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A Letter to the Homeless and Hungry in America

by Liv | Published on March 15th, 2006, 11:11 am | Greensboro

Dear Mr. Homeless guy on High Point Rd, & Holden.

I'd like to let you know, I'm sorry I've not been able to give your a dollar or two in the last few days. I tend to be one of those debit kind of people, and rarely have cash. Then when I do, I generally am somewhat greedy and less likely to part with my money. I generally have sympathy for sidewalk beggars, but when it comes to handing you my money, the little right wing, conservative in my head invites my logic to consider your probably not going to use it for food or necessity items. The liberal tree hugger side of me then argues with the other side of my brain, saying that's just a stereotype and to stop being so judgemental.

I've thought about buying you a happy meal from McDonald's when I've gone to lunch, but then I wonder if your even hungry. You do look well fed. Not that I'm insinuating anything, and I know homeless doesn't mean starving, but should you change your sign from "homeless, please help" to "I'm begging for __________" and fill in the blank. (Then fill in the blank)


I'm begging for MONEY for beer.
I'm begging for FOOD cause I'm hungry.
I'm begging for a HOME LOAN cause I'm homeless
I'm begging for a JOB cause I don't have one.
or whatever.

This would help me better judge, if my hard earned money is going for a good cause, a charitable case, or am I just being con'd? I really do hate being snookered. I really hate using the word snookered. I sound like 83.

Needless to say I'm a very giving person, and generally in the past I have given to panhandlers. However I'm forced to drive by your particular corner several times a day to and from my work. You always give me that dirty eye, and unlike the other motorist who turn and pretend they are looking at the radio, searching in the glove box, or just looking the other way- I look right back and smile. I know a few times you took this as a clue I was going to give you money, and you hobbled over to my window only to find the light had turned green and I sped off. I'm sorry to lead you on, this was not my intention. I'm just not someone who is going to get a guilt trip, or feel shameful for you.

When it comes to the "God Bless" part of your cardboard sign, I've got to see the irony of this statement. I understand that this is probably something known in the beggar-underground as demographic marketing, and it's main attribute is to pull in those middle aged Christian who are already giving to some mindless church on Sunday. OK. But your really alienating that 6% of atheists who may be offended by your ploy. May I recommend getting a tad bit larger box and writing:

"I used to believe in god, till I lost my job because of George Bush, and I now live under the I-40 overpass in a grocery cart, and am freezing my ass off in the middle of winter, holding this sign in front of a McDonald's where I can smell food, but have no money to buy any. Please prove there is a God, by donating your unused change in your ashtray of your car."

Honestly I don't know what to think. I'm torn between logic, and compassion. There has been panhandlers on that corner for the last two years I've lived here, and oddly they were never there prior to me moving away some 7 years ago. Whats changed? Oddly, this community which tends to be very giving and "religious" seems to be pretending like this isn't something to pay attention to. It just seems like as lanes of $30,000 SUVs back up heading into a ACC tournament, where the biggest issue to it's patron's was the lack of being able to smoke- here sits Mr homeless at the corner stoplight asking for so little. So why can't we, or more importantly I do anything about it?
Liv, there are several people who panhandle at that corner and in that general area. They are homeless, but they stay together in the same place. I know them, and we visit them sometimes on Night Watch. They're really cool people. So far, they're not ready to come inside. They each have a different story of how they came to be where they are. They are all kind and smart and resourceful and unique. I love to visit them. If you would like to meet the man you speak of, or any of his friends, let me know. I'd be glad to take you.

March 15th, 2006, 12:56 pm
That's really cool Cara, and I might take you up on that in the future. It would be really nice to know maybe what the community can do for them besides money.

When you say they aren't ready to come in, is it pride, or do they like their lifestyle? What's keeping them from assimilating?

From your response, it seems like help has been offered but they are unwilling to accept it. Without sounding to much like an idiot, why?

While I certainly don't want to judge anyone, and I guess I am. Actually, I'm just trying to understand more than anything. This may sound a little mean, but, I don't like that they are there. If it was someone who was transient, that's one thing. Someone who is just making money to eat for the day. I understand. But for 2 or more years, I've seen the same person at this corner. Should our city streets, and public image have to suffer for someone who simply refuses help? I know this sounds very unlike my liberal self, and truthfully I am at war with my own mind on what is right, what is unacceptable, and what should be done.

