To Givd or Not to Give?

Not exactly sure where this should go… moderators feel free to move it somewhere else if appropriate.

I work in the downtown area of a large West Coast US city, and encounter panhandlers of one kind or another on a daily basis. Usually it’s the same faces everyday; sometimes it’s teenagers, but usually it’s middle aged men. I’m not talking about street vendors such as musicians here, who one can argue perform some greater societal good, but people who appear to be able-bodied yet ask for money from anyone who happen to walk by. While some are probably just down on their luck, others seem to get by on what they can collect from strangers and panhandling becomes a way of life for them.

The city government seems pretty oblivious to these people until they start to get aggressive. As long as they don’t touch or harass anyone the police seem unable or unwilling to deal with them. This happens to be a very liberal city politically and the mild weather apparently makes it somewhat bearable for people who are forced to live on the street. Sometimes they sit on the corner of busy intersections, with a cardboard sign, hoping someone hands them some money. Usually they walk around the downtown area approaching people in areas where we tend to congregate, such as at a bus stop.

Let’s ignore, for the moment, the mentally ill who have no idea what is going on and can be seen talking to themselves or imaginary people. These poor souls rarely interact with the public directly and can be avoided easily. But panhandlers are different. They can be passive or aggressive, and I have seen two of them, working as a team, corner a person in an attempt to get them to fork over 50 cents. As far as what they do with the money they collect I can’t say. Whether they choose to buy cigarettes, drugs or alcohol with their money seems to me to be their business. Some people hand them McDonald’s gift certificates in hopes of influencing their purchase habits.

By and large I tend to ignore these hapless folks, not because I am cheap, but because I don’t want to encourage them. Of course they don’t know I am trying to teach them a lesson since they know that only a small percentage of people will hand them money. Apparently enough people give them enough money to make it worth their while or presumably they wouldn’t be there, although they may not have too many options. My guess is that these are mainly street people, without a fixed address, and would have trouble getting on welfare assistance. I may be naïve about that of course.

So the question is, should I give them money or not? Do radom acts of charity help society in general or just encourage people to avoid finding work? I can certainly afford to give a few dollars away each day, I happen to be blessed with a good paying job.

My NOT giving them money doesn’t teach them a lesson since they show up on the street everyday whether I give them anything or not. I could give money to some civic or quasi-religious organization that feeds the poor etc., but there is always overhead involved and I never really know where the money goes. At least by giving it directly to someone on the street I know it’s going to help someone. Or should I continue to ignore these people, which seems kind of heartless, in hopes they will all get jobs someday.

When I was approached by panhandlers (and I haven’t been for years) I would always say that I would not give them money but I would buy them food, and I would pick up a sandwich and some juice at the nearest store. If they didn’t want food then I moved on. I never got aggressively panhandled, just lucky I guess.

I always gave food exactly because I didn’t want to support their drug habit or alcohol abuse or cigarette addictions, if they had one, and that was a way I could be sure my mooney didn’t go toward that. I’ve kind of changed my position on that, though, since if they want to get high or drunk or smoke it’s really only my business to the extent that it affects me, which directly is not at all and indirectly to an extent I really don’t know how to measure. I still would have pause about giving money for the same reasons though.

I think if you want to give something then food coupons are a good way to go, although I wouldn’t give McDonald’s since I’m a vegetarian. Maybe there are area grocery stores that have some sort of gift card or token system?

When I have money (which hasn’t been for a few years) I’ll give money to panhandlers. Plenty are just plain unemployable, and others do choose to some degree to be on the streets. Honestly, I kind of appriciate their willingness to find a lifestyle that isn’t based on constant consumption. Even the best panhandlers still live fairly basic lives, and arn’t caught up in buying pokemon cards and plasma televisions. Although it would be better if they found a life that didn’t rely on the work of others, I’ve got to appriciate their attempt to be different in a world where it’s pretty hard to stay out of the grind.

Most of the time I try to ignore them.

But sometimes I get really annoyed, because basically, I just worked all day, and am trying to figure out how I’m gonna make $5 stretch for lunch the rest of the week, and now in twenty minutes this guy will have more in his pocket than I will.

Also here comes through the subway car: a dude with a fake limp; a woman dragging her child and everytime her hand touches the rail there’s a click of gold rings; or the lady on 57th street who hides her clothes in the winter when it snows and then sits on the corner naked in a garbage bag; or another man in the same area begging but talking on his CELL PHONE.

Just tired of seeing scam artists, I guess.

Your lack of a clear stance means that you’ll probably vascilate back and forth on the issue over the years.

-do whatever will cause you the least cognitive and social dissonance, streamline your thinking about it, do whatever you have to do not to think about it too much.
the story of the two monks: (not mine, I don’t remember where I read it)

Two monks come to a river, at the river a beggar asks them to carry him across. One monk says nothing, the other picks up the beggar and carries him across the river. The beggar thanked the monk and walked away. Three hours later, the monk who didn’t carry the beggar stops and says “OK, this has been bugging me, that guy could have made it across the river on his own, he didn’t need help, why did you carry him?” To which the other monk replied: “I carried him for 10 minutes across the riverand put him down, we’re here 3 hours later and you’re still carrying him.”

-do what flows from your heart

There was a (mercifully short) time in GoldenGael’s life when he had to beg for money and food on the street.

If I have any money, I give a courteous panhandler what I can.

Yes, I agree, such a person may indeed be strung out on drugs or alcohol and have irretrievably slid into the abyss – but you may also be part of the trigger of an epiphanic moment when he/she is just getting a good grip on the bootstraps.