Posted by: David Stewart | January 26, 2015

Sock Stop: A compassionate response for signers?

Flickr: Brian Hawkins

Flickr: Brian Hawkins

This story is at its core is about how cool my wife is.

A short while ago, I was giving a friend a lift in my wife’s car on a typical cold and rainy Portland winter day. We exited the freeway and stopped at a traffic light, and rolled up next to a “signer” – someone standing at the intersection holding a sign, and looking for cash.

My friend was quick to pull out a dollar bill to offer to the man. But I was hesitant – “Wait, this is my wife’s car! She is usually prepared for this.” I reached behind the driver’s seat and riffled about and, sure enough, came up with a plastic bag with a pair of socks. Score! I handed this out the window to the signer.

The recipient immediately sat down and pulled the dry socks on, and then we rolled through at the green light and were gone.

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Since that time, she has equipped my car as well. I have a supply of these pre-packaged kits to hand out, which include socks, toe warmers and a coupon for a free meal.

I conclude that the people who are signing and asking for money are human beings. If so, no matter what has brought them to their situation on the roadside, they are just as deserving – or just as undeserving, if that’s your particular bent – of love as anyone else in your life. Any other position, any judgement on them that says something like, “why don’t they just get a job?” doesn’t take into account their real stories. And so what if someone has made unfortunate choices? I’ve made some bad ones too. Fortunately the consequences were not too bad.

I’m not so naive to conclude that the sock kit is the perfect solution to everyone. For the person who really does need spare change to cover an urgent need, the socks won’t help them. If they are real people, and really should be treated as such, I can’t feel too comfortable or proud with handing them something that dehumanizes them by assuming I can meet any of their needs. It does seem a little better than simply ignoring my neighbors and pretending that they don’t exist.

Try to make a sock kit of your own. See if there is something you could do to improve on it.

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