police officer because they will know how to solve the problem of the person seeking help.

•  Instead of handing the person money, have McDonald’s gift certificates handy in something other than your billfold.

Thanks for all the calls and comments on this subject!

Where is it?

One of the favorite products in the beauty products story last week was Puritan’s Pride Retinol Cream. The person who sent in the info said it is available at General Nutrition Centers, but I got word that it’s not there. I called two GNC stores, and they had talked to the people at the corporate office and verified that it’s not available at GNCs. You can, however, order the cream on the Puritan Pride website, www.puritan.com. If I find out there is any store in town that carries it, I’ll let you know.

Reach Bonnie Bing at 316-268-6246 or bbing@wichitaeagle.com.

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