Lastly I've got to ask, because I'm sure someone knows. What is the legality of their presence on the streets in Greensboro?
March 15th, 2006, 1:34 pm
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Location: Greensboro, NC
You don't sound like an idiot for asking and I'm trying to think of a simple way to answer your questions, but it's hard to do that because every situation is different and usually complicated.

People who are homeless and living outside for years are there because they have overwhelming, unresolved issues which have landed them on the street. And once they're there for a while, it's a different world, and it's hard to escape and return to a world of structure and order and very different rules.

The most common feature I see in all of our homeless street friends is the lack of hope. They are just doing what they have to do to survive one day at a time. Most are deeply wounded, and don't trust anyone.

When we do street outreach, we try to bring them love and hope, and to build relationships of trust. And when they're ready, we can go further and help them to work on the issues that caused them to be homeless, and help connect them with the resources they need to change their circumstances. The most important thing we bring to them is God's love. Everything starts there. It's a gift to me just to be able to know each of them.
March 15th, 2006, 2:35 pm
Sorry, I forgot to answer the legality question. The panhandlers in the High Point/Holden area each have license to panhandle and they know the rules. GPD enforces the law if and when they violate it. By the way, the first time I visited their camp was when GPD community resource officers took me there. The camp is absolutely immaculate!
March 15th, 2006, 2:45 pm
Wow! There are licenses, and they have went to the trouble of procuring them?

I'm curious if any of the individuals have given any thought to how there continued presence there contributes to the image of the city, or possibly influence local businesses and/or the influence they have over safety of citizens how work or live in the area? Do they care?

I just can't help but think if they are there by circumstance then, I don't mind. If they are there by choice, and their unwillingness to accept help, then maybe it should be illegal?

I have nothing against homeless, or beggars, but at what point do we draw the line? Would Mayor Holiday agree to have a homeless person outside of his home with a cardboard box sign?

I know I'm rambling a little bit, but couldn't the fact that it is legal, lead to an increase of panhandlers in years to come? Do they not pose atleast a safety threat to traffic, or to themselves?
March 15th, 2006, 3:19 pm
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I show you something fantastic and you find fault.
Location: Greensboro, NC
Re: Panhandling license. The license is free and you have to have one to panhandle or you go to jail. You also have to abide by all of the restrictions, and there are many.

"I'm curious if any of the individuals have given any thought to how there continued presence there contributes to the image of the city..."

I'm not really sure what that question means. We have panhandlers in our city. We have homeless people in our city. I wouldn't ask them to hide because they're just as much a part of our city as any other resident, and I don't think I want to live in a town that wants to put forth the image that poverty and homelessness don't exist when they do. That would be a fake and phony town and while some people might want to live there, I don't. Personally, I wonder how the continued presence of so many uncaring, unneighborly, deceitful, backstabbing, money-focused folks contributes to the image of our town (I won't name them), but I wouldn't ask them to hide themselves either, because they're part of the reality of our community. (And I like the homeless people better because at least they're real, you know? But I love them all.)

"Would Mayor Holiday agree to have a homeless person outside of his home with a cardboard box sign?"

I can't answer that for him, but on a couple of occasions I have taken him to meet homeless folks who live outside, and he was quite concerned about them and recently asked when we were going to go back out and do something like that again. So I do believe that he cares about them.

Personally, I don't think that panhandling is a good idea. I think that it reinforces stereotypes and negative power relationships and it isn't good for the panhandlers themselves. It doesn't honor them as people. As for it being dangerous, if they abide by the rules on the license, I don't think it is. I don't think that homeless people and/or panhandlers are any more dangerous than doctors or lawyers or schoolteachers. They're just people.
March 15th, 2006, 5:01 pm
Good point Cara. I'm curious, do you know how much they make on average, and/or what they most likely use that money for?
March 15th, 2006, 5:56 pm
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I don't know. We don't ask them about that. They're just regular people though. They take really good care of each other and the place that they stay.
March 15th, 2006, 10:34 pm
First off, I found this conversation very enlightening and it forces me to think about these particular people in a different light as I drive past this intersection everyday.
Second, I know someone first hand that turned his back on his old life and now lives on the fringes of society here in Greensboro. He would rather live in a random hotel room and work odd jobs to survive than become a permanent part of our "normal" society. He lives under the radar and he likes it that way. I just wonder if some of the homeless also feel that way, that they would rather not become part of our crazy society and stay within that sheltered community? I know it may sound strange that someone would choose to live on the streets, but if the streets have actually been good to them, then why not? Can't say my "normal" dog eat dog life has always been good to me.
March 16th, 2006, 2:04 pm
So I'm driving to work this morning and I decide to stop at Biscuitville. I'm debating even doing this because I'm running late, and I know I'm short on cash for the week. So I get off I-40 on High Point road, and swing around into Biscuitville next to Hooters. As I approach the drive-thru lane I see a tall lanky black man standing up against the wall in a polo shirt neatly tucked in to dress pants. The first thing I think is "Beggar" but I'm not sure why. In fact it's at this point I'm having a moral dilemma in my head as why I would make this assumption? Is it because he's black? Is it because he's standing outside of Biscuitville at 10:30AM on a Saturday? I tell myself to assume he's a business man who just enjoys standing outside of the restaurant and do that whole "no eye contact" thing we all do. It's then that he approaches my window and mumbles something. I didn't quite hear him, and I figured he was asking for money. I never have any, so my answer is usually: "Do you take debit."

