Wednesday, 19 March 2008

When Is a Good Samaritan Not a Good Samaritan? When He's a Bloody Idiot. Discuss.

On Saturday afternoon I saw someone I knew begging outside of Brixton tube. If you’ve been paying an unhealthy amount of attention, you will know him too. His name is Neil Stores, or, as he was known as a young hoodlum, Storesy. I went to school with him, and caught up with him again after 13 years or so at the school reunion just before Christmas. On Saturday he was sitting in the drizzle in Brixton High Street, cross-legged like some denim-clad, thuggish Yogi, rocking back and forth like a loon.

As I walked past, I glanced briefly at him then away. When recognition came after a second or two, I stopped and turned around. Then I moved on for a few more steps, hid myself in a doorway and watched.

His begging technique – if indeed he was begging – was a mess. It consisted of sitting in the street and looking simultaneously pitiful and terrifying. I guessed that he was there because of one of three things: a) heroin, b) crack, or c) large scale mental breakdown brought on by heroin or crack.

He didn’t notice me. After a while I said his name. When he didn’t look up, I entertained the possibility that it wasn’t him at all. Then slowly he moved his face in my direction. When our eyes made contact, he recognised me and – again very slowly – said, ‘Elbows’. As he did so, something akin to a smile crept across his face like a urine stain.

I resented his use of my school nickname. I didn’t think he’d really earned the right to carry on using it, rocking back and forth as he was in the street, in the drizzle, with obscenities tattooed on his knuckles. But I let it slide.

‘What happened to you, man?’ I asked.

He just shrugged and looked over my right shoulder. ‘Nah,’ he said, as if that in any way answered my question. ‘You couldn’t spare me a couple of quid, could you?’

‘A couple of quid?’ I repeated, a little scandalised. ‘Not really. I could get you something to eat though, if you’re hungry.’

We ended up in the Prince of Wales and in the hour we were together, he went through three pints of lager and I think 12 packets of crisps. He wouldn’t eat anything more substantial, which was a shame because I’m sure that something more substantial wouldn’t have stuck in the gaps between his teeth as repugnantly as crisps did. Also, bits kept flying out as he talked. It wasn't pleasant. We must have looked a right pair, sat there. Him with his tattoos and scars, spitting crisps everywhere. Me with my bag of elbows.

There was good news however, in that Storesy isn’t addicted to heroin and he isn’t addicted to crack. There is also bad news however, in that Storesy is addicted to cocaine, which as far as I am aware, is a good deal more expensive than heroin and crack, and quite possibly more addictive. But I’m no expert.

Storesy lost his job as a security guard just after Christmas. Now I don’t mean to be an awful snob or anything, but exactly how inept do you have to be to lose a job as a security guard? Surely, all you have to do is turn up in a uniform and wander around once or twice an hour, looking vaguely attentive, and maybe tick a few boxes on a blank sheet. The rest of the time you’re sitting with your feet up looking at a couple of monitors and reading poor quality tabloids. How on earth can you manage to get yourself fired? Well, Storesy got fired for not turning up. He was apparently too busy borrowing money for cocaine so that he could drink like a seahorse and talk rather loudly about not very much late into the night.

A week after he lost his job, apparently, his girlfriend kicked him out of their flat in Dartford. I got the impression that her brothers may have helped remove him. After which, it was only a few weeks on various friends’ couches and suddenly he was headed to London where the streets are paved with begging junkies.

I’ve never really seen the appeal of cocaine. Recently I saw it referred to as ‘wanker powder’, which I think just about sums it up. I’ve had friends who’ve become quite heavily involved with coke, and it made every one of them much less pleasant to be around, to the point where I stopped being around them.

It’s odd because with other drugs I’ve encountered, I can understand some of the appeal. They tend to make people more playful or vivacious or good fun to be around. Coke just seems to turn people into dull, shouty boors. In my experience. Also, as I discovered on Saturday, it also gives you a permanent head cold and a forehead full of spots.

Despite all this, the truth was, I felt sorry for Storesy. I felt sorrier for him than I had for my own friends in the past, because they had no excuse. Which is to say – and sorry again for the snobbishness – they had sufficient intelligence to know better. Storesy isn’t the brightest star in the firmament, bless him. He isn’t even the juiciest plum in the punnet. And I can’t help feeling that it isn’t really his fault that he’s weak enough to become addicted to coke and booze and tobacco and whatever else he’s addicted to. I simply can’t find it in my patronising heart to blame him. And I really can’t help feel for him. And yet, when he hinted that maybe he could stay with me for a while, I didn’t jump at the chance to have him as a house guest. In fact, I completely and wholly unsubtly changed the subject.

