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by a.b.

The sign said “I may be ugly, but we’re still hungry.” I looked down and saw the most beautiful well-behaved mutt, laying so sweetly on the corner, while the homeless man tipped his hat and waved at everyone who drove by. It broke my heart because I was unprepared. Normally I keep a couple granola bars in my car, but I hadn’t restocked. I now have granola bars, and two individually packaged cups of dog food.

I know many people have strong feelings about the homeless, that they are scam artists, drug addicts, or whatever other preconceived notion they may have. However, how I treat these individuals has far less to do with their character than it does with mine.

My parents taught me to take care of those less fortunate, even if you have nothing. My dad always rewarded hard work and would have me go give tips to street performers, telling me that is some of the hardest work you could do. When I was staying with my great-grandparents in the San Francisco marina district, my mom would take me to the park and we would give at least kind words, if not food, to the homeless there. To this day, I can’t pass a homeless person without a smile and a nod. No matter what, I can try to give them their dignity. Even when we had nothing, were almost homeless ourselves, and got our food from Senior Gleaners, my mom took another person she knew needed assistance to get food.

It hasn’t always gone perfectly. I remember another time in San Francisco, I asked my mom if I could give my lunch leftovers to a homeless man. An untouched half turkey sandwich. When I handed it to him, he said,”I don’t like turkey,” and handed it back. I looked at my mother and said, “I guess he wasn’t really hungry.”

Right now, I’m unemployed, and grateful for the assistance I’ve been given. The granola bars in my car cost me pennies, since I buy them in bulk in Costco, and two cups of dog food is hardly expensive. Most homeless I’ve met are more touched by kindness to their dogs, the last ones to give them unconditional love, than anything you can do for them, and I can honestly say the dogs I’ve seen in the care of the homeless are the most well-behaved I’ve seen. The most well-fed spoiled purebreds can’t hold a candle.

I was devastated that the man wasn’t there when I went back. I can still see him and his dog in my head, and it’s haunting me. I wanted him to know that he was heard.

I know there are those out there who may not be deserving, but I could never decide who I want to punish by ignoring their cries. Could you turn your back on someone who genuinely wanted your help due to the ones out there who are attempting to profit by panhandling? I choose to live my life hoping for the best in and for people.

I see nothing wrong with giving a few calories or a bottle of water to someone stuck in the elements. I know some people think it encourages crime or for people to stay on the streets, as if it’s that fun.

If you don’t feel comfortable giving to someone who’s on the streets, give to an organization that helps. There’s even a group here in Portland called The Pongo Fund, which gives kibble to homeless pets.

But do something; I know I can’t sit and do nothing.

The story of the man and his dog in the above photo can be found here. But it is a story like mine, with an unknown ending.

Photo Courtesy ofBL1961