Around half of the time when I head to Woolworths in the middle of Mandurah there will be a person sitting out the front, sometimes with a sign, sometimes without, asking for money. I watch as I see others put coins in their pile, or hand them food. They look humble and grateful at the giver and say thank you.
I used to be one of the people that handed out money to these folk. I was taught since I was born to help those in need, so it made complete sense to me.
But after a while I began observing what some of these people did after they had collected a good handful of coins. And I'm sorry to report that it wasn't purchase food.
In hindsight this was obvious. But my naiveté and deluded self identity as a generous person blinded me.
Not too long ago at Meadow Springs Shopping Centre a young man asked myself and my young children if we could spare some money as he needed funds for a bus fair home. I immediately thought the worse and believed he wanted money to buy something that wasn't a bus ticket.
But I was in a dilemma. You see, I also want to teach my kids to help those in need, just like my parents taught me. If I refuse this guy they will internalise that lesson, and that's not what I want. If I give this kid money, he's off to get drugs and he'll be back tomorrow repeating the practice on the next sucker.
Morals aren't as black and white as I was taught.
So I offered to drive him to where he wanted to go.
And of course, he refused the ride. I persisted. I nagged him. I insisted that I should drive him to Rockingham because that's where he needed to go according to his own words. He kept declining with weird excuses, and then a store manager came running out and the dude bolted. He hadn't been making many friends that day it seemed.
This week I saw several more people asking for money. I spotted a couple near the movies with a cardboard sign that said "homeless, please help".
I always thought I would always help people like that. But I had grown numb from all the people obviously lying to me just to get drug money, that it took no more than a second for me to decide I was not giving anything to these people.
Afterwards I was shocked at myself. What has happened to me? Am I really that cold hearted now?
I don't like this new skill I have, of shutting off to people who claim they are in need. But I'm angry at some of these people who are pretending they're struggling to buy food, and then I see them hours later leaning in to cars swapping cash for bags of something small.
I've given the issue a lot of thought. I don't judge anyone who finds themselves addicted to drugs and alcohol. I don't know their back story. I don't know the abuse they've endured, and a I haven't walked in their shoes. My heart breaks for every person I see with one of those cardboard signs.
And the truth is I want to be a generous person, teach my kids to be generous, but I don't want to fund drug addictions.
So I asked myself what I would do if someone I loved more than anything in the world was addicted to drugs but asking me for money. What if one of my own sons were in this position?
And the answer is obvious. I wouldn't give them a single cent, I would try and get them to rehab, and I would be absolutely furious at anyone who handed them cash so they could keep destroying themselves.