Panhandling is now allowed on the streets of Portland, Maine. The City Council recently voted to not enforce a person’s right to panhandle due to tough economic times. As a native of this area, I was somewhat surprised it was allowed to continue. My experience was based on a previous time when I lived in El Paso, Texas back in the early 1990’s. It was customary to see a person on every street corner. After awhile, the shock wears off, and you aren’t sure what to think of a person’s situation. In reality, does it even matter? We all are sometimes guilty of sizing up a situation and making assumptions. One thing is certain. Regardless of their situation, they are people. They are someone’s son, someone’s brother or daughter, or someone’s father.
Each time I drive in town, I witness what occurs at these street corners. I have seen the “changing of the guard” at least three times at these busy intersections. They all have their cardboard signs and I wondered who might be organizing these folks. Perhaps they were organizing themselves. Once I had a five dollar bill, ready to hand out to a person standing in the frigid weather, however with traffic being backed up and in the midst of a green light procession, disappointed, I drove past the person. I have never felt guilty passing by with no donation, as sometimes I had nothing myself. However lately, I have noticed that many of them appear to be homeless or people living with an illness, or just loners, and maybe unemployed. Who would choose a life which is so difficult a journey? After all, I think we need to take care of some members in our society, whether it is the homeless, the mentally ill, the disabled or the elderly. It is our moral obligation. It all begins within our own communities. I am conservative in my beliefs but that does not mean I would overlook social responsibility when it comes to caring for these groups. Sometimes, even though a person appears to be able bodied, doesn’t mean they aren’t struggling with serious health concerns.
I witnessed a genuine act of humanity and brotherhood which really touched my soul the other day. I was downtown Portland, at the intersection of St. John Street and Congress. I was driving to the hospital when I noticed two men there on the median strip, one with his back to me. The other had a worn face and appeared to be a young man, but not a man who has led an easy life. It was very cold outside. It appeared it was a “changing of the guard” taking place, but some words were exchanged, and I saw the man whose back was to me, reach into his pocket and pull out some dollar bills. He handed them to the man whose face I could see. There was gratification on the man’s face, not a great deal of expression, but gratification. They both held their cardboard signs and I never saw the face of the man who handed over the dollar bills. Then a hug was exchanged and a handshake then the man who received the dollars bills picked up his backpack and left.
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