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Roses, Leftovers & Dignity While Homeless

by Ilana Angel

February 24, 2014 | 8:11 pm

While in New York City last week, singer LeAnn Rimes tweeted about how she gave some roses, $20, and her leftover dinner to a homeless man. She said the man was thrilled with her generosity and happy she helped him out. It caused quite a stir on Twitter as everyone, myself included, had an opinion. People were talking about what she gave him, and the fact that she bragged and posted a picture of her generosity.

I thought it was odd to give flowers and her food. By odd of course I mean idiotic. Just my opinion, but I would never give a homeless person roses while he was in a snowstorm, asking for help in the street as I walked to my chauffeur driven car. The truth is that I would probably never give flowers to a homeless person asking me for help. I have often given homeless people food, but I do not give leftovers. Just my thing.

I believe in charity, have worked many years in the non-profit charity world, and have taught my son the importance of helping the less fortunate. I am not perfect and can certainly do more, but when it comes to being charitable, I try to deal with people in a way that maintains their dignity. To me, giving a man roses and some picked at food in a snowstorm does not show him respect as a human being.

Her intentions may have been good, and even if she used it as a way to promote herself, helping someone is good. It got me thinking about what she did and I wondered what other people thought. Does a homeless person see value in getting flowers? Would it cheer them up? Would it embarrass them? Would they be touched or offended? I decided I would buy flowers and hit the road to see what happened.

I got red roses, fleece blankets, warm socks, cash, made tuna sandwiches, and headed out to meet some people. The first gentleman I met hesitantly took the flower but asked what it was for. I told him it was a gesture of kindness and he stared at me. I offered him a blanket, sandwich, socks and money. He thanked me for everything, handed back the flower and told me to put it in water. I felt weird for offering it.

I had interactions with four people, but one man in particular stood out. We will call him Frank. He is 64 years old, which made me sad as that was the age my father passed. He was willing to have a conversation with me about how he felt being offered a flower. I spent about 30 minutes talking to Frank. We ended up sharing a sandwich and having a very nice and moving chat. I’d like to write about Frank.

Frank laughed when I gave him flowers. I think he thought I was an idiot. While beautiful, he has no use for flowers and said he would take them so as not to offend, but he would give them away to someone else. After he thought about it, he said he would throw them away as it would be stupid for him to have flowers. He wasn’t that invested in the flowers, but he had very strong opinions about leftovers.

For Frank leftovers are for a dog and being given food someone else had eaten was offensive. He is homeless but also a human being and having someone give him leftovers made him feel like an animal. He pointed out he had taken food from a garbage, but that was done in private. Nobody was looking him in the eye and thinking he was less than them as they gave him “used” food. His view was unexpected.

He has been homeless on and off for years. He has struggled with addiction, ended a marriage, lost touch with his family, but has hopes to one day get his life back together. He shared he spends his days thinking. He thinks about his old life, military career, time on the street, and how far he has fallen. He said he struggles with feelings of self worth, but they are his opinions of himself and he can change them.

When a stranger looks at him and thinks he is disgusting, he can chose to not worry about what they think, but when he asks someone for help and they offer him leftovers, it is as if they think he is a dog, not a man who needs help. They are telling him he has no value and more than hurting his feelings, it embarrasses him. He fought for our freedom and having to ask strangers for help is sometimes hard for him.

I told Frank about LeAnn Rimes and what she did in New York. First he laughed at the thought of giving a man freezing in the snow flowers. The leftovers pissed him off, but the money was nice. He felt LeAnn's giving was more about her feeling good than actually wanting to help. I showed him her tweet and he was more interested in Twitter than her specifically.  Turns out Frank had never heard of Twitter.

He wanted to know if Raquel Welch had Twitter. I showed him her pictures on a Google search and he said she was the most beautiful woman in the world. It was interesting to speak about current pop culture with someone who has no knowledge of it. I could’ve spoken to Frank for hours but he tired of me and said he needed to go. He thanked me for the sandwich and the blanket as he put on his new socks.

I thanked him for his time and went to shake his hand but he said he doesn’t like to touch and bowed his head instead. I wished him well, he wished me the same then said, “Homeless or not, not everyone needs to stop and smell the roses but everyone deserves to be treated with dignity.” With that he picked up the roses and handed them to me. He said it had been a long time since he gave a woman flowers.

I left Frank feeling sad. He doesn’t speak for all homeless people of course, and there is a chance the man in NYC loved the flowers LeAnn gave him. The point is that if you see a homeless person, be kind. Everyone has a story and a history. They have memories and dreams. Think twice about not only what you give, but how you give it. Perhaps your kindness will inspire someone to keep the faith.

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