Homeless Barney, Part 2

Homeless Barney, Part 1

Part 2

What a disaster! Fair warning, this is not a heart warming story about helping somebody in need, it’s about me feeling … humiliated, or silly? What was I thinking? Well let’s see… I wanted to reach out to a human being who’d fallen on hard times. Looking back on my own hardships, I didn’t want to look the other way when someone was hungry and alone. I tried to help Barney, it was not appreciated, and now all I’m feeling is embarrassed.

I’m no stranger to hardship, I know what it feels like to worry about putting food on the table with nothing but pocket change. I was a single parent with two children who shopped garage sales just to keep clothes on their back. But there were kind people… people who showed they cared, and I remember each and every one like it was yesterday.

One year on Thanksgiving day, when my children were just toddlers, we lived in a tiny scarcely furnished basement apartment. We had the bare necessities, but there was no money for an extravagant dinner by any means. As a matter of fact, all I had was a five pound bag of potatoes and a box of mac and cheese. Until a neighbor who I never even met knocked on my door, introduced herself, and asked if I was cooking a holiday dinner. I told her what I was cooking and she laughed. She was also raising two children and living below poverty level.  She told me she had nothing but left-over ham and a frozen bag of peas. We searched both our apartments for enough coins to buy a gallon of milk, then put all our groceries together and made a wonderful dinner.

There were many people who helped me, sometimes it was by bringing me diapers, baked goods, or fixing my car.  One lady gave me money for the laundromat because she noticed I was washing my girls clothes by hand. It was the little things, simply a kind gesture that really made a difference. That is exactly the gratitude I wanted to pay forward when I approached Barney.

We all forget that poverty can happen to anybody, even you. Especially today, folks are losing jobs, and even their homes. Some are blessed with family that can offer them shelter, but what about those who aren’t as fortunate? Once that hopeless feeling takes over, believe me, everything goes from bad to worse real quick. Once you’re down, every day can easily become a chain reaction of disasters.

– – –

I chose to approach Barney in the crowded McDonalds where he sat everyday. He was sitting in a booth, grateful I’m sure, for the momentary relief from Phoenix’s 113 degree temps. I was all the way on the other side of the the restaurant, so I had a bit of a hike to deliver Barney’s bag stuffed with everyday necessities.

Barney stood up as I greeted him, smiled, and said, “hello.”  Until that moment, I realized I hadn’t even come close to understanding his devastating life. He hadn’t any teeth, and his face was in worse shape from the sun than I can even find the words to describe. I set my bag crammed with goodness on the table. Telling him I wanted to help, and hoped it offered him some comfort. His response?

“Thank you, but I can’t use it.”

What! Can’t use it? Are you kidding me?

He then walked away, leaving me standing there with my stupid bag, feeling like a total dumb ass. I walked out the door and dumped the whole thing in a conveniently located Goodwill box right outside the door. End of Story.


About tbnranch

amy elizabeth, writer, author, antique dealer. Lives in the northeastern reaches of the Sonoran Desert on a small hobby farm.
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13 Responses to Homeless Barney, Part 2

  1. tbnranch says:

    Really? A lady? Don’t see that often, how sad. Oh no! Isn’t there a McDonalds on that corner? lol

  2. Cindi says:

    You acted from your heart and that is what matters. There are so many homeless who are mentally ill and don’t see their situations like we do. You may be familiar with the lady who used to hang around Greenway and 32nd St. and used to be a wealthy matron. She still got checks every month at a PO box and her children did all they could to get her off the street but she chose to live that way. (Now I’m wondering what ever did happen to her.) It’s difficult to understand what goes on in the minds of these people but you did what you thought was right and that is what’s important. Your ‘mitzvah’ was not done in vain.

  3. The outcome doesn’t matter. You did the right thing. His story isn’t over yet.

  4. Bassas Blog says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. The world would be a much better place if everyone did one selfless deed of kindness each day.

  5. You have nothing to be humiliated about! You did a kind, wonderful, and incredibly compassionate thing for another human being. There are (sadly) a lot of people who can’t look back on their day and say the same thing. I’m proud of what you did and I’m glad to know someone who cares so much.

    His response makes me wonder if there’s a mental illness that dictates his behavior . . . that’s common among people in his situation. If that’s the case, no one did anything wrong here and this is a man who simply doesn’t know he needs help. I wonder if there are any local organizations that might be able to help.

