Do Unto Others focuses on the Middle East, (nonviolent) social movements, and how I make sense of my place in the world. I'm currently based in Cairo, Egypt doing peacebuilding and community development.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Larry

Sometimes the world is too complicated. Larry, a homeless man, asked me for food today while I was taking a break at work. I obliged and bought Larry a sandwich, he was thankful. Helen, a kind woman who owns the Heavenly Market and Deli below Catholic Charities, told me that Larry has convinced several people to buy him food in the last week. Her view of the situation was that buying Larry lunch wasn’t a solution. He needed to go down to Father Joe’s or another facility that could give him food and shelter and provide him a long-term fix.

I understand that viewpoint, but here’s the problem…the man was hungry, and I had a $20 in my wallet. Yeah, an egg salad sandwich won’t change Larry’s life. It doesn’t give him the shelter, food security, or health care that he needs. But it was a meal and he was hungry.

So anyway, I buy Larry lunch. But Helen’s right, it’s not a solution. Larry will be on the streets next week. Larry had the look of an addict. He’s probably been on the streets a long time. A sandwich isn’t his answer, but it was at the moment because he was hungry.

It’s hard to know how to help people. Larry is hungry and homeless, but people argue about how to help him. Helen, who’s worked in that market for 20 years, said that buying him a lunch was a sweet thing to do, but it won’t really help him in the long run, she’s seen his type hundreds of times. Maybe Helen’s right. Maybe an egg salad sandwich doesn’t mean more than a few hours of sustenance. So be it.

I probably won’t ever see Larry again. Maybe I failed Larry by sending him on his way without getting to the heart of what his needs are. Nevertheless, I am glad Helen and I could help him (she insisted on covering half of his lunch). Answers seem few and far between when it comes to poverty and homelessness.

Tangent time: You know what’s messed up? I offered Larry an apple and he had to politely refuse because his teeth are in such bad shape that he can’t bite into a whole apple with losing teeth or experiencing pain from all of his loose teeth.