How Do You React to Beggers?

So I’m walking back to work today after lunch and a hairy middle-aged man gets in my path. I don’t know what the heck he wants, so I don’t slow down and I brush past him. I’m carrying shopping bags and my arms are swinging so he gets out of the way. Just as I pass by, he hurriedly asks for a dollar.

But it’s too late – it takes me a few moments to process what he actually said – so I’m already gone on my way and he’s out of mind.

Some of you might question my attitude, but to be perfectly honest, people begging for money are very rare in my (Australian) city. I work in the heart of the city, but this is the first time in years that I can remember someone asking me for money on the street (tin-shakers for charity aside). It just isn’t done here (it may even be illegal). So I didn’t really understand what the man wanted… and by the time I figured that out, I realised I didn’t even know what I was supposed to do.

So what do you do?

As an aside, I was in a US a month of so ago and I must admit I was shocked at the number of homeless people begging on the streets of San Francisco and Los Angeles. (Yeah, yeah, I’m naive.)

(My reaction went something like:

:eek: What the hell?


:frowning: Oh man, this is terrible.

And two dozen “got any spare change?” requests later:

:mad: Just leave me alone! I just want to walk on the street with my friend.)

So two IMHO questions, I guess:

– Do you encounter people begging for money on the street where you live?; and
– How do you deal with these encounters? Do you give them money? How much? To all of them, or some? Is giving money the “right” thing to do – if, of course, there is a “right” thing – or is there another course of action you’d prefer?


I’d get it a couple of times a week in Sydney. I’ve had too many of them be rude to me (ie. at a tramstop in Melbourne, I gave one the dollar he asked for, then he asked for more and got angry when I declined), and I’ve read too many newspaper reports of some of them making more cash than I do by working full time. I normally tell them to get lost.

One aboriginal guy asked me for some money for a train fare (the usual). I said no. Then he said, “oh ok. Actually, I wanted it for booze.” I gave him five bucks. Then he gave me a ten minute very informative lecture on the tribal history of the Eora people of the Sydney region. He was cool, but most of them are arseholes.

In third-world countries, I’m more willing to give, but even then, not to the pushy ones. I’ve had too many locals in those places explain to me about the professional beggars there too, who do quite well for themselves (better than the local workers).

In Sydney you run into the odd beggar depending on where you are. There are more in Parramatta than Vaucluse for instance. I meet more than most for some reason. It seems that I’m a magnet for them - a guy I work with was walking down the street behind me one day, and when he caught up with me he said that every beggar between work and the station had approached me only. He thought it was hysterical.

My response to them depends on whether I think they are alcoholics or drug addicts. If so I give them nothing because I don’t want to contribute to their problems.

Last week a guy approached me to buy a cigarette off me for 30 cents. I don’t smoke but I used to and I know how wretched it would feel to not have a packet of smokes and only enough money to buy one cigarette. The guy was young and although broke, pretty clean cut so I bought him a packet of cigarettes. When I smoked if people asked me for a cigarette I’d give them my packet (I always had a spare packet - I wasn’t ever going to run out).

How is this relevant? Long-haired? Unshaven? Fuzzy?

I give money to people whom I’ve learned over time live in my community and have mental illness. I also give money to people who ask politely, if I have it. I don’t give money to people who are aggressive, give me the same story about needing bus fare, or whom I’ve seen drinking or drugging publicly. I used to give out more money directly; now I give quite a lot of money to local human service agencies. I’m aware of my community resources, so when someone says, “I just need something to eat,” I will sometimes ask if they have tried going to the food bank, mission, or other places where you can get food (and give them money or a burger). If they’ve been kicked out of those places for bad behavior, that tells me something about whether I’d rather support their hanging around in my community.

My part of the country is relatively warm most months, and has high methamphetamine production. These seem to me to contribute to a larger panhandling population.

I used to feel a lot sorrier for them than I do now; I work downtown, at a bar, and they’re always wandering in begging for free beer, money, panhandling off my customers…or trying to get me to change out all their coins for dollars. It gets really annoying and sometimes they get really hostile when I tell them they have to leave. Which both frightens me and pisses me off.

Plus, by now, I know a lot of them, and while a few are nice honest folks on hard times, most of them are professional beggars, and have no intention of getting any further in life than they are right now.

And I work really hard for my money, so it bothers me that they’re trying to guilt me into giving them money for nothing.

Which isn’t to say that I never give them money; sometimes I do, if they’re polite and honest, but it’s never more than the spare change in my pocket. I never open my purse or wallet b/c I don’t want them to see what I have.

I will say, though, that I had a soft spot for this one homeless guy named Steve; he was a veteran, and he had this little dog that went everywhere with him in a backpack, and he’d come in on slow day-shifts and ask me for a cherry Coke and a cigarette. He told me I looked like his daughter and for some reason I found him very touching; we’d shoot the breeze for half an hour or so and then he’d wink at me and say he had to go. I even, against my better judgment, “lent” him five bucks every now and again, knowing I’d never get it back. He always said that one day he’d come in and “tip me big.”

I didn’t see him for about eight months…and then here he comes, dressed in new clothes, new haircut, with a woman by his side. He tells me he’s gotten a job, gotten married, and introduces me to his wife.

Then he orders a beer, hands me a $20, and says, very proudly, “You can keep the change!”

And then he left. And I’m happy to say I’ve never seen him since. :slight_smile:

What a beautiful story, Audrey!

I once saw a man rummaging through a dumpster in the wee hours before dawn. I pulled up beside him, rolled down my window, and said, “Sir, do you need some help?”

He looked at the ten dollar bill I held out, and then he looked at me with rather piercing eyes and bellowed out, “God bless you, son.”

