#FitchtheHomeless: “Does he think this is a zoo?”

My post on the “Fitch the Homeless” video got a lot of shares and more than the usual amount of comments, most of them disagreeing with me, and a fair number of them calling me bad names in unprintable language. I don’t really have much to add, but one commenter who works with the homeless also posted on the topic, and I think her post is worth highlighting.

She showed the video to the people she worked with, and wrote down their reactions. Here are a few, but do read the whole thing:

“Why the hell would he pass out clothes to us that he said date rapists wear?!”

“Why did he just give that large man those tiny pants? I thought he just said they don’t make those sizes? That doesn’t seem very helpful at all.”

“He’s not even asking if he can film them, does he think this is a zoo?”

“Why would we want our ‘own brand of clothing?’ Especially clothing he said douche bags wear.”

“We may be homeless, but that doesn’t mean we want to wear ‘douchey’ clothes to prove a point — what purpose would that serve, to dehumanize us even more than we already have been??”

“If someone walked up to me to take a picture of me to put on the internet I would be really pissed off.”

And so on. You get the point.

I’m willing to cut the video guy some slack, since he probably thinks he’s doing a good thing. Clothing, however, is hardly the biggest thing the poor need. It’s plentiful. Everyone dumps their old clothes on charities and thrift stores, so there’s no shortage. It’s labor-intensive to process them all, and a lot of the stuff dropped off in plastic bags at the Goodwill dumpster are little better than rags.

As I pointed out in the comboxes, I’ve worked with St. Vincent de Paul and other ministries, and the top five things they need are:

  • 1. Money
  • 2. Volunteers
  • 3. Food
  • 4. Some more money would be nice
  • 5. And, yeah, a little more money

Money is fungible. It does everything. It’s light. It solves the largest range of problems. A good ministry such as SVDP puts 100% of their cash right back to use paying rent and utilities and other things.

At a local level, food donations are also good, and anything that gets used up (toothpaste and tissues, for instance).

The thing they need the most, however, is you: your time, your sweat, and your willingness to be a human face for people in need.

One commenter who disagreed with me unwittingly hit the heart of the problem when he said “people get to feel like they’ve accomplished something” in doing this.

They may well “feel like” they’ve accomplished something, but have they? Or are they just looking for cheap grace?

Sorry, but you don’t get to lay claim to helping others if the sum total of your efforts is dumping your castoffs onto the less fortunate. Hell, the most callous member of the nobility did more than that.

Actual works of mercy take time and effort, and they rarely dovetail with making your closet cleaner, looking cool to your friends, or striking a blow against corporate America. That’s not charity: that’s posturing.

I honestly don’t care one whit about Abercrombie & Fitch. A brand run by and for monied, materialistic, image-conscious jerks means nothing to me. I think their policies are stupid and offensive, but they affect me not at all. I haven’t even stepped foot in a shopping mall in years and wouldn’t wear corporate-branded clothing even if it was free. I’m not a billboard.

As a successful company providing thousands of manufacturing, shipping, administrative, and retail jobs in a bad economy, they are, in the end, a net-plus even if they do suck. (A&F alone has almost 100,000 full- and part-time employees.) The uncomfortable fact of the matter is this: as ugly as their policies are, by way of tax revenue and employment they provide vastly more succor to the needy than the guy flinging ill-fitting “date-rapist” clothing (which he himself would never wear) at random strangers.

UPDATE: Another, more nuanced opinion from someone with first-hand experience. She sees the problems with the video but thinks it’s a positive thing, and offers more constructive ways to help. I can’t disagree with her conclusion: even for those of us bothered by the video and the attitude underlying it, the issue is important and people talking about it is a good thing.

About Thomas L. McDonald

Thomas L. McDonald writes about technology, theology, history, games, and shiny things. Details of his rather uneventful life as a professional writer and magazine editor can be found in the About tab.

  • http://www.facebook.com/miki.tracy Miki Tracy

    Actually, genuine friendship with homeless persons does far more than mere cash.

  • http://www.godandthemachine.com/ Thomas L. McDonald

    True. I hoped that was implied by the need for volunteers who provide a human face.

  • http://www.parafool.com/ victor

    Another excellent post and I think that this episode has taught us all a very valuable lesson: forget abortion, atheism, or even Bioshock. What drives blog traffic nowadays? Hipsters!

  • It’s my birthday

    Yup, cheap grace. Kinda like working at a soup kitchen on Thanksgiving Day … but never during the other 364 days of the year?

  • hitonbythehomeless.com

    Wow, someone just sent me this link…I had no idea you shared it! Thank you. And YES, clothing is hardly the biggest need there is for the homeless population. I am consistently given clothing by the people I work with either as a gift or to re-donate. If people want to give, giving money time and other resources would be far more beneficial. It’s not BAD to give clothing, but giving clothing with an agenda it.

  • Cecilia

    Re: many donations to Goodwill are “little better than rags.” True, but they still make money with it. Ratty clothes are sorted by fabric content and sold on the industrial rag market. A large GW can make quite a bit of money off clothes that aren’t wearable. A professional fundraiser for GW explained it to us in a fundraising grad. class.
    Your point is still a good one, that cast-offs are hardly exemplary Christian love for our brothers. But discouraging folks from giving GW their too–tattered-for-gardening clothes could really cause GW to lose some of that very useful cash.


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