Giving money to strangers on the street

Strangers on the street

EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece was originally posted on Urban Mayhem Project on April 20, 2016

Tonight as I walked up the street in my neighborhood, I was stopped by a slight woman who said she wanted to ask me a question. She thanked me for stopping when she knew I was clearly on my way somewhere. She told me her name was Shannon and that she needed some Pampers. She said she had the rest of the money but only needed $5. I asked her if the corner store had Pampers and said I could go buy them, but she said she didn’t want it to look like I was in there buying them for her. When I told her I didn’t have any cash, she told me the store had an ATM.

Shannon was not acting particularly strangely and seemed like a coherent person. When considering her request, I thought about this article I recently read. It tells the story of a radio host who regularly gave money to a guy at a freeway on-ramp he passed on his way to work. They came to know each other on a first name basis over time. Eventually the guy working the on-ramp was no longer there, but the radio host ran into him years later working at a restaurant. They talked, and the young man said that even though he sometimes used the radio host’s money to buy drugs, it helped him get through life until he could seek help, which he eventually did.

When the radio host handed the money to the panhandler, he didn’t know where it would go. He gave it unconditionally. He gave it because the person needed it, for whatever reason.

Women who are victims of domestic abuse are particularly vulnerable to homelessness and are subsequently vulnerable as part of the homeless population because of their continued susceptibility to this type of abuse, which is heightened by their desire to get off the streets. According to a 2018 Point-in-Time survey, more than 216,000 women are homeless on a given night in the United States. 

In a report from the National Center for Children in Poverty, more than 80 percent of mothers with children experiencing homelessness reported previous encounters of some type of abuse or assault. And while women can become homeless because they are escaping a dangerous home environment, the fear of instability can make them stay in dangerous situations.

“The lens through which we deliver all our services is really trauma-informed,” said Bryce Moffett, clinical director at N Street Village. External link “For women, trauma is overwhelmingly a part of their story.”

Unsafe and Unwell: How Homelessness Affects Women and How to Help

I decided I would help Shannon whether she really needed Pampers or not, and we began walking toward the corner grocer. Shannon told me that she didn’t want to prostitute herself. She told me a white man in a car (Shannon is black) wanted her to do sexual favors in exchange for money. I told her it didn’t matter what color the man was… it was wrong of him to proposition her.

Shannon said niggers come in all colors. I told her I didn’t much like that word.

She told me that I would receive karmic gifts for helping her. I told her I wasn’t helping her to get good karma.

She told me she had tremendous pride, and I told her most people do. No one likes to ask for help.

We walked into the store, and the clerk explained to me that I could get up to $50, and he would just charge me extra like an ATM fee. I told him to give me $20, and he charged me $3.50 extra. Shannon stood beside me slowly repeating a silent prayer that I would give her $15.

I handed Shannon the $20. She was very appreciative. We got outside, and I asked her for a hug. I don’t know why, but I said, “I love you, Shannon.” And then I added, “Be safe.”

She told me to have a good night and said she was glad to have met me. I turned the other way and continued down the street to my destination.