But I turned down the radio and opened the door (my windows don't roll down) and asked him to repeat himself. He says "I'm homeless and hungry." It's at this point my mind is trying to find any reason, anything at all that will get me out of this one. The best I come up with is "I'll see what I can do." So I pull forward half way expecting the guy to climb on the car or walk behind me in the drive-thru. He does neither. I imagine he's probably wondering if I'll just drive off. In my head I'm trying to justify what I should do. First dilemma is do I do I buy him food? After all I'm poor too. Then I kind of get mad that the city of Greensboro allows all these homeless people just stand and beg. Then I get mad at myself for thinking something like that. Then it occurs to me, someone has just asked for my help. Another human-being is pleading for food. Imagine how tough that must be to ask for a basic necessity. He didn't ask for money, he asked for food.

OK I'm buying the guy a value meal.

Next dilemma is do I order him what I get? Or do I cheap out and buy him a sausage biscuit? I mean after-all "I worked for my money." But then I flick that little devil off my shoulder and tell myself to get the skinny black guy something nutritious. I ordered 2 number 12's: one for me and one for my homie. If your unfamiliar with Biscuitville's menu, it's a chicken club biscuit with tomato, lettuce, pickle, bacon, chicken, and cheese. Combined with their sweet tea and hash-browns, this guy might not have to beg the rest of the day.

Anyways, I'm still torn by the fact so many homeless people have erupted in the last 10 years here in Greensboro. We seem to almost welcome them, offering licenses to beg, and pretending our casual kindness is somehow a good deed making us better people. Don't get me wrong, I think I did the right thing. I think we should help people, but the face of Greensboro has changed. It is now a beggars paradise where we enable these individuals to do so. I don't have an answer to it, and technically I'm not the one who should. It's an answer that the city of Greensboro has failed to address. Sure they say they want to end homelessness in 10 years. But somehow, that sounds more like a PR moral "(expletive)" then true commitment to change.
September 23rd, 2006, 10:59 am
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Location: Greensboro, NC
What happened when you gave him the food?

That was pretty cool of you. I'm always torn what to do. I don't want to give money because you never know what it'll go for. Then I think, is what he spends it on any business of mine?

When I lived in CA, there was lady that was amzaingly pregnant for the 2 years (it was obviously a pillow or something) I saw her standing outside the take-out mexican joint we liked. She would always be asking for money. Each time I said "well tell me what you want off the menu and I'll get it for you". She would turn it down. Just wanted money.

Another time I saw a guy on the corner near a couple food places with his back pack. He wouldn't ask for money. He ask you to go get him something from Arby's or Mac Ds.

I went to Sams and got him a huge bag of oranges once. He about broke down crying. Hopefully not because he was allergic or something.

So getting them something to eat is usually the way to go.
September 23rd, 2006, 11:45 am
He said God Bless you mam, and then went back up against the wall... I hope it didn't end up in the trash.
September 23rd, 2006, 12:17 pm
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Location: Greensboro, NC
Far be it for me to offer suggestions except to say help when it feels like the thing to do.

September 23rd, 2006, 11:38 pm
Billy The Blogging Poet
Billy The Blogging Poet wrote:Far be it for me to offer suggestions except to say help when it feels like the thing to do.


I usually do, but it does seem to be getting a little overwelming here in Greensboro. It's funny, I picked up lunch at the Mcdonalds on the corner of Holden and High Point rd, and there was literally someone with a sign on every corner. Are we helping these individuals by allowing it, or are we enabling their lifestyle? Even Cara Michelle says they've tried to help individuals get off the street, but alot of them "arn't ready" (don't want to) to give up the lifestyle. We make it legal for them to stand there, and I understand compassion and giving when someone is in need. But there is this one individual thats been up on High Point road for over a year and half. Are we enabling them to hurt themselves because we're to worried about requiring them to seek assistance for food and money through government assistance? I mean I've been there, in the food stamp office. If I had too, I would have begged for my family, but I would have never become satisfied with making it a long term career.