And just as I though he was about to reach for the money, he surprised me, “I’m the preacher at the church over yonder, and I’m just tryin’ to dig out something we threw away yesterday.”

Suddenly, I felt embarassed. But he continued, “I don’t need your money, but I pray that God will bless you for what you tried to do. Thank you, son.”

He went back to his rummaging, and I rolled up my window. For some reason, as I drove away, I cried.

If the begar is female, I say “give ya 5 bucks to flash your titties”…just kidding. What I usually do is give them a handful of virtually worthless coins from several different European countries <rimshot>

Seriously- I never see beggars face-to-face on the street. I only see them on street corners while driving. I just ignore them. Most look like they could hold jobs. I bust my ass at work and I am most definitely NOT wealthy. Why should I give my money away?

I tend to just ignore them. Of course around where I live they’re every 5 feet, so I’m so used to them they don’t even exist to me anymore.

I don’t encounter beggars often, but when I do, I ALWAYS give them money. Always. I’m not rich by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m a helluva lot better off than many of the people in this country and the rest of the world. I don’t care if they’re using it to eat or get high or to buy a bed for the night or to help a friend. There’s far too much pain and poverty in the world, and if I can ease that even a little bit, I feel obligated to do so.

If they’re polite, I give them some money.
If they’re aggressive or threatening, then I react otherwise.

Heaven has given me the chance to be kind & merciful, & the means to do so. I’m grateful.

I give.

When I lived in NY, I encountered beggars all the time and, unless they were with a child or maybe a cute dog, I never gave them a penny. Here’s why: there were so many that were such obvious liars. There was one who claimed everyday that he had just gotten out of jail that day and was scared. Please, if you are going to use the same story all the time, at least try to vary the subway line you are on so that you don’t have the same audience over and over again. Then there was this crackhead type who was begging for food money when members of an organization that distributed food to hungry people showed up. They gave him a very nice lunch of a sandwich, juice box and fruit, which he took and then CONTINUED TO BEG from the same people who just saw that he had food.

Then there were the beggars who stood over subway riders who were sleeping waiting to accuse them of pretending to be asleep.

So, anyway, I am not a big softie when it comes to beggars and now that I’m in Providence, I cross the street to avoid them.

I work downtown and routinely get asked for bus fair. Usually I just indicate that I use a stored value card not cash and it gets left at that because they don’t really want to get on the bus with me to use the card to get to the suburb where I live. This morning however I was caught unawares at the park and ride as I was heading to get on the bus to come downtown. My routine answer backfired. A guy asked me if I had three dollars. I replied with my usual, “I don’t think so, I use a stored value card”. Well they don’t usually really want to get on the bus downtown, but he did want to get on the same bus I was gettting on. So I paid two bus fares this morning.

I usually don’t go for my wallet when panhandlers ask on the street. I do however give when asked under other circumstances.

I work downtown and routinely get asked for bus fair. Usually I just indicate that I use a stored value card not cash and it gets left at that because they don’t really want to get on the bus with me to use the card to get to the suburb where I live. This morning however at the park and ride as I was heading to get on the bus to come downtown. A guy asked me if I had three dollars. I replied with my usual, “I don’t think so, I use a stored value card”. Well they don’t usually really want to get on the bus downtown, but he did want to get on the same bus I was gettting on. So I paid two bus fares this morning.

I’ve given away my umbrella in the rain. (That one kind of upset my husband. "That was a good umbrella, why didn’t you just give the guy a five? Now it’s going to cost me twenty to replace your umbrella.)

I’ve given away my lunch.

Several times I’ve bought an extra McDonalds breakfast sandwich.

Just a couple weeks ago I had some chocolates for the office mates that I tossed to a guy who looked hungry.

I’ve given away candies and in years past when involved with planning large meetings, I’ve taken the sandwiches, fruit and cookies left over from meetings at the office and given them to the homeless folk that gather under the bridge near Main St. and the bus station. Though in this case the people are homeless, they didn’t actually approach me. I just knew where to find them and I felt bad that there was so much food that was paid for and going to waste.

I get hit up by pan handlers every day in DC. I used to give them money or cigs, but not any more. I see the same faces, hear the same lines, and I decided I wasn’t going to support these people any more. I can sympathize with them to a degree; I was jobless for almost a year recently. If it was every once in a while, I’d be much more likely to give something to these people. But it’s frequently 3-4 times a day, and I just tell them “No” now. It depresses me a little to be this callous, but I’d be without cigs OR money if I gave every time.

The area where I live has a lot of beggars. I try to avoid them. I barely have enough money for myself.

Normally they’re just on the side of the street. One time though there was a woman who basically cornered me as I was trying to get out of my car late at night. She said that she wasn’t going to rape me or kill me, she just needed gas money. I was caught so far off guard that I gave her the change in my pocket just so she would let me out of my car.

Another time there was a guy that went knocking on every one’s door around 1am. I don’t think he was very successful though. Scared the crap out of us.

We have these wonderful blue plastic keys you can buy in the city for a donation (any amount). They are to be used in place of cash when dealing with panhandlers and are worth a meal, shower, change of clothes, overnight stay and counselling at a list of places.

I think those keys are wonderful :slight_smile:

Poysyn, that’s a great idea! I wonder why other cities haven’t adopted a program like that. Do you always carry keys with you?

I always kneel down in front of them and ask, “Why don’t you get a jawb? Hey, why don’t you get a jawb?”

And then I go feed a cat to an ATM and hope I don’t get a bad table at dinner.

I have several cartons of cigarettes that I bought from the internet – an off brand. They got very stale, and I started buying Marlboros again. Then I quit smoking about a month and a half ago, so my boyfriend and I keep those old cartons in the truck. When we see homeless people on the streetcorners, we give them a carton of cigarettes. It never fails to make them smile! And it makes me feel good.