I saw a homeless quadriplegic the other day while leaving a Minnesota Twins game. He had a sign on his lap that read, “Quadriplegic: Please help.”
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I’ve seen disabled veterans and those with mental disabilities on the streets before, but never someone with just paralysis begging for money. Using paralysis as a main pity card on your sign? Isn’t that stuff only in Charles Dickens’ novels and developing countries?
When I saw him we met eyes and had one of those shared moments where you silently recognize each other’s similar situation (he was a C5-6, and I’m a C5-6 quad. It’s hard not to notice when you see someone just like you out in the world). After that brief moment of acknowledgement, it was quickly gone, and I was instead overwhelmed with feelings of anger, disgust, and strangely pity.
Where was his pride? I thought. How could he put himself out there like that? Didn’t he care that he was putting people with disabilities back by at least 50 years with that sign? We kind of think similar things about all homeless people don’t we (able-bodied too)? How are we to know what it’s like to be in such a low place to have to beg? Even still, I couldn’t shake wanting to give him a piece of my mind.
As I got closer to him on the ramp, edging down to the road towards his chosen spot (he was parked in the middle of a wide sidewalk so people had to walk on either side of him), I decided to just give him “the look”. In retrospect, maybe it wasn’t the most adult thing to do, but I couldn’t help it.
Other people walking by may have just seen a guy in a wheelchair and thought, “Wow, that poor bastard,” but not me, I know what’s up. Sure, life with paralysis is definitely difficult, but begging because your paralyzed? I just can’t jive with that. I gave him a look that said, Shame, shame. What you’re doing is hurting the collective “us” and I am not pleased.
If it hadn’t been so crowded, I may have stopped and talked to him instead. I’d like to know his story. He was in his mid thirties, definitely not old (and old enough to still have a future). I know being paralyzed can compound so many life situations, but the sign…the sign…oh dude you just killed me.
Have you seen people with a similar disability to yours beg? What have you said or done (if anything)?