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Brother, I won't spare a dime
Posted March 20, 2009

I am one of the lucky ones. There has always been a roof over my head, food whenever I want it and a comfortable bed to sleep in at night.

But what would I do if one day all that was taken away from me? One thing is for sure, you won’t see me begging for money on the street.

I never thought it could happen but I’ve developed a case of compassion fatigue. This is after years of always giving a little something to the person less fortunate than I, no questions asked.

Since September, I’ve been driving to Beverly Hills twice a week to deliver pathology slides to a medical office. And without fail, almost every time I get out of the car and walk toward the building, somebody approaches me with a short sob story and asks if I could spare any change.

Because I’m in a hurry and feel bad for them I give them at least a buck and carry on my way.

Sometimes they get creative and corner me on the off-ramp of the freeway. At that point, it’s either pay up or pretend I can’t see them staring at me out of the corner of my eye while waiting for the light to turn green, which is always an eternity.

After surveying the demographic of beggars within the last several months (men over 40) and listening to what my elders have been telling me for years, I finally had an epiphany.

The vast majority of the homeless remain homeless because they refuse to receive assistance from shelters that require substance abuse prevention programs. Now I think twice before emptying my pockets.

If getting their fix is more important than having shelter and food, why should I perpetuate their problem by giving them money to continue their alcoholism or drug addiction?

Nobody can deny that substance abuse is quite prevalent in the homeless population and it is their addiction that probably drained their financial resources in the first place.

I’m not exactly heartless. I’m not attacking the mentally ill, the domestically abused or the financially cursed.

I realize that people are faced with circumstances beyond their control. But for the vast majority who do not attempt to help themselves, there is no point in me going out of my way to help them either.

And just because a person is homeless does not mean they are useless and only capable of holding up a sign. I would be much more inclined to give somebody money who offers a service. They can wash my car windows, sell me oranges on the street divider or even show me a cool trick.

I know if I were ever to be in a desperate situation, I would feel better about looking for bottles and cans to recycle to make my way rather than feeding off of strangers everyday.

Giving up is like dying. People should always work toward a goal, whether it is their next job promotion or accumulating enough plastic bottles to recycle for the day’s meal.

I admire the person dressed in rags pushing a cart of all their worth down the street because they just keep on going.

Unless members of skid row try to help themselves first, “I just want to get from my car to the office without being confronted by the decay of western society,” as Jim Carrey said in “Liar Liar.”

Mark Vidal, a junior communications major, is arts editor of the Campus Times. He can be reached by e-mail at mark.vidal@laverne.edu