Baltimore City Paper

These are the same people who pray to a long haired, bearded, homeless man on Sunday but cannot see one right in front of them on Monday!

Well, it's that time

of year again, that month and a half between Thanksgiving and New Year's, when-for reasons Christian or commercial, profound or profane, to satisfy a need for balance spiritual or spreadsheet-America takes off the metaphorical blinders and deigns to see and interact with that particular subset of the "47 percent" known as the homeless or near-homeless. Whether it's clearing out the hall closet to make room for Christmas gifts and donating used winter coats and jackets to clothing drives (and getting tax credits); getting rid of unused and oddball cans and boxes in the kitchen cabinets by donating to food pantries and soup kitchens and "Holiday Dinners with All the Trimmings"; buying the prepackaged meal bags or contributing $1, $5, or $10 at the register; or throwing the change in the bucket of whoever is dressed in the Santa suit and ringing the bell as they are leaving the store, we are reminded, encouraged, pestered, guilted, and/or bullied from the time we turn on the TV or radio until we go to bed to give, give, give.


For a large portion of America, it stops at the wallet, but for some, for a wide range of reasons, it continues with some form of hands-on contact with the "less fortunate," to use one of the multitude of euphemisms applied to those trapped in the hell of poverty and or homelessness. Quite a few of these good samaritans are driven by purely altruistic reasons and many of them can be found at the soup kitchens and food pantries run by both secular and religious agencies year-round. Others are driven by a combination of desire, need, and peer pressure to take advantage of the many opportunities to serve their fellow human beings during this season. For those two groups, it is usually an anonymous act, with no thought of recognition or reward. But there is a third group, recently exemplified and personified by Paul Ryan and Ann Romney, who are there to be seen and applauded as they so selflessly give of their time and presence, as illustrated by a photo-op they coincidentally and conveniently arranged.

I personally avoid these types of mass feedings because of my own dislike of crowds, which exacerbates anxious/paranoiac/agoraphobic/claustrophobic reactions, and because of the brittle attitude of forced gaiety and celebration among people who are going to have to step back out into the misery of their own private hells, with maybe a few gifts that are really little more than the bare necessities for survival and the taste of a holiday dinner fading away. Post-holiday letdown is bad enough when all your friends and family have gone home, you've put the leftovers in the fridge, locked the door, turned off the lights, and crawled into you nice warm bed. Imagine heading back to stand in line, hoping for a cot at the shelter or mission, or slipping back into the abandominium, praying no one has ransacked the possessions you could not carry into the dinner with you.


There's also the sometimes-necessary cattle call/feedlot type of seating situations required to accommodate the huge numbers of people who show up. Another turn-off is the attitude and behavior of certain people who make it a habit of going to as many dinners as possible and taking as much leftover food as possible (some places do allow/give a plate to-go), and go back to their homes and stock their fridges with them-contrary to common decency-which means that some folks who do really need a meal don't get one because the food ran out. Not to mention some of the drunk or high people who slip in unnoticed.

But the thing that I have experienced that has most alienated me and driven me away from these events was the attitudes and comments of a sub-group of the third type of volunteer I mentioned above. These were the lofty, holier-than-thou, passively arrogant people who felt neither empathy or true compassion but looked down upon everyone there with a kind of superiority-induced pity. Their (mostly) unvoiced aura of "You poor wretched thing, aren't you glad and grateful that I took the valuable time out of my busy and much more important life to come down here to the ghetto and allow you to gaze upon my presence and even dirty my delicate hands by handing you this morsel of disgusting slop. You may kiss my feet. You're not worthy, you're not worthy, you're not worthy."

These are the same people who pray to a long-haired, bearded, homeless man on Sunday but cannot see one right in front of them on Monday!

This is just me and I'm not pretending to speak for all the homeless folks out there, and I know that some of the longer-term, less transient shelters and the people working and staying in them have organized dinners for residents and invited members of their families that do give a semblance of community and stability; I applaud them. Same for some of the transitional-housing facilities and their umbrella organizations. Also the city churches that have partnered with congregations that may be more affluent and focus on the homeless or poor in their own neighborhood. While it may look and sound impressive on the six o'clock news to announce that 500 or 1,000 people were given a Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, quantity does not equal quality (of life). ■

Dave blogs about life on the street at