What should panhandlers do?

Yesterday I had to take a bus to pick up my car. There was a guy at the bus stop with a very nice walker thing. Nice red powder coat, handbrakes on the large wheels, a padded seat so that he could use it as a push chair. I knew where he was going. Sure enough, he got off of the bus near an intersection near the freeway and sat there with his ‘disabled veteran’ cardboard sign.

Now, I’m not saying he wasn’t disabled. On the contrary, he obviously had difficulty getting about. But I wondered: What could he have been doing aside from begging? His nifty walker on the surface indicated that he was recieving some sort of assistance. Would he lose this assistance if he got a job? He demonstrated that he could get onto a bus (using the lift) and take it to a destination. Even if he’s undereducated, isn’t there some sort of job he could get?

I’m well aware that many panhandlers aren’t begging for food money, and that many spend their handouts on alcohol or drugs. I’ve no way of knowing what this guy does. So let’s give him the benefit of the doubt.

I used to give money to certain panhandlers. The ones that struck me as being temorarily down on their luck, and just needing a little help to get over a rough situation.

One day I took one for lunch. “Spare change… I haven’t eaten since yesterday morning!” So I said, “Well let’s get you something to eat!”. Over Hamburgers and fries at a A&W, he opened up, and told me that he had been on the street for 9 months. He lived in a welfare apartment, had access to free medical, dental and prescription drugs, plus any number of work training and education programs. He averaged about $25/day from handouts, which he spent on weed and booze.

We live in an area that has “Help Wanted Signs” on every second business (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada). I told him I had a spare set of steel toed boots at home he could have if they would help him get a job.

He laughed in my face. He said he has free rent, a food allowance, medical and dental, prescriptions and makes enough each day to be drunk or stoned when ever he wants. He looked at me and said “Does your job give you that?”

I told him… “Nope… but then again, you are gonna get old, and when I am old, I will have a nice retirement package”…

He looked me in the eye again and said “I don’;t plan on living much longer anyway…”

So be it…,

I will not contribute to that. I did start a program at work to recycle our used steel toe boots (we get new ones every 8 months). I deliver them to a local shelter. Steel toed boots can get you a job as a day labourer.

Anyone asks me for change on the streets now gets a " I’ll help you get a job…" usually I get a “fuck you” for my response.


In Seattle at least, they have an option of selling the Real Change paper; there was an older fellow at the Roosevelt Whole Foods who sold this and (I’ve heard) did fairly well for himself. I knew someone who worked at the headquarters, and apparently there were several folks who pulled themselves out of the gutter by working with the organisation. I’m not sure what type of screening process Real Change has, but just about anyone could handle standing in one spot selling a paper instead of asking for handouts; all depends on whether they know about the possible opportunity & want to help themselves.

Since I was young I’ve wondered if the act of charity itself breeds the needy. There is no doubt in my mind some of my country men have fallen through the cracks in the system or hard working people have simply fallen on hard luck, but I wonder if that’s really the relevant question. Is panhandling a crutch? Does giving someone something for nothing enable them? What does the poor child sitting on mothers lap learn? I’ve just come back from Asia after seeing 5 months of the true definition of destitution and am still no closer to an answer. The true nature of compassion is help…by giving money to beggars are you really helping though.

Sorry if this is a hyjack

Wse have the Real Change paper up here too (Edomton, Alberta, Canada). There have been some problems with that… Obviously there are some “key” ocations that are very lucrative. People who sell them have been beaten and threatened by other’s who wan t their prime location.

Also, its a pretty bad newspaper. At best (at least locally) it reinforces stereotypes about the homeless (I am a victim and its your fault, because you don’t care and UFO’s ate my liver type articles abound)

It falls into the category of “you ain’t gonna get anywhere waving pictures of Chairman Mao” type irony.

I sympathize with the poor and can do so honestly (been pennyless and homelss a few times in my wild youth, till I wised up.)

We have programs for housing assitance, employment training, substance abuse and lots of state funded alternatives to homelessness. We (here in Alberta) have jobs waiting for people of all skill levels. If you want to be homeless here, its a choice.


