NPR's Pam Fessler caught up this week with a homeless man in Washington, DC, who she profiled last year. She sent us this report about his view of what it's like to be on the receiving end of well-intentioned holiday donations:
His name is Eric Sheptock, and he uses blogs, Facebook and Twitter to advocate for the rights of the homeless. A year later, Sheptock says he's fine.
Eric Sheptock, a homeless advocate in Washington, D.C., has been homeless off and on since 1994.
Eric Sheptock, a homeless advocate in Washington, D.C., has been homeless off and on since 1994. Katie Hayes/NPR
But, like lots of people, he's been on the receiving end of an overabundance of food this week — more Thanksgiving dinners than he can count at local churches, parks and other sites where the homeless get food. Sheptock says he's grateful, but thinks there could be a better way.
He tells new people on the streets that they'll be eating well through the holidays, but come Jan. 2, they'll be hungry again, especially on weekends when it's hard to find food. Now, he's written a blog post with some tips for those who want to help the needy during the holidays.
"Some give from the heart," he writes. "Others may do it to appease their conscience. Or it might be a tax write-off. Regardless of the reason, we'll take 'em all — and appreciate them all. However, there are certain things that people should understand when giving. One is that, on occasion, there are too many people giving to the homeless at one time."
He recalls getting two plates of food at one soup kitchen last Palm Sunday, only to go out to a local park and find lots more.
"In a 2-hour span," Sheptock wrote, "no less than 6 groups of do-gooders came through the park feeding the homeless. After the 3rd or 4th group, I began to tell people, 'No more. I can't eat anymore' and ask them if they were trying to stuff me like a turkey."
Sheptock thinks one solution would be a website where donors can post their plans.
"They could list what they plan to give, the park or other location where they plan to give it and how much they plan to give," he added. "Then, food donations could be spread out such that we don't get too many feeding on some days and not enough feeding on other days."
He also warned groups planning to hand out things such as blankets and shoes to the homeless this winter, that some homeless people hoard them. They might grab a new pair of boots, even if they received another pair the week before. He says it's usually the elderly or the ill who lose out, because they can't always rush up to get the handouts.
Sheptock's suggestion: Sometimes it works better if a group takes orders first from homeless people to make sure the help is distributed more fairly. Again, he says, it would be good if donors could coordinate.
Posted by Mark Memmott.