Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: My daughter “Fiona” is 21 and just moved to her own apartment. Not a great neighborhood, but my first apartment wasn’t in a great neighborhood either.
Fiona has always been empathetic and kind. She donates her time at soup kitchens, fosters rescue animals and will go the extra mile for friends and family.
Today she sent out a family-and-friends group text saying she has discovered an encampment of homeless people living near her apartment. She sees them on her drive to and from work. She wants to help and has asked us to donate spare blankets, warm clothing, feminine-hygiene products, “durable” non-cook foods (e.g., peanut butter, granola bars, crackers), and toiletries, and she will stop by and deliver them.
This is a wonderful idea, but it seems risky, and I am conflicted. It seems to me like a bad move at this time in Fiona’s life. She lives alone and close to the encampment. Sometimes desperate people do desperate things. I would rather she tempered her generosity with practical safety, and let us donate to a homeless shelter in her name, rather than her hand-delivering items.
How should I reply?
DEAR HARDHEARTED: Reply with a donation of spare blankets, warm clothing, feminine hygiene products, accessible foods and/or toiletries. She is going to be the person who does things like this no matter what, with or without your support; she’ll do it next time even if you talk her out of it this time; and she’s going to do her own accounting of risk versus reward.
I know you’re worried. But I think you will feel better if you choose, consciously, to turn your face toward her light.
Congratulations on raising this beautiful child.
To Hard-Hearted: I’m involved in homeless outreach. All of the things Fiona asked for are desperately needed by people experiencing homelessness, and what a wonderful thing she wants to do.
If you’re scared, offer to go out with her or ask her to take a friend or two along. That is a basic safety step.
Also, trust your daughter that she won’t give out her address. I assume she wouldn’t to any stranger, and there is no reason to treat a person experiencing homelessness differently in that regard. We need more Fionas in the world.
To Hard-Hearted: Your neighborhood homeless people are also part of your neighborhood and are eyes on the street, which is especially useful if you’re a woman alone. I’ve had my neighborhood regulars help me when I was injured, warn me of unexpected road closures so I didn’t waste time going the wrong way, and step in when strange men on the street were harassing me. If anything, knowing them has made me safer.
To Hard-Hearted: We have our own “Fiona,” who is now 25. It takes practice to let your dearest treasure be an adult and make adult decisions that seem risky from the parental perspective. This is a great opportunity to practice letting go a little and being supportive. Hard but necessary.