  6. Pingback: Homeless Barney, Part 1 « tbnranch

  7. tbnranch says:

    Looks like I need to go a bit further with this piece, but I will tell you one thing… he never looked in the bag. Thanks for the positive response.

  8. Rita A. says:

    I agree with the two commenters above. My first thought on Barney’s reaction was . . . what were the items? I pictured a bag of personal items. Maybe that was just me . . towelettes? things like that? Or was it more food? That would make a big difference in the giving.
    I remember one time when we were active in a local church we had a church dinner of only things that came in cans or whatever. We couldn’t heat them . . . we had to imagine wht it would be like to have those things but no way to prepare them. It was humbling. One big surprise is the then mayor of Scottsdale joined us.
    Anyway, what was in the bag may have had something to do with it. Or his pride, or his mood, or whatever.
    It certainly wasn’t you. We can only do what feels right in our own hearts.
    Sadly one of the ministers from that same church once said he offered some work to a guy with a “Will work for food” sign. The guy refused and said he didn’t want to work. That minister said he would never make that offer again.
    We all have our moments.
    I know one of those children and you did agreat job . . . that is what matters.

  9. I think you did a good and wonderful thing, and I see no reason for you to feel silly or humiliated. You saw a man in need, secretly helped him get a meal, and then later, still thinking of his welfare, you spent time and money to buy things you thought he might need. His response was really inconsequential at this point, although that may be difficult to see.

    Did you buy the items because you wanted him to say thanks and make you feel better? No, you bought them and offered them to him because you saw a need and tried to fill it. His acceptance or not, for whatever reason, really didn’t matter. Would a relatively sane man, in need and without resources take your offering gladly, probably. I know I would if I were in dire straits.

    You saw a need, tried to fill it to help someone without, and when it was rejected, though desperately needed, you ‘still’ helped out by giving it to goodwill. What if Barney wasn’t the intended recipient of your gifts? Were you planning on donating to goodwill anyway? Maybe the eventual recipient of your donations “really” needs what you gave, and will truly be thankful to their unknown benefactor.

    You are an angel of hope when times are tough. It was enough that you saw a need, and cared enough to give. The universe took your gifts, and will distribute them to those who are truly worthy. Your deeds did not go unnoticed, trust me.

    • tbnranch says:

      Thank you, I didn’t even want to write Part 2 after what happened. Now, not only am I glad I did, but I realize this series might just need to continue. thanks for the kind words.

  10. I’m sorry to hear you’re feeling humiliated about this experience. The first thing I want to say is that your intentions were pure and for that, you should feel proud. That said, when you wrote your first post about Barney, I responded with an anecdote of my own, a quick story about a dinner I had with a homeless man some years ago in San Francisco. Although I was able to provide a meal for that man, I walked away from that experience feeling humiliated in my own way. Though different from what you are going through right now, I had a nagging feeling that I had somehow “used” this man because I needed a shoulder to cry on – like I had taken advantage of his circumstances to benefit myself, and by buying him a meal in the process, I was convincing myself that the trade was fair. I never saw that man again, and I’m sure it did him no real harm to listen to me talk about my troubles for an hour, but in thinking about this experience and yours, I think it just emphasizes the complexity of the homeless problems we face in all our cities. I don’t think that means we should just give up, though.

    I lived through some poverty-ridden times in the younger part of my childhood, and also struggled quite a bit after high school, though I didn’t have any kids to support, so my experiences were clearly less difficult than yours. Nonetheless, I imagine that at least some people that are homeless or have a hard time making ends meet also have an immense pride and don’t want to be seen as “charity” cases. It may just be that this man isn’t ready to accept what you’re offering, but that doesn’t mean you were wrong to offer.

    From a purely selfish perspective, as I read this piece, I wanted to know more. I want to know why he said he couldn’t use it? It’s really a piece that begs to keep going, and I don’t know if you intend to take any more actions to try to help Barney, but from a writing perspective, it really is a good piece. Follow your heart, though, whether that tells you to try again to help him, or to back off because he says he doesn’t want it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, though. It’s a hard topic to be forthright about, especially when you feel like you’ve done something silly and it blew up in your face. That takes courage, another thing you should be commended for!

    • tbnranch says:

      Thank you many times over for making me see things from a different perspective. You’re right about this subject being complex, and neither of us may ever understand to what extent. BTW, you didn’t use anybody, that guy was grateful for dinner and probably standing on the street corner right now with a sign… “Will listen for food.” I know you made a brave and caring gesture, and you both went your separate ways carrying a little less on your shoulders. Be proud.

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