Here’s why I give money to homeless people in San Francisco

Last night I got last minute tickets to the Giants game against the Cubs with a couple of buddies. The expectation was that the Giants were going to send the series back to Chicago, and since it’s an even year, we had every hope that we’d see another Giants World Series.

The Giants lost, but I still had a 12-person dinner party I was going to host tonight. That meant a late-night trip to Safeway so I could buy all the ingredients and get the chicken marinating. This of course means I have to wade out from the craziness of AT&T Park for several blocks to get an Uber across town to the North Beach Safeway so I can go fill up a shopping cart.

Normally I’m just shopping for what I need for the week, so this was an entirely different thing. I was a bit upset I’d forgotten my headphones cause that means I wouldn’t be able to listen to a podcast at double speed, or drown out the evening with my Spotify discover weekly podcast.

I was stoked about having people over for dinner, but you can see how I was keeping myself from feeling like it was a bit of a hassle.

I finish checking out. I’m worn out from the Giants game, a couple of slices of Tony’s Pizza and beers. I’m worn out from shopping.

I call an Uber to come pick me up as I lug my shopping cart to the doors of the supermarket, and there’s this homeless dude sitting there at the door, strategically positioned, styrofoam cup in his hands, starting to talk to me right as I leave the store.

The first question out of the guy’s mouth is if I need help with my groceries. And frankly, I could have used a bit of help. I had a bunch of stuff with me, and normally I’d just take the bus home, but it was easier to spend a few more bucks and grab a car.

But he kept talking to me, and one of my personal values is that the person across from me has their own story, their own circumstances, and I know very well what it’s like to feel alone and isolated and the very least I can do is listen and talk and be there with this person who is going to share a few moments of life with me.

I start asking questions, and he’s got a story about being down on his luck and hungry. And the only thing that I can think about is that I’ve got this shopping cart full of really good food for my friends, and I’ve just come from a baseball game where none of what I spent money on was cheap.

I looked in my wallet, and didn’t have anything less than a $10. And here’s what went through my mind.

That’s too much money to just give to this guy.

What’s he really going to spend $10 on?

You could do something else with that money.

And it went on for a bit.

And then I came back to the thing that I need to be reminded of from time to time.

I’m really fortunate to have more than enough to eat. I’ve got a great apartment, and a roof over my head. I’ve got an amazing place to work, and make good money. And if any of those things were to disappear, I’d have a place I could retreat to.

And I have this shopping cart full of food.

I’m staring at a lot of things I ought to be incredibly grateful for, and standing in front of someone else whose story I don’t know, but is asking me for help.

And I don’t know his life. And I don’t know if he was telling me the truth. And I don’t think it matters. I reached into my wallet and gave him ten bucks, and I’ll tell you why.

It wasn’t cause I thought he’d spend it on a kale salad. Or because I felt sorry for him. I don’t know his life, and I don’t think he needs one thing or another from me. The dude has made it this far on his own, and I’m sure he’s going to figure out how to keep living.

I gave it to him as a way act on my gratitude for all the things that I have, and to remind myself that my life could be a lot different. To remind myself that I share the world with a lot of people who have more and less than I do, and that if I forget that, I’m close to forgetting just how good my life actually is.

I gave in order to feel grateful.

Who knows what he did with that money. But he did help me put my grocery bags in my Uber. And he did thank me. And then I got into the car and drove off, more connected to him and to myself than I would have been if I’d ignored him sitting there.

That’s why I give money to homeless people in San Francisco.

Hope this helps.

Austin W. Gunter 



I’m Austin. I live in San Francisco, practice Tai Chi, have rheumatoid arthritis, listen to a lot of loud music, and host a lot of dinner parties. Want more? Start here.

One comment

  • Austin Gunter, I don’t know you and you don’t know me but you just “helped me with my groceries.” I do know your family and I know a little of how you came to have the thoughts and feelings that lead you to give to a homeless man. You are wise to know that giving is often more helpful to the giver and yet we cannot know how meaningful it may be to the receiver. I choose to believe that the man was touched deeply by your gift and maybe more by your spending some of your life with him and seeing him. You gave him value in a day when he probably rarely feels that. May God continue to bless and help you. Please continue to write. Your words help me.

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