My heart hurts for people who are going through hard times. My family is amazingly blessed and I try to pay it forward whenever possible. I don't usually hand money to the guy holding a sign on the street corner, but if I have a snack or a drink I haven't opened, I am glad to share. I am compassionate to a fault, according to my husband. I get suckered into things that make him roll his eyes. Yup, we're that family that buys something from every kid that knocks on our door and hands us a fundraiser packet. I can't help it (neither can he but shhhh, don't tell him I said so).
That said, I hope the following paragraphs don't come off as too harsh, because I really am struggling here. Our town has about 66k people and is the hub for an area population of about 300,000. Our homeless population is in the hundreds. One side of town has a median income around $31k while the other side has a median income of around $54k. There are definitely people struggling. In Houston and Austin, you see people panhandling out on every major intersection in certain parts of town. Here, you only see that every once in awhile. When I lived in those bigger cities, intersection panhandling bothered me a bit. I was raised by cautious parents who taught me to be kind, but cautious. I was mostly alone in my car and having a man I didn't know walking around my car was always a little unnerving.
Here, though, we have a whole different breed of panhandler. We have people who hang out in parking lots and walk up to you while you're getting into or out of your car. Most of the time these people are men, of every age and race. Most of them keep a fairly respectable distance, a few have walked right up on me. They always have a story and need money for something. Last week a guy wanted to follow me to the gas station and have me put gas in his truck. Today a guy approached me as I was getting out if my car wanting to sell me something (he said he didn't feel right taking hand outs). I always listen politely, tell them I don't have any cash, and continue on. Most of the time, they are polite and walk away. One guy got nasty but thank goodness he was one that approached my husband and me together.
My problem is this. I am a mother, who doesn't ever leave my youngest at home. I always have at least one child with me. And I am almost always alone with them. I hate it when these men just come walking out from between cars and start talking to me. Part of it is the stigma, I will admit it. Particularly the guy today - he was either not quite all there mentally, or he was on something. People are unpredictable and can be downright crazy. As a mom, it is my job to keep my kids safe, and stranger danger definitely screams in my head when these situations come up.
What do you do? Carry something for self defense? Call the police? Call the store and report them? It's so hard to imagine doing any of those things, because in my heart I feel compassion and pity for someone who has come to this method of trying to get what they need. But it is a war inside of me, because I have these beautiful, innocent children. I believe they are the reason I get approached - either people see I am a mom and hope I have a big heart, or they play on a mother's fear of having strangers around her chidren. My husband is a concealed carry license holder and wants me to go that route. I don't have the guts for it, although I may invest in pepper spray. I don't want to be afraid of these people, I want to live and let live, but I am afraid that a first time of someone being aggressive about it is probably still one time too many.
Tonight I will be saying extra prayers for those people out on the street. I pray they will have enough food to not be hungry and that they find a comfortable place to lay their heads. But, starting tomorrow, I am probably going to start calling stores and warning them when they have guys approaching people in the parking lot. I hope that doesn't make me a terrible person.