Advice for international students on meeting a homeless person for the first time

Imagine you’re all sweaty and thirsty because you just spent half of the day searching
for the mall with a map which looks as though it’s drawn in Hieroglyphics. And at just the
moment you mistake a bus stop sign for a pyramid (no joke, this is how dehydrated and
tired you are) a homeless person comes up to you and says she has no money to take
the bus home. What makes it even more dramatic is that you have only two dollars in
your wallet and your bus is coming.

Time is ticking fast and having what feels like seven burning suns up in the sky makes
you feel close to passing out. You know you need that money very badly but she just
keeps begging and looking you desperately in the eyes.
What would you do in this situation?

This happened to me in the first week I was in Seattle. What did I do? With my hand
shaking, I gave the two dollars to her and I nearly had to call my homestay host to pick
me up. Fortunately, I found enough quarters in my pants pocket, and YES! Finding
money you didn’t know you had is the best!

This experience later became one of my homestay host’s favorite dinner stories to tell
his friends... and relatives... and colleagues... and umm...pretty much everyone.
Anyway, what happened made me wonder what I should do if I meet another homeless
person. Is it a good idea to give them money? I asked a lot of people for their opinions
and here’s what I got:

Most homeless people are harmless. They may ask you for money to buy food and it's
usually safe to give it to them. However, if you don’t feel like they are really going to use
the money for food, you can always go to the restaurant or any other store nearby to
buy them food instead. I’m sure they would still appreciate it. A friend of mine told me
that sometimes if they received a large amount of food, they would actually share it with
other homeless people, so don’t think they don’t have a soul just because they have a
tougher life than you do.

However, if you really don't feel like giving them money — maybe you don't have any
extra cash with you or you feel like they are going to use the money for bad purposes,
it's totally okay to say no. I also recommend you give them food instead of money if you
meet a homeless person in a not so safe neighborhood. Even though helping people is
good, your own safety is also very important. Showing your wallet in those kinds of
places might get you into trouble, so be careful.
In some rare cases, since English is my second language, I find it difficult to say no and
leave when I am not able to give them money but they keep begging. I mean It’s not
like I could just pretend I didn’t listen to everything they’ve said and walk away

That’s why I've prepared my own signature lines and I encourage you to do the same
because they can really help you out in that kind of situation. Here are some perfect
examples: “I gotta pay the bills too, Amigo” and if you are an Asian like me try this line:
“Sowy I don’t speak good engalisu” with a super heavy accent, then just chill and walk

It works, trust me.
After all, I just wanted to remind you guys that the homeless are not bad people, and we
should not be judging them or treating them any differently. I also encourage you to try
to help them out whenever you can, because if you were in their shoes you would like to
have a hand from others too.

There are actually plenty of places you can go volunteer to help,­­ as a matter of fact, I
am actually going to volunteer at a thrift shop for the homeless this Friday. So why not
stop tweeting about how bored you are and go do something beautiful and meaningful
with your time!

_Calvin Li

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