I can’t exactly call this an experiment. I don’t have a hypothesis, and there are no controls. It’s not exactly a social study either. Mostly because I don’t even know what that means. If anything, it’s driven out of some part of my deeply flawed brain, the part that craves the biofeedback satisfaction of smug do-goodness coupled with genuine curiosity about the human condition. Here’s the deal, yesterday I took out some cash in twenties from the bank. Let’s say it was a sizable chunk. It’s now in my pocket, daily. (please don’t rob me.) I’m going to give $20 to every homeless or otherwise needy* person I see between now and Christmas or whenever the cash runs out. We’ll see which happens first.
Why am I doing this? I’d like to think it helps someone. $20 isn’t going to buy them the suit which gets them the job. It may, in fact, buy them the tall boy of PBR and a pack of smokes. That’s ok by me. What do I know of being homeless? Maybe that’s the best thing in the world when you are sleeping on the street. I don’t care. No, I’m doing it because I want to better understand a whole group of people I know very little about.
Here’s what I mean.
The other day I met Colin and his puppy Conner. Well, i kind of met Conner. He was too scared to come out from underneath his blanket. Colin’s sign asked for help for him and his dog and said he wouldn’t be able to see his family for the holidays. I sat and talked to Colin for all of three minutes. He told me he was from Charlottesville and that he was now living on the streets. He said it was cold at night. I’m sure it is. I made a donation in his plastic food container turned bank account.
When I walked away, I realized I don’t have a clue how to talk to someone who is homeless and how to speak in a way which is not totally condescending. So, if there’s an experiment or study in this thing, it’s that $20 seems pretty reasonable to give someone while they help me sort my stuff out.
Next time, I might ask how the person came to be homeless. Is that ok to ask? I don’t know! Maybe I should ask hey, besides this cash, is there anything I can do for you, anything you need? What do I do if they say “yeah man, how about a job!” or “could you go down the street and buy me a burrito?” Do I really want to go buy someone a burrito? I don’t know!
So, I’m going to keep trying to start conversations until I have a better sense of how people come to find themselves without a home, what they need and what the right way to speak to them is. And, when I leave $20 in their change cup, I’ll be assuaging my own flawed psyche, hopefully helping these folks, and otherwise compensating them for their time teaching me a thing or two about homelessness.