Interesting thing happened to me after church tonight. I went out with my good friend Omar for a quick bite to eat, and while we were walking into the restaurant we ran into a homeless woman sitting next to the door. Having worked with the homeless in our city multiple times, I recognized her right away. She’s tried to take advantage of my compassion before, and been banned from stores and venues across the city for causing trouble.
I should have known better, but at the end of the day I don’t like seeing anyone cold and hungry. As we got closer she asked if we could help her out. Experience telling us that money would be a bad idea, Omar offered to buy her something to eat. She asked for a chicken sandwich. No problem. We went inside and ordered, adding the sandwich and fries respectively to our orders to help this lady out. After getting the food, we bagged it and took it out to her. She thanked us and said, “God bless you.” At that point we went inside to savage our on sandwiches. Not five minutes later, she came in the front door and marched right up to the two of us.
“This is the wrong sandwich,” she said. “I wanted a regular one, and this is spicy.”
Omar apologized, and told her that’s what he thought he had heard her say.
“No, I said just chicken. Will you take it back and get a different one?”
Omar explained that you can’t exchange food items. She marched away and went up to the food counter, telling the girl at the counter that he had ordered the wrong one, and she wanted a different one. The clerk told her that the spicy sandwich was correct based on the order, and there was nothing they could do, so she turned around and came back to our table, and said accusatorially:
“She said this is what you ordered. This isn’t what I wanted.”
At this point I’m pretty sure my jaw was scraping the foundations. Omar apologized for the confusion, and she walked out apparently unsatisfied with our level of customer service. To her credit, she came back a little while later and said thank you anyway, but my mind had already been blown. The rapidly growing homeless community in our city prompted the establishment of first a winter shelter, and later a permanent shelter, staffed by both paid workers and volunteers from church and community service groups all over town. I’ve been there many times, and am proud to give my time and money to serve those less fortunate than myself.
In my interacting with this rapidly growing community, I’ve noticed that there are different groups of people in it. Those who genuinely need help and compassion, and those who seek to take advantage of it. Sadly this woman falls into the latter category, and creates grief and distrust of those who really are suffering. Her behavior and reputation makes is harder for people to want to give, and undermines the desire of others to act on their compassion.
That’s where the dichotomy exists within me. My Christianity wanted to help. My practicality was cursing my name for being so naive. Is it the same for you? Have you ever been discouraged in giving? What do you do? Sound off in the comments.