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Homeless: Real charity doesnt enable
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I confess.

I was an enabler.

Until now, Cynthia is the only other person who knows how I was suckered into giving a transient/homeless couple $80 and how – 24 hours later – I realized I had been duped. And as such, I contributed to Manteca’s homeless problem in a fairly big way.

My desire to confess came after a short drive to Stockton with Manteca Police Chief Nick Obligacion to see the homeless hordes that have taken over the streets near St. Mary’s Dining Hall. I had been there a number of years ago, but it wasn’t on the scale of what I saw Monday. Nor was it while hearing the perspective of someone who had been there just a week prior and saw many of the same cast of characters.

It was back in June. I had just come out of a meeting at the Boys & Girls Club when a young couple was walking down the street in 100-degree heat. The young woman was obviously very pregnant. She didn’t look very comfortable. They stopped me and asked if I knew the way to St. Paul’s. I said I did and then did something that was out of character for me – I offered them a ride.

In the short 14-block ride, I heard their story. They were from Iowa where they had lost everything in a fire and were hitchhiking to Lathrop where his mother had moved. They were unsuccessful at reaching her on their cellphone and she was leery of spending another night sleeping along the Tidewater. She did all the talking, noting that her boyfriend was embarrassed about having to ask people for help.

When we arrived at St. Paul’s they thanked me but I said I’d wait to make sure they found the office they were looking for. When they came out, she said she was informed that they were probably trying to find St. Vincent de Paul’s since St. Paul’s United Methodist Church didn’t have an emergency help service.

I gave them a ride there. Again, I waited. They came out in a few minutes noting they couldn’t be helped because they couldn’t produce identification or a driver’s license.

My level of sympathy was acting like an endorphin.

I offered to take them to Applebee’s, get them situated, and I’d pay for their meal in advance before leaving them. They said that was way too much but they’d appreciate Jack-in-the-Box. I inquired about where they were going to sleep that night – the streets are no place for a pregnant woman – and they said they would keep trying to reach his mom. So I gave them $20 when I dropped them off as well as my cell number in case they couldn’t reach his mom.

She said thanks but she was sure they’d be fine.

A few hours later, I got a call. They still couldn’t reach his mother and were desperate.

I figured I had it lucky and could probably spare a few dollars, so when I met them outside the liquor store next to Grocery Outlet I offered to pay for a room at Motel 6. Long story short, the clerk correctly pointed out she could not rent the room to me unless I was staying there or I agreed to take full responsibility for all damages. I decided against it. I wasn’t that far gone.

But I still felt guilt about not being in their situation. So after walking back across the street to the liquor store, I decided to give them $60.

There they were chatting with a group of other four homeless in a conversation that was anything but civil although it wasn’t heated.

She thanked me profusely as I left.

The next day I saw her with another homeless man I hadn’t seen before. She was waving a sign saying their car broke down and they were stranded.

It hit me like a ton of bricks. The story of the house burning down and hitchhiking across country was a ruse. There was no mother-in-law in Lathrop, but if there was she was the most ruthless and uncaring in-law ever to let a daughter-in-law who looked like she was ready to pop to walk around in the heat and sleep on the streets if that is indeed what she was doing.

I shared the story with Cynthia, angry that I had been so stupid.

Two days later, the pregnant homeless lady called. I let it go to voicemail. She said they were still trying to connect with his mother. Right. And there’s not a sucker born every minute as banker David Bannum once said of P.T. Barnum’s ability to get money from the gullible.

I have since stopped giving loose change or dollar bills when I am panhandled. It has left me with more money in my pocket after going to the Chevron station at Spreckels Avenue and East Yosemite Avenue.

It hasn’t stopped me from giving. I still help people I know are struggling to make ends meet. I also still give to the Boys & Girls Club, the HOPE Family Shelter and other organizations that help struggling people including Give Every Child a Chance.

But I am no longer contributing to the problem.

The late Frances Bynum, arguably the closest person to a saint I’ve ever had the honor of knowing, ran Love Thy Neighbor for 20-plus years helping Manteca area poor, those stranded passing through and the homeless with food, clothing, gas money and even shelter.

But she had a steadfast rule and she was vilified by some that sought help for enforcing it. She cross-referenced everyone who came through the door to make sure they weren’t gaming the system.

Real charity involves not enabling.

 

This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209.249.3519.