If the number of unemployed and underemployed men asking for food or money outside my local grocery is any measure of the economy, then times are pretty tough. There are more than twice as many people asking for money outside the store than there were even a year ago. And, despite the news of an impending recovery, the number of these men has increased dramatically in just the last two to three months.
As the number of homeless men seeking donations from shoppers has increased, the patience of the customers appears to be wearing thin. When asked for money, most people just keep walking. The number of people who react with anger or frustration, however, seems to be increasing. When approached by a gentleman asking to wash his car windows for spare change, the man in this drawing said nothing, but the curl in his lip made his annoyance quite clear.
The tension between the shoppers and the mostly homeless, mostly African American men who ask them for donations is almost inevitable. I certainly understand the need of Oakland’s most marginalized residents to be able to feed themselves, and when the social safety net has failed you, you really have little recourse but to ask for money from strangers. At the same time, I also understand the frustration of those who are confronted with requests for donations, but who may themselves be struggling financially. Shared financial woes can end up being more divisive than unifying, at least in this case.