Giving Emotional, Tangible Hope to the Homeless [Chicago]

Before moving to college and big cities after, I had not been familiar with some things associated with the metros. Growing up in a town of around 3,000 people, life was quite positive for many, and if tough times came, people would come together to help others get through it. I think big cities feel the same, but because of their size and population, it’s nearly impossible to help everyone.

Throughout the past week or two, as I was becoming to feel like a Chicagoan, I began to familiarize myself with everyday life in the Midwestern city. Each street, even those outside of downtown, hosted someone begging for change, a cigarette or just even a drink. When I lived in Lawrence, Massachusetts Street held several homeless people, most of which were recognized by businesses and commoners to the downtown area. The homeless in Chicago line many popular street corners, hoping to catch a lucky break.

It took me back to my junior year of college at the University of Kansas where my assignment in Journalism 301 Research & Writing was to write a personal profile story about an older Lawrence figure. Most students chose to write about the lives of professors, businesspersons, public officials and friends and family. Wanting to avoid that norm, it took me some time to come up with a person in the city who embodied the culture and significance of Lawrence. One day I had gone to Mass Street (the main business district) to shop around and get some food when something made me return to my car to get my notepad. I approached a man on an orange blanket sitting near a coffeehouse playing his guitar, hoping for money. The weathered man agreed to answer a few questions about his life, which in turn changed my view of those who roam the uncomfortable cubbies of concrete of Lawrence. I was proud of myself for reporting something which spurred reader interest, but also something that made it self-fulfilling to do so. <You can read this story on my “WORK” tab in the News and Feature Story Coverage section.>

In Chicago at the corner of Michigan Ave. and Wacker on my way to grab lunch, a man sat near a lamppost, holding a sign saying,

“I’ll tell you a joke for a quarter. I’ll even let you punch me in the face for a dollar.”ย 

You’ve got to be kidding me, right? Actually, I wouldn’t mind hearing a joke, but to be so impoverished to allow yourself to be beaten down even farther for a dollar just seems ridiculous.

A few nights later I went to grab ice cream in Andersonville. A man on the curb waited for my friend to park his car, and when I got out he asked for money. I politely replied, “No, I don’t have any,” even though I did. He asked for a cappuccino, and I considered going to get him one but didn’t. He waited until I came back to see if I had got him one, then waited for the next person to come by.

Let me share a few tips/ideas about homeless people and how to approach their requests or conversations:

  • If you don’t have any money or would rather just not give, just say, “No, thank you.”
  • If you don’t mind giving to the homeless, really look at their appearance and situation as best as you can before doing so.
  • Are they asking for money? If so, don’t give them money. Instead go and buy them a hot chocolate or soda. This ensures that the money you give them goes toward something useful and not alcohol or cigarettes.
  • It’s hard to know their situation, so don’t judge based on appearance or maybe how they got to the point they’re at.
  • Be polite without being too generous.
  • Don’t give to people who are out and about at gas stations, walking on side streets, etc. This usually is a sign of drug money needed.
  • Always remember: they are people, too. (And with the economy the way it is, some of your closest friends, or maybe even you, are not too far from calling the streets ‘home.’
This past summer, a young man in London sat around the corner of Gloucester Road station where I would get off to walk home. He was there every afternoon, and I would always say hi, and by the end of the summer, we were good acquaintances. Sure, we would never hang out, but by being polite, I think it put him in a better state. Overall, if you follow the tips I’ve suggested, you will feel good about yourself and in turn, the homeless might be emotionally appreciate of your politeness or generosity.

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