09 March 2011

The woman with the cat

I generally don't give money to people on the street, and I'm not entirely sure if that's a good thing.

I just don't think giving money is all that helpful. In Amsterdam, there are lots of places where people can receive help and assistence - including from the community (see the website). For me being able to participate in what the community is doing to reach out to homeless and undocumented folks in various ways (social work, coffee, a place of quiet, medical care, a home) is to me a positive and effective way to help those in need. And I know that Oudezijds100 isn't the only place in the Netherlands where people looking for help can find it. I know the system isn't perfect, but it seems that there are here a significant number of ways of helping people out that are more likely to be effective than handing out money on the street.

But this past weekend, I was in Belgium, and I don't know how the system there works - or what kind of 'more effective' means of help there are. All I know is my standard policy of not giving out money, and I'm not sure of it anymore.

On Friday evening in Antwerp, I noticed an older woman carrying a cat and quite a bit more stuff. My attention turned to her, wondering if I ought to ask her if I could help her carry anything. She noticed my attention and asked for change. I was surprised by the question, responding that I didn't have any (which I was pretty sure I didn't, although I could have asked Matthijs, who most likely had some). She seemed embarassed, and it felt like an awkward moment. I think both of us were surprised by her question: I, because I had thought I had recognized in her a need, but it hadn't been one of money, and she, because she did not appear as if this was something she did often.

The question for help, and the woman with the cat, have stayed with me. And I regret not having given her something. I hope and pray that someone will respond to her ask for help better than I did. And I wonder if I ought to re-think my 'standard policy' of not giving to random strangers.

No comments: