Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Sunday, August 5, 2012

"I need a few bucks to..."

"Can I have a few bucks?"
I love this drawing I got off the internet. I meet each as an individual and value my friendships with many.
I have given away perhaps thousands of dollars over the years. I often get people asking for money.
There is one lady who comes to me and says she wants to see me "in private". She bats her eyelids, puts on those puppy dog eyes, and tells me she has been raped again, or that somebody stole her purse and could she have "x" number of dollars until she gets her benefit? My wife does not like me "seeing her in private" she quite rightly says it puts me in danger of all sorts of accusations. I have sometimes given her food, but never money. She protests that she needs to buy "meat, or fresh bread or milk and needs money". I know that she flats with a number of men who use drugs, and I'm pretty sure she also uses. This week I did not give her money, she looked at me sadly and wandered off.
I was phoned up by a man who did not even introduce himself, he assumed I would recognise his voice.  He needed furniture moved and "you have a van Dave, you could move it for me!" "No I don't have a van now." "Yes you do... it won't take you long!" "No I don't have a van." "Oh... you will know somebody with a van... could you get somebody to help out?" I did not know somebody with a van who was generous (or silly) enough to do it, so I said, "No I don't.... sorry can't help you!" He tried once more to convince me to assist him, but I finally convinced him I would not help and he hung up. Good grief, if you want somebody to help you at least have the courtesy to introduce yourself! I think he was a Christmas dinner regular. Should I have helped? Am I mean? I have helped lots of people move over the years.
Another man at the drop-in centre I got playing table tennis with. He did not ask for money. As we shared a cup of tea and conversation after the games he told me about his situation. He told how he would be bludging off friends for a week before his boss paid him. He seemed genuine and was not asking. I knew I had $20 left of some money given for benevolence so I went to the office put it in an envelope and handed it to him. He protested, but was pleased to be able to go buy some baked beans. Was he cunningly telling me his story so that I would feel sorry and give him money? I don't think so.
On Saturday late afternoon a man rang me with a long tale of woe. Would I give him some money for food. I listened to his story and thought "he's telling lies!" I had nothing but my well honed BS detector to go on so I truthfully told him that my benevolent fund and the food cupboard at the church was empty so I could not help him. I pointed him toward the Night Shelter which he did not want. There he could have food and lodgings free. This made me certain he wanted money, but not for food. Unknown to me he turned up before Church this morning asking for me. My wife dealt with him and she too did not give him money. She said he seemed scary and desperate (drug addiction). I had a phone call from a church minister along the road from me about 25 minutes before church started. He had gone along there and was trying them out.
My wife received her first pension this week. There was a need at the Night Shelter and she decided she would rather pay for it than have me trying to fix it myself... so her first pension was posted off to the treasurer.
All these have happened in the last week. I have developed a certain hardness over the years. I think sometimes people make silly choices and it does not hurt them to go hungry. Bailing them out all the time can just support their lifestyle. I have also developed a well honed bullshit detector. I have sometimes said bluntly, "No I am not giving you money, I don't believe your story!" When they have protested I have said, "Don't waste your time trying to convince me. Try it on some other mug." I have been threatened with "the Mongrel Mob"... "I know where you live". But I think over all I am generous with my time and money toward people in need, but I am not stupid. It is a hard balance. In the 1970s when I began ministry, there was perhaps the occasional itinerant who would try it on. Now it is a constant demand, even when word gets around that you are not the softest touch in town. People at the drop-in know I am there to support them, but they also know they cannot easily rip me off.  I do appreciate honesty and real need and am often generous when I know I am not being lied to. I am experienced with these sorts of people but I know other ministers who frequently give money when they should not. If you are a praying person, pray for us ministers having to decide such things.
This week I will spend hours holding a bucket outside supermarkets and such places, looking hopefully at people's faces wanting them to donate money to the Night Shelter. I hope they are generous!


Keith Harris said...

The folk you describe are not so stupid that they haven't tried the agencies and Christian based organisations that exist first and foremost to meet their urgent needs. If those entities have turned them away it will only be because they have been identified as abusers of the system and as such you are perfectly justified in denying them.

Linda Myers said...

I hear you. Like the people at the offramp with their cardboard signs. I know there are resources available to them elsewhere. Sometimes I suspect there's a cardboard sign factory somewhere.

Then again, occasionally I feel guilty for my skepticism.