What should I have done?

Tonight, on my way home from work, I stopped at the grocery store. This is an inner-city downtown grocery store, with lots of weird stuff. Sort of like Big Lots for food. Sitting against the wall outside the grocery store are two homeless young people. They had a bike with a little trailer on it, and I stop to chat. They assured me they were “clean now”, but both on probation and trying to make their way. After telling them I didn’t carry cash (true, but I don’t give to panhandlers anyway), the guy asked if I could get them some hamburgers in the store. He said they didn’t need buns, just the meat. Well, I’ll feed anything that’s hungry. I keep dog and cat food in my car for strays, so I told him I’d bring some out when I came.

15 minutes later I came out with a box of 8 frozen hamburgers. The guy and the woman were slumped over, just like the videos I’ve seen of overdoses. I nudged the guy a couple of times (ending with a pretty decent poke) and he finally roused. I gave him the meat and he said thank you, and slowly started to put it in his backback. I was stuck in my parking spot for a while, because an older couple next to me were loading their car. Then I saw him wave at me. Not a “hey, come here” wave, just a “bye” kind of wave, as he hauled the girl up so she was propped up next to him sitting against the wall. He gave me a peace sign.

I didn’t call the police, because although he was definitely on something, he responded when poked and gave an appropriate response. Should I have called 911? Is there something else I should’ve done?

Modern life is perplexing to an old fogey. I’ve never experienced something like this.


Don’t know what else you could do. Calling 911 would just get them rousted, unlikely to improve the quality of their lives. If they hadn’t responded to your poke it would be a different matter.

I’ll second that. If they were moving, then calling 911 would have just got them searched and sent on their way. On the other hand, if they were unconscious or close to it, then a wellness check might help get them to a hospital.

They were pretty darned close to unconscious. I didin’t see any paraphernalia around them, and they were sitting in a very open spot, with people coming and going. Would they shoot up (?) in such an open spot? Even if it is favored by transients and probable addicts.


Bought them food they could eat immediately, maybe, like salami, sliced cheese, and a small loaf of bread? Possibly gatorade-like fluids?

If 911 would bring a dose of narcan and a ride to a shelter, yes, you could have tried that, but you know your city. Besides, they might really have been exhausted and malnourished.

j666 - They specifically asked for hamburgers, and I asked if they had a method to cook them, and they said yes.


I vote for sleeping. If I was homeless I would be wary of sleeping at night. But begging at night is not really profitable. So they were napping between begging. I am kind of a sucker about these things though.

Oh btw, I am sure you helped them, don’t feel bad about that:)

But we suspect they do not have a history of making the best decisions, don’t we?

No, really, I meant that’s probably as far as you could go making decisions about them for them. You did what you could for them, and probably could not have done more.

(I could not have resisted the opportunity to give them mini carrots. I am annoying.)

Oh, definitely not just sleeping. The response wasn’t that of an individual waking up even from a hard sleep.

I guess I’ll just have to not second guess myself. If he hadn’t responded to the poke, I guess I would’ve called 911. The nearest fire station is just a couple blocks away. Police station a few more.


There are things in life that you cannot fix, no matter how much you want to.

It can be heartbreaking.

Next time, go with something they can eat right away, like granola bars.

How is that better than getting them what they adked for? He did check that they had a way to cook them.

You realize that by buying them food, you’re effectively subsidizing their unhealthy drug habit, right?

Feed them or don’t.
At least around here, the one thing that people on the streets seem to appreciate most of all is to be treated as a fellow human being. Sometimes I’ll get them some fast food or given them a buck; sometimes I’ll just talk with them until the light changes. The money might go to drugs, but whether or not I give them money isn’t going to get them on or off of drugs. Letting them know that someone still cares enough to say hi might help, but only a little if that.

Rationally, yes. However, I don’t give cash, and they asked for a specific food. They appeared neither malnourished nor obese, although thin. Poor teeth. They said they had a tent, they had a bike, but likely no financial means, not even food stamps. Are they to starve, because of their drug addiction?

cornflakes - We had about a 10-minute conversation. The guy described a motorized bicycle he built for himself. I’d never heard of such a think, but I googled it, and apparently it’s a real thing.

palmer7 - They asked for hamburger. Outside a grocery store. I’d guess everyone wants a hot meal now and again. If they’d asked for lunchmeat, or portable snacks, I’d’ve bought that. It seems pretty paternalistic to think I know better than they do what they need.


I’ve almost never given to panhandlers, but the two times I remember I felt an impulse to give I couldn’t explain, and didn’t worry about what else they might be ingesting. And food would help keep someone going, giving them however meager a chance there might be that they could get clean.

We have a non-existent homeless prob around here. Once in a while there is a hobo in the Wal-Mart parking lot, Mr.Wrekker always gives a $5 or so. He says even if they buy whiskey he’s okay with that. Me, I never go anywhere near them. They scare me.

Really, I respected what you did.

If you buy them $20 worth of food, that leaves them with $20 to buy more drugs. Not the best idea.

Setting aside the lack of compassion, how does this even make sense? If you have no money and no food, and I give you some food, now you are less hungry and still have no money. It’s not as though there’s a secondary market for recently purchased burgers where they could go and sell the food for cash to buy drugs. The only people who might want “second hand food” are other people on the street, who also don’t have money. If I put you on a street corner with a $20 bag from McDonalds, how much money do you think you could raise with it?

I suppose it’s possible that they are hiding money that they could either spend on food or drugs. I think I’d use my judgment and take that chance. Most drug addicts would just not bother eating under those circumstances, so I haven’t made things worse by feeding them.