He gets disability. And if he is a disabled vet, he gets that sort of disability also/instead (it depends on many factors). Hardly a munificent sum, but enough to keep body and soul together (many retire on less). There is no need for dudes such as that to beg.

Orgs such as Goodwill will put hom to work doing something, if he really wants to work. There is also volunteer work, too.

Full Metal Lotus has said it very well.

I will certainly buy food for someone who says he is hungry, and back when I had a running vehicle I would carry granola bars or apples (in the summertime). And hand them out to the ones who hang out at the intersections.

I will not hand out money however, I refuse to contribute to someone’s addiction, or refusal to help themselves. There are so many places available here to assist people who are hungry or need a place to sleep. There are also a ton of places that help people (for free) obtain their HS diploma, job skills, even interview clothing.

There have been more times than not when an offer of a meal has been turned down or scoffed at. My former BF and I were in DC awhile back. We were at the food court in (I think it was Grand Central?), and we were approached by a beggar saying he was hungry. My BF didn’t miss a beat, he says “sure, get in line with us and we’ll get you whatever you want”. The guy says “well, I don’t want Chinese, I want [names place clear across the food court]”. BF is still thinking quickly, “well we’re pretty hungry and we don’t want our food to get cold, so as soon as we’re done eating we’ll go over there with you and get what you want”. The guy left.

Similar episodes have happened to me here in town. There are a number of these panhandlers who’ve got “the story”. Some have the “out of gas” story and they approach you when you’re at the gas station. “Help, I’m out of gas, my car is just over there (points vaguely down the street) and I need a few bucks to get to work”. Since during the day, I’m usually in the “workbeast” my company’s field truck, I hold up our gas can and say “sure, I’ll get you some, where are you parked? I’m not allowed to let anyone in the company truck so I’ll meet you there”. Funny, they never take me up on it.

I bought one guy a hotdog at one of the local streetvendors. He got the hotdog and then after we’d walked away from the hotdog vendor, he started making noises like “well, I’m supposed to take something to my GF too”. I basically just said “bring her over, I’ll get her one too”. He starts making excuses like “well, she’s not here yet, I have to wait for her, it’ll be awhile, maybe I could just buy her one when she gets here…” Obviously trying to angle for money instead.

To answer sitnam’s ponderings. I don’t think it helps most people. It is that we are fairly removed from the consequences of enabling these folks, other than the few quarters or buck or two if we should happen to give money.

Do you think that this would be tolerated from able-bodied, able-minded (of COURSE we should assist people who truly can’t help themselves) folks if they were actually part of a small community where everyone’s work was needed for actual survival?

You think that back in cave-man days, if Urg was apt to party half the night and then was too hungover to get up and help hunt saber-toothed rabbit, or gather berries that it would go over very well in his cave or village?

Nope…Donk, Blug and Grog would be kicking his ass out of his furs and saying “NO WAY dude, we’re NOT doing all the work while you do nothing to contribute to the welfare of our community, too bad if you’re hungover, QUIT DRINKING IDIOT!!!”. A couple of days of trying to hunt or gather while hungover would likely cure Urg of his drunken habits, or at the very least, at least make him keep it to a reasonable minimum so he could work halfway pain free. And if Urg kept trying to play the helpless drunk card too much, I’ll betcha dollars to donuts that he’d find his ass on an ice-floe in no time flat. (no, I’m NOT saying we need to place panhandlers in cold-storage).

So yeah, we allow it and it’s an enabler. Because unlike our ancestors, how these people behave doesn’t impinge upon our survival. Now, it’s just an annoyance rather than having to feed a mouth that doesn’t add to the group’s ability to survive. I would bet a couple of paychecks that if there was suddenly a complete halt to any money being paid to panhandlers, that the number of beggars would decrease to near zero in an amazing hurry, and that the number of entry level/minimum wage jobs would be getting filled to capacity.

(whine whine…but Shoes… then there’d be a glut of unskilled workers and that would create so many economical problems… yeah, yeah blah blah…that’s a whole 'nother thread).

I’m a disabled vet, myself. Because of that, I’ve got a small pension coming from the VA. It’s for a non-service related disability, so the rules for it are a bit different than service related disabilities. It’s approximately the same value to me as SSID would be if I’d been able to stomach the years-long process for applying and appealing to get that.

For both these programs, SSID and the VA pension, if the pensioner gets a job, or any regular income, the amount of income that comes in is then deducted from the pension payment. Since it’s the gov’t, too, the way that they collect such overpayments can be pretty draconian: “Oh, you’ve been making $100 a month by working there for the past six months? We’ll take back the $600 you owe us this month, then. And reduce all future payments by the $100 you’re making.”

For people facing that, it’s often safer and more sensible to their minds to do things that will generate payments under the table. I’m not saying that I approve, but I see how people can come to that conclusion.

Not quite related, but my friends that get (need-based) college scholarships have to keep their income below a certain documented level to continue to qualify. They make enough money to live if they work full time, but not enough money to live and pay full tuition. The people I’m thinking of are apartment managers, so they have free rent, but they’ve moved to a studio (for a husband and wife) from a two-bedroom, so they can keep more of the manager stipend.

It may be similar - your panhandler may be able to make some money if he gets a job, but it’ll be too little to live in the inner city and too much to qualify for his current place. And if he’s disabled, he probably needs to keep the state insurance. What OtakuLoki said, in essence.

The way Real Change around here works is that you pay $0.35 per paper, and then sell them for a dollar. And there are vendor spats, and the established vendors get the good spots. I have seen women that I know are long-term drug addicts selling papers one day and panhandling the next. I don’t judge.

(When I was panhandling, I always offered to tell people a joke for a quarter, or something.)

Why is it that when I buy a meal for the down and out, they never brag about their cheap (or free) apartments, free food, free medical and/or dental etc.? I always seem to get the severely depressed, malnourished and discarded adults, or teenagers that have been abused and/or abandoned? They will accept the meal wearily but gladly, but they are not about to reveal their life story to a total stranger. As far as what their real life is like, I have a bit of knowledge about that, because I lived on the streets of Seattle for three years. Let me tell you, it’s hard to get a paying job when you don’t have a phone number or even a home address, and the idea of getting a volunteer job instead of spending the time scrounging for food and other necessities is just laughable. It’s not getting easier, by the way. Shelters are fewer in number, and public restrooms(the only place some have to wash their clothes and/or themselves) are almost non-existent. I see the slogan “Don’t Give A Handout, Give A Hand Up!” all over the place, but this is just a cheap excuse for a lot of people, because there is no corresponding rise in contributions to charitable organizations.

What have you heard/do you think about Tent City? I’ve heard mixed reviews, frequently the dividing line being whether one is homeless or not. From the outside, it sounds like a good option for someone who’s able bodied and working on getting off the street and into a job, but I haven’t been in that position myself.

I think Canada and the U.S. are different. It has been becoming a lot harder in the U.S. to get back in the work force, because employers ask for a lot of information or documentation that a homeless person can’t get to. And so many jobs have been sent to other countries.

Sometimes a person becomes homeless because of a medical bill he or she can’t pay for. So they have a “bad” record of credit. They won’t get hired. Sometimes it’s because the person was a vet and can’t function because of post traumatic stress. There are a variety of reasons.

Also, living on the streets must be a really degrading experience.

Granted, there are some who prefer (for some strange reason) to stay on the streets, but more and more, there’s nothing an employable homeless panhandler can do to get back into productive society. Nobody cares…“Let them sleep on the streets, for all I care.”

But obviously, the person that says: “I use my panhandling to buy booze” is not worthy of help.

Speaking from my own experience - employers are leery of anyone with an unexplained gap in their work history. They know what they can and cannot ask per US labor laws, but that doesn’t seem to have much bearing on what inferences they make.

My opinion is that because of my own combined work and medical history I was unemployable. Because no one wanted to risk dealing with someone who seemed to suffer from mental illness. No matter what the diagnosis may have been, nor the treatment prognosis now.