Unfortunately, just as I was making my excuses to go, he came out and asked me directly: ‘Can I stay at your house for a few days?’ Just like that. The bastard.

I have trouble saying no. Which of course is what he was banking on. Even though the prospect of having a desperate ex-con who used to bully me sleeping on my sofa as a houseguest makes me want to run into oncoming traffic, I still have trouble saying no.

On this occasion though, I said no. I told him that, to be frank, I couldn’t trust him. He seemed offended. I asked him if he would trust him if he was me. He said that he would. He said that he’d never stolen anything in his life. I reminded him of the time he spent in prison for robbing a shop. He pointed out that that was different. A branch of Currys is not the same as an individual. He would never steal from an individual. He then added that if he took so much as a pint of milk, all I had to do was tell the police. This was true, but it wouldn’t get me back my DVDs.

In the end I gave him my landline phone number and said that if he didn’t get himself sorted out within a couple of weeks, he should give me a bell. So far he’s left two faux upbeat, really quite pitiful messages, making me feel really, really bad.

It’s apparently going to be minus two at the weekend. There has even been talk of snow. Snow! And here I am indoors with the heat on all day. How hard would it be to give an old schoolfriend somewhere to stay for a week or two?

I really want to play The Good Samaritan. But I don't want to be exploited, abused and ripped off by someone who is obviously very unstable and potentially deeply irritating.

I’m in two minds.

Anyone have any thoughts?

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Bittersweet said...

I think you must be a Good Person to be considering the possibility, and i think he needs rather more than a warm space for a couple of nights, but making your home available would not be the right solution.

~~Silk said...

He's not going to get off drugs until he sinks a lot lower. Giving him a place to stay will only prolong his addiction. It would not be a favor.

...Besides which, once ensconced, you may never get him out.

Wisewebwoman said...

Have you ever heard of enabling?
That is what you would be doing by letting him move in. He needs to bottom out with his habit. Only then will he be ready (or not) for recovery from his addictions.
Letting him move in with you would not help him in the slightest.
Now if he were clean and sober that would be another story.
He is not your responsibility.

Geeky Tai-Tai said...

Just say, "No". It will be difficult, but it is the right thing to do.

Roszs said...

You did more than most people would when you took him to the pub for an hour - I have the feeling that if you give him your couch for a couple of days you'll be writing a blog in three month's time entitled "how do you ask someone to get out of your house, nicely?"

You're bound to feel guilty, but it probably wouldn't really help him in the long run - how about finding out about local shelters or something for him?

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Bonjour La Bête,
He is lucky that you have no resentment, and that you are feeling sorry for him. Maybe you can help him in a diferent way.
I think you have to find a balance between being dedicated to others and being selfish.
It's difficult to say no, but it's your life and you have to be comfortable with your choices.

Uncle Did

Geeky Tai-Tai said...

how about finding out about local shelters or something for him?

I think Roszs' suggestion is an excellent way to help.

Anonymous said...

He called you Elbows.

I'd try and find his family and let them know.

Glamourpuss said...

I'm with wisewebwoman - you'd be enabling him, not allowing him to stumble towards the solution. His addictions are not your responsibility, but yes, helping him find a shelter or contacting his family would be a nice thing to do. Setting youself up to be sponged off is not.

Look after yourself. Being a nice person does not mean helping others at the expense of yourself.


Larry Teabag said...

Definitely not, under any possible circumstances whatsoever.

Although, having said that, if you do take him in it might make this blog (even more) interesting to read in the coming weeks...

Anonymous said...

Hello Bete,

Samaritan; he came upon a man- who had been beaten and robbed and left for dead and decided to help him, instead of just passing him by.

The story did not elaborate on whether or not the man had deserved the initial beating, the reasons and the causes for why he was in such a horrid condition. Perhaps, he had deserved the beating and the robbery. Perhaps, he had been the one to initiate an attack? However, it never specified- the story is about compassion and mercy and doing unto others as you would have done to you.

Should Storesy's wrongs to you during your childhood be taken into context? Well, I think so- but that's my whole eye for an eye view; in truth, I acknowledge that I can be kind of spiteful... it is something I am working correcting. However, If you are talking about the parable and the lesson to be learned from it, the Samaritan, helped not only a stranger but a stranger that happened to be from a different culture, a culture that the Samaritan was taught to despise. So, take from that what you will about your past feelings and issues with Storesy.

