This week I got a small taste of what it must be like to be a politician. Councilman Samuels is under pressure from his constituents to renovate the oldest park in Richmond which happens to be in the middle of the city. The park is frequented by VCU students and area residents but is best known for the homeless individuals who hang out there. In my post “Listening to the Homeless in Monroe Park”, I shared the insights of many who call the park home.
Thursday, I addressed a crowd gathered to discuss the issue of the parks closing. My intent was to share the insights of the homeless; to look at the issue through their eyes. However, it was obvious that many people in the room came with their own agenda.
A friend of mine who had lived many years on the streets prior to entering the shelter once asked me “What is the definition of insanity?” I was not sure what she was getting at, so she enlightened me saying, “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” She then went on to explain that she would sit on the same corner begging for money day after day, eat at the local soup kitchen, and then take the money and buy drugs and get high night after night; all the while praying for release from her addiction. She was enslaved to heroin and day after day, well meaning travelers paid to keep her in bondage.
I am not suggesting that every panhandler is an addict nor is every panhandler homeless. Some are truly in need, some mentally ill, and others simply making a living the only way they know how. It is impossible to know someone’s full story while flying past them at 35 miles an hour. However, I refuse to allow my ignorance of the truth become an instrument of destruction in someone’s life. For this reason, I am against giving money to panhandlers when there is no personal relationship.