The argument against that is, some can't help it... but Cara insists groups such as hers have offered. Isn't there something to be said about charity for someone picking and choosing at the expense of those who give?

I don't know... I'm torn on the issue. I just wish there was an easy answer.
September 23rd, 2006, 11:48 pm
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Location: Greensboro, NC
I like your new format.
September 24th, 2006, 11:30 am
The bible says that many will entertain angels and not know it>

All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second,it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.

Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.
September 24th, 2006, 7:35 pm
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Liv, thanks for this thoughtful post. I started to share my thoughts here, but my comment got too long, so I turned it into a post on my blog, here: http://chosenfast.blogspot.com/2006/09/on-panhandling-chronic-homelessness-in.html

Cara Michele
September 25th, 2006, 2:04 pm

I like how how you thought about the help given...the reasons not to and the better reasons to help.

That was really cool and I learned from you.
September 25th, 2006, 8:27 pm

There is nothing funny about being homeless, but stunned I am, at this Flickr picture of a homeless person named Beavis in San Francisco. Now I'm forced to deal with this image every-time I drive to work and pass the corner of Holden Road and High Point Road.

Young homeless man beavis shooting up in the tenderloin. he picks his scabs to find a good spot; and tries a few locations before he gets a vein. he has the "love" and "hate" tattoos from "night of the hunter" on his fingers. he's showing "love" with his right hand as he sticks the needle in.

beavis knows everyone on the street. he is tremendously literate and articulate and a really great artist. beavis is one of the reasons i take pictures of the homeless.

i met him in October of '05 (10/6/05) near union square. he was hurriedly moving along the sidewalk checking for change in the pay phone, sifting through trash bins, etc. he looked over at me and just had an amazing presence in his eyes. i continued walking, and then had to turn back and ask if i could take his picture.

he told me how he used to have a big Mohawk and how he used to let tourists take pictures of him in fisherman's' wharf for 15 bucks. we chatted for a short bit and had a great rapport. when i was leaving, he told me to check out the time magazine from November '94 (11/21/94); said there's a picture of him in it as a street-kid (about 14 or so) in la.

the picture i took was crap (bad lighting) and i never posted it, but i emailed it to the time magazine photographer (Steve liss) who had met beavis so many years before. Steve was amazed to hear about beavis and said he has the portrait of him hanging in his home (i've included it in the comment below). he'd lost touch with beavis over the years. he said if i ever see beavis again to put them in contact.

but i didn't see beavis again until June of this year (6/5/06); eight months later. i saw someone that looked familiar on the sidewalk one morning hunched over. i walked up to him and, recognizing him better, asked if he was beavis. he said yes. he said he was just waking up and he needed a fix.

we talked for a long time. then his friend James ("life and death") came over and beavis introduced us.

since then i see beavis most days. we always chat and he introduces me to his friends

Source: Flickr
November 17th, 2006, 4:08 pm
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Location: Greensboro, NC
That is a haunting and disturbing photo, and one well worth our consideration and concern, because it's a snapshot of a life that all too many people live. (And what are we, collectively, doing about it?) But a "picture of homelessness?" I'd argue with that descriptor. It's a "picture of addiction." There is a relationship between addiction and homelessness, but not every addict is homeless and not every homeless person is an addict.
November 17th, 2006, 9:41 pm
You may remember that sometime ago I wrote about an individual I met and fed on High Point Road. The title of my literary genius was "Homeless & Hungry on High Point Road." Time has passed and while I haven't written lately about the homeless on High Point road, the problem certainly hasn't gone away.

This time it was a mother and her daughter that sparked my interest. It was 2PM and clearly this child should have been in school. Here was a thin, dirty woman with a cardboard sign asking for help. Her daughter was curled up in the fetal position at her feet.

I immediately started to tap the brakes and as I started to cry, I wanted to do something. I wanted to help. A second later, I realized I had no money on me, and truthfully there wasn't a whole lot I could do except hope the next time I saw her I had a bit of cash on me.

It was sad to me, whether or not it was staged or just the facts of life. It was reminiscent of the children of Tijuana who greet Americans at the border begging for money. No, wait, actually it wasn't like that... it was sadder, because the child in this case wasn't begging, it was broken, disconnected, the girl was as-if she was some war image, some child with flies flying around her in some African village with sally struther's asking for our .67 cents a day. But this was Greensboro. This was High Point Road.