I guess the bible is trying to say compassion isn't something to be shown only when it's convenient or only if you like the person. DANG IT! It would really make it so much easier if it were.

I think that taking him for a pint and some crisps- well, a lot of crisps... was going pretty far and above what most people would do. You didn't just pass him by- and you did what you could at the time. You even gave him your phone number- which is something that I wouldn't have done. Although, I do not know if you gave it to him with any intention of answering the phone if he called... i'm not faulting you- we've all done it. I'm sure if he wasn't on coke he wouldn't expect you answer, and probably would think better of calling you at all...

Guilt and our moral consciousness' can be so irritating! I don't think that you should be beating yourself up over your refusal to let him couch surf for a bit. Personally, I think that letting him move in with you is a bad idea! A bad idea, that could lead to bigger problems and would really do nothing to help his situation. Plus, I don't think you have several older brothers who could help you forcibly remove him, if the need ever arose.

However, if you can only picture him freezing in a cold dark alley, when he leaves you these faux, upbeat, messages; then I think that helping him find a place to stay and maybe, maybe, give him a little bit of money. Wait- not money-perhaps a grocery store gift card-something that couldn't be spent on drugs wouldn't be a bad thing. Although, when you're addicted- you'll find a way to barter what you have for what you need... so you might want to just deal with the fact that it could be spent on drugs.

I guess the thing to do would be to ask yourself, what you would want an school acquaintance to do for you if you were in the same position? I know it is probably hard to invision being addicted and panhandling- but do your best.

Remember, the Samaritan took the beaten man to an inn and paid for his care....yet, even he- didn't bring the man back to his home. Think about it, if you bring him home- where will you put your donkey? Did I forget to mention that there's a donkey in the parable-I'm sure you already knew that.

Anonymous said...

Letting him stay with you wouldn't help one bit, it's just geography. It won't solve any of his addiction problems.
I agree with all of the people here who said that if you feel that strongly then there may well be other ways to help, but taking him in isn't one of them.

Anonymous said...

YIKES! He doesn't know where you live does he? Quick, change your phone number! Emigrate to Australia! Do NOT let him stay. I assume you live alone. I was married to a kind hearted fella who let friends stay on our sofa from time to time. More like, from time to time, we had the place to ourselves when his loser friends weren't constantly around. He really tried to help, but his own addictions got worse too, and in the end...Well, I live alone now, and I've never been happier. No one ever stays over, and that's how it will stay! I no longer have to sleep with my wallet, or hide my jewelery, or freak out because the rent money's been spent without my knowledge. I live a blissfully peaceful life now. I pity these folks, but really, it's much healthier and saner to just turn the other way and keep walking.


Anonymous said...

I have to agree with the majority. It's sad to say but I wouldn't be able to trust someone like this in my house no matter how I felt about not inviting them in. There is a fair chance you'd be putting yourself in physical danger as well as the very real possibility of being robbed. Finding a shelter that would take him in or calling your local N.A. (Narcotics Anonymous) for advice would be helpful. Please do think carefully about bringing him into your home.

La Bête said...

Thank you all. I think I really just wanted my instincts confirming for me, and you've done that amply. Thanks for the practical alternatives too; I will look into local shelters definitely.

Anonymous said...

Wow - you are a way good person if you were even considering letting him stay. I can't believe you gave him your phone number, even. It doesn't sound like he was a 'schoolfriend' by any stretch of the imagination, I mean, you tend not to just throw the word 'bully' around about all and sundry, do you?

Anyway, I agree with all of the above, pretty much. Sounds like you gave him more than he initially requested (a couple of quid) and if I'd have offered him some food and he'd selected crisps and beer, I'd have left a couple of quid on the table and let him do with it what he wanted. Crisps and beer?!

Anyway, perhaps I'm being heartless, and homelessness, I'm sure, is a terrible terrible thing. But the problem with people is, they sometimes don't want to look after themselves. It's everyone else's fault, to some people, isn't it?

That makes me so mad.

Sorry - was only going to make a teeny little comment of agreement, then got all ranty on you...much apols.

David said...

You've had plenty of good advice (and apologies for coming so late to the party), so I have nothing to add there.

However, I'd like to endorse your view of cocaine. I tried it once, many years ago, in an environment that was replete with alcohol and dope of all sorts, and found the experience akin to shoving Harpic in my nose and being hit over the head with a brick. Also, I discovered that unlike many of the people I was associating with at the time, I didn't need any artifical help to make me behave like a wanker. So that was my one and only time, thankfully - it's not as if there isn't enough angst about, without having to pay hard cash for it!