They are called disgraceful, dirty, blight, a sign of the government's failure, a sign of society's ills. They are fathers, sons, mothers, daughters. many of them are veterans. Some never went to school, others may be PhDs. You can't tell because they all are marked by years of living on the street, depending on the good will of passers by who know nothing about the demons they are unwilling or unable to face.
I've heard how there are professional bums who make a better living by panhandling on street corners than they would at a full time job. Many people use this as an excuse to duck their head and keep walking. I used to do that.
But then I started working in a poor inner-city neighborhood. I remember the guy I worked with my first night on the job. He was a recovering drug addict who was not very reliable. After I had been there about six months, he finally lost his job because he couldn't make it into work. A year later I was surprised to read an article in the paper about street beggars which featured my former co-worker. I've also seen the guys in the neighborhood that get along by panhandling. I've seen them beg for a dollar and by a cheap bottle of wine; I've also seen them beg for a dollar to buy a pack of bologna.
I think of how blessed I am to have a good job, a good wife, a roof over my head, and a car to get around in. I know that even in the tough times when I have to use almost all of my paycheck to pay bills and I have $20 to live on for the week, I still have a place to stay and plenty of canned goods in the pantry. I trust God to provide what I need, and He is always faithful, whether I get through the week with no new bills coming in the mail, or someone in the grocery line having a quarter when I'm short for lunch. I realize now that there are others who have nothing but that faith, and God does not abandon them. I realize that I'm in a position to be his agent, because I have what I need, and can spare a dollar or two.
Now, when I walk down the street, I don't avert my eyes when I see some guy sitting on a brick holding a cup in his hands. I reach into my pocket and drop some change in. I don't know why he's there, or where he came from. I don't know what he's going to do with my money. I just know that I have it and he doesn't. I do know that he probably sits all day with people walking by as if he doesn't exist. Which is more valuable to him, do you think: a few coins, or simple recognition by a fellow human being? The answer, I think, is in the way they always respond.
"Thanks, brother. God bless you."