As I began to drive home, I wondered about what kind of life this 7 or 8 year old homeless child and her mother must be living. What circumstances had brought them to such desperate measures, and why in a city which touts it's self as the bible belt, no one, including myself was doing anything?
April 18th, 2007, 4:59 pm
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Location: Greensboro, NC
I'm about to show you the "real" Greensboro. Behind our shopping centers, and our neighborhoods lies a sub-community. A underground network of homeless camps that cater to the homeless, or transient. Often they leave their trash behind, sometimes even more. It's hard to think of Greensboro as a "green" city when you find trash and appliances just feet from a High Point road Strip mall. Of course, you'd never know it's there. You don't want to. We pretend it's not there.

Today I strayed across the street on my lunch break. I went with camera in hand to photograph something. I didn't know what. Perhaps that deer I saw a year ago. As I journeyed into the woods adjacent to my Farmington drive workplace, the thought of the numerous people I've seen slipping into these woods crossed my mind.

I didn't go very far. I only had a few shots left on my photo card. I decided I'd have to comeback if I found anything. Here within feet of shopping center filled with prius'es and middle class yuppies was trash, and remnants of poverty and homelessness. Notice how well groomed the one side of the road is, compared to the other? A literal dividing line between poverty and wealth.

Here's the entrance to the camp. As you can see it's clearly marked by the sign post. Of course driving by you'd never even know its there. The path is very well established though. As obvious once you journey down it a bit. It's almost enchanted in a way. It's like the yellow brick road of poverty.

Some of the first things you can see. Trash like this water heater, a back rest for a individual to sit up. A book bag which appears new and spotless and a t-shirt.

Here a shopping cart from the adjacent shopping center. It's clear that the cart boys have failed to check in the "enchanted forest of homeless people" for shopping carts.

Next door my fortune 500 company makes million of dollars and suggests I give to the united way. I suggest we all give our money to the homeless people on the corner of High Point road. I'm reprimanded for that statement, yet behind our building some poor person has turned a trashcan and a small stream of runoff water into their washing machine.

Anyone for dinner in the Kitchen? Paper-plates, and a tire with a burnt out fire help you stay warm at night and cook your tree squirrel.

Here in the bedroom you can lay your head on this comfy pillow someone has urinated on. Meanwhile in Oakridge, Daughtry plays golf in his back yard. (Oh yes, I did.)

And here is where the Journey ends today. As you can see the path extends for quite someways back in to the woods. Frankly I believe after studying what I saw, this is merely the suburb of the camp. A fringe area where people too drunk to make it into the main camp end up. We will journey further... but right now, I'm out of flash drive space, and have to get back.

No matter how you look at this, it's very disconcerting. Here in one of the most obvious portions of town you have trash polluting our water runoff, and bringing harm to wildlife and animals. Further upsetting is the fact people may have, or are forced to live out here in the open. An apartment complex down the street, with unsuspecting people living in the woods. Do people know? I've driven by these woods, thousands of times within the last few years, and never knew what was down here. Now I know.
October 15th, 2007, 6:16 pm
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Location: Greensboro, NC
I know exactly where this place is located. In my years of making local deliveries all over the county I saw dozens of such places I call Bushvilles in honor of Dubya.

As for the waterheater: My guess is this place has also been used as an illegal dump by some lowlife contractor too cheap to pay dumping fees. (about 10 bucks.) I can also show you several illegal dumps around town including 1 just one block from where I live.

I bet the homeless would clean up their camps if the City would pick up the garbage but folks without a home don't get curbside pickup.

But there are no homeless camps on my side of town as the homeless don't like living in gang controlled neighborhoods.

There's always money for wars and big buck municipal projects but never any money for social issues.
October 15th, 2007, 8:02 pm
Billy The Blogging Poet
Liv wrote:I'm not sure who the photographer is on these, as they came via a Italian website with no acknowledgement. Really stunning photos though of America's Homeless Youth.

What a disgrace that we allow this to happen to people. I talked to some European people who had visited the U.S. and their comment was they had not seen such poverty outside India.

When I was in Ireland, one of the families we stayed with asked about our health care system and when they learned that pregnant women without insurance couldn't get prenatal care, and had to just show up at the hospital in labor, their comment was, "What a barbaric country!"
February 10th, 2008, 7:16 pm
Location: Colorado

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