Instead of giving you money, I'll buy food, drinks.. but, cigarettes?
June 30, 2014 11:35 AM   Subscribe

If a homeless person requests cigarettes, should I fulfill that request?

So I've recently stopped giving panhandlers money in an effort to stop seeing them as some kind of weird threat I've been dealing with since moving to the city. Instead, I engage a little, offer to bring them some food or a drink or anything else from nearby they might like.

In general this has been well received by most, and it's been good for me too, helping me see people who are in bad situations as people.

But a few times now I've run into a weird situation where someone will ask for a pack of cigarettes instead of food or a drink, which.. I don't know what to do about!

I personally think that smoking is a bad habit which I took up when it was cool in college but then promptly quit because it's pretty bad for you and expensive and sort of gross. I think it's sort of a dumb thing for someone who is panhandling to spend their money on, but I wouldn't think I'd have any moral qualms with it, since I hardly think I need to be worried about what people spend their money on, however they earn it. Except that I do, apparently, balk at buying someone smokes. I think maybe I don't think it's the same THEME as food or drink.

I wouldn't buy someone drugs or alcohol, but I've had no problem with coffee, which is a substance of sorts, but, cigarettes are troubling me. So I thought I'd ask the hive mind. What do you guys think? Should I buy a person cigarettes if they ask?
posted by euphoria066 to Human Relations (41 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Look at it this way: whatever you give them is freeing up cash they would have otherwise spent on that item. If you buy them a sandwich, they could use money they had intended for a sandwich to buy cigarettes. So it doesn't really matter. You might as well buy them cigarettes, or even booze or drugs. It's all the same.
posted by something something at 11:41 AM on June 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

People who use food stamps cannot purchase cigarettes (or alcohol) with their food stamps, so maybe that is a good indicator for you.
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 11:41 AM on June 30, 2014

But it's not what they are spending their money on, it is what you are spending your money on. Without making any moral judgement on them, it is OK to say "Sorry, that doesn't work for me. Can I get you something to eat or drink instead?" So it's OK that you are freeing up money to spend on their bad habits, you just don't need to be a party to it.
posted by metahawk at 11:42 AM on June 30, 2014 [24 favorites]

You don't have to do anything you find personally troubling. Providing food is already way more than most people do. I would say if you personally smoked and someone asked for a cig it would still be up to you whether or not you wanted to hand them out. If you don't smoke then you have no obligation to get involved with someone else's addiction.
posted by bleep at 11:42 AM on June 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

If you wouldn't buy someone else tobacco, why would you buy it for a homeless person?

To put it another way, cigarettes are a bad use of the limited funds that you can give to someone charitably. I imagine that if you're low on funds for yourself, you aren't as eager to offer to buy someone food or drink because you don't have it. Cigarettes are way more expensive than a burger or a coffee. Buying them can prevent you from helping other people in more dire need.
posted by inturnaround at 11:45 AM on June 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

To offer someone a gift is to offer them something that *they* want. If you aren't comfortable giving something as a gift, you don't have to give.
posted by aniola at 11:46 AM on June 30, 2014 [12 favorites]

What if they ask for Doritos or Twinkies, which are not good for you? Would you demur and ask what kind of fruit they would like? What if they asked for a copy of the New Yorker?

There's a continuum of good and bad things they could want; if you're asking what you can buy for them, you're kind of setting yourself up here. (Although it's a very kind offer.)

If you don't want to be put on the spot if a homeless person wants something you don't want to buy, how about carrying something for them, like a bag of nuts, or some powerbars, and handing that out when you see someone in need? It may not be what they'd like best, but this is literally a case of beggars can't be choosers.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 11:49 AM on June 30, 2014 [8 favorites]

The Ethicist recently dealt with this issue; it's worth a read.
posted by melissasaurus at 11:49 AM on June 30, 2014 [13 favorites]

A lot of people on the street are there because they have medical or mental health issues. Cigarettes, alcohol and even illegal drugs are often being used to self medicate for conditions that are not currently being appropriately cared for by a professional or for which the individual in question prefers the effects of those substances to the effects of the drugs they are "supposed" to be on. Cigarettes can be self treatment for depression. (One drug used to treat depression has a known high incidence of causing people to stop smoking.)

Some people on the street really suffer horrible withdrawal when money runs short and they can't afford a drink or a smoke. Withdrawal with no resources for dealing with it at all is pretty terrible stuff. I have a few times seen someone manage to come up with money for a single beer to "get the shakes off" -- ie to stop the delirium tremens of severe alcohol withdrawal.

I also suspect that substance abuse is high on the street in part as a substitute for adequate hygiene. Some people on the street are living in filth and I suspect the drugs and alcohol help keep the germs and infections down to a dull roar.

Also, cigarettes are a source of income for some people on the street. Selling cigarettes is an entrepreneurial activity. Plus sharing cigarettes, asking for a light, etc is a social opening in a situation with few social openings.

It's your money. Do what you want with it. I do not drink, smoke or do drugs. But I did walk to a store and buy a homeless guy a beer (with his money -- as I am also homeless and not in a position to give charity) when he was having an especially rough day and not in physical condition to walk the few blocks involved. Being on the street and having taken a class on homelessness, I am just not interested in judging anyone's choices in that regard anymore. I think what is "good" or "bad" is a much more complicated question than many people want it to be. I have enough trouble trying to figure out what is good or bad for me. I don't have the time and energy to do the tons of research involved in determining that for anyone else.
posted by Michele in California at 11:49 AM on June 30, 2014 [54 favorites]

I've known people close to me that have used cigarettes as a coping mechanism to get through hard times. For such people, a cigarette relieves a bit of pressure. Obviously they're not good in the long run, and obviously they are not a good way to spend money if one has the luxury of saving and budgeting and the mental resources to keep fighting without such coping mechanisms, but such concerns are way above the level that homeless people are operating on, which is survival and getting through each day.

I would trust someone to allocate their funds in the way that's best for them. It's totally your prerogative of course, but my view is that if cigarettes help calm someone enough that they can actually have a bit of a break from the suffering that they've been trapped in, that would be fine with me, and maybe even a nice gift I could give someone in this situation.
posted by PercussivePaul at 11:54 AM on June 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

Oh, I will add that