Panhandlers: To Give or Not to Give

English: Panhandler in Oceanside, California.

English: Panhandler in Oceanside, California. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

They’re in most every big city these days: panhandlers. It seems like you can’t go downtown anymore without being greeted by at least one of them.  Needless to say, they degrade our cities and make life a little less pleasant for anyone who chooses to shop downtown.

You can even find them in the suburbs at the top of highway ramps or in parking lot exits.  Some will hold cardboard signs in big black letters.  Those downtown often sit on sidewalks or bridges, many with their heads tucked down between their knees, with signs and/or umbrellas.

Beggars hurt businesses in areas of heavy panhandling, especially shopping malls.  Overall, they can hurt downtown commerce as a whole because innocent shoppers fear they can’t walk the sidewalks or return to their cars without running into a panhandler.

There are different races of these people and of course all of them are usually dressed in dirty, ragged clothes.  These people are often referred to as bums, squatters, the homeless, etc.  You’ll usually hear them use the word “brother.”  Apparently, they’re insinuating that giving money to them is just like giving money to your brother.  Anyone I’ll never see again could never be my brother.

Another common phrase is “God bless you!”  Will God bless me?  I’ve heard it said in church many times: Whatever you give to another, God will give you that same thing 100 times back.  Later I heard that what you give must be a sacrifice to yourself.  Sure, anyone in this world will give you something if it is of no potential value to them.

Should You Give to A Panhandler?

What should you do if someone approaches you and asks for a small amount of money?  Should you give it to them or not?  Do they really need money or are they just putting on an act?  That all depends on how you view this particular person and the way they present themselves.  Once they receive money, many beggars slip into alleyways and buy drugs.  Even the dealers know that certain loyal customers are not homeless.

There are genuine panhandlers and there are scammers.   The genuine ones of course are homeless and absolutely need money to eat.  The scammers more likely aren’t homeless, but are looking for cash to buy booze or drugs or simply an extra income.  Usually, they will dress in ragged, dirty clothing to convince you that they are genuine.  Others do it just to see how much they can make as a second income.  On a bad day, successful ones make at least $20 while on good days, around $300.

I don’t like giving money to them unless they absolutely need it.  I’ve helped a number of them but then again, walked away from many others.  Once I handed them money, my feelings of being a good Samaritan turned into feelings of self-consciousness.  It was then I felt they played me for a chump.  Then I realize that they only do it because they know people will give them money.  Most of all, I hate the feeling of apathy most of them radiate.

Panhandlers often try to play on one’s conscience.  Some act really friendly as a potentially good acquaintance and others may try to make you feel sorry for them by making up some long story about how rough things are.  Once you’re approached by one, you are in a situation where you must think on your toes.  If you’re absolutely ruthless and maybe mean, you’ll have the gull to walk away.  However, if you’re kind and empathetic towards homeless people, you’re likely to give.  For those on the fence, walking away from one may make them feel guilty or selfish.

How do you know if one is genuine or not?  Usually, the real beggars look rather old and haggardly.  These people usually look real soiled and have wrinkled faces and long beards.  It’s best to stay away from clean-cut beggars, unless, perhaps they’re stranded somewhere and can’t get home without some money.  If you’re still unsure, it is best to just walk away or ignore them.

If you find that difficult, you can start by having a short conversation with them. You might ask questions like:

What do you need the money for?

Are you homeless?

How long have you been homeless?

Have you tried going to a homeless shelter?

Have you tried looking for work?

You need not get nosy, but if you can make them talk for a few minutes, you can find out more things about them.  However, they are likely to lie to make you feel sorry for them and become inclined to give.  Yet, others may not be good liars.  If one you chat with seems to run out of things to say or just walk away, more likely they’re a scammer.

Never make racial remarks to them or stereotype their mode of living.  Not all beggars are black.

I’ve met a few downright, not-so-clever scammers.  Some would try lines like “My car is on fire” but don’t act like it really is.  In fact I heard a smart-ass say this out loud on a bus and nobody responded.  Just by the tone of his voice I could tell that he wanted to see who would respond out of stupidity.    Maybe I should have put him on the spot by saying, “Oh yeah? Show me your burning car!”  Like hell their car is burning, it really doesn’t exist.

Where to Give

I’ll say it again, panhandlers beg for money mostly because they know there’s a very good chance that someone will give them some.  In the long run, giving money to them will never really help them.  You’re just helping them in supporting their squalor lifestyle and bad habits.  It’s just like helping someone live a lie.

If you truly have a heart and a chunk of money to spaer, give to a local Union Gospel Mission or homeless shelter.  Most cities have food shelves and charities that accept used clothing and other household goods, like the Salvation Army.  Especially around Christmas time, many charities as The Angel Tree advertise their services as malls have bell ringers who collect money in red pans.  Find out where these agencies are in your city and suggest them to each beggar.

By giving to these entities, you know that what you give will go for a good cause-not towards a drug or alcohol addiction.  Most of all, you can feel good about contributing.  You can deduct charitable contributions on your income tax return at the end of the year.

One final note, make sure that the organization you give to is legitimate.  Once you learn about their existence, check them out online to make sure they’re real.  If you’re confronted by a so-called rep, ask for a pamphlet or a business card.  If they have no documentation, don’t give.  Never give them cash outright, but write a check payable to that organization.

Please feel free to comment.  If there’s something I left out or you disagree with me, I would appreciate your input.

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