By Mike Lander on
In recent years I have been approached many times by homeless people looking for a handout. Perhaps I look like an easy “mark” wearing my veteran’s baseball cap. In my younger days I would have brushed them aside and told them to get lost, or I would deliberately walk around them. All it takes is a couple of close brushes with death to change your attitude.
Years ago I might have given some spare change or maybe a quarter. It was prudent to carry some quarters when walking in Manhattan in particular as I was sure to be approached. Nowadays, a dollar or maybe two in an extreme case is safer. I recently handed out a dollar and the recipient looked at me and said that it was not enough and he would now have to hustle a bit more. He was the exception. The way I have it figured is that if these homeless people are running a scam it’s an awfully good one. Many homeless men are veterans so they probably think I’m an easy touch. They’re right. Last Christmas my car was blocked in a parking lot by a disabled man in a motorized wheelchair. If this was a scam then I was scammed, so naturally I gave him a dollar. This is the cost of doing business in this life. If I get to heaven I don’t want it said that I refused to help a homeless/disabled man in a wheelchair. Am I my brother’s keeper? I guess that I am. The way I see things is that man asking for a handout could be me. If he was not down on his luck he would not have to beg for money, and if I am being scammed once in a while so be it.
The photos taken on the Bowery in this essay show a struggle for survival that most of us reading this essay will never have to experience. In earlier times the Bowery was a dingy area located under the elevated train on Third Avenue in Manhattan. Then they extended the subway system so the trains ran underground. But the word Bowery itself became synonymous with skid row. It was a place where men gathered to get a meal at a soup kitchen and maybe sleep in a flop house at night. The Bowery was well known far and wide even though the problem exists throughout the United States and the rest of the world. It became a mecca for the down and out, so if you wanted to document the problem you headed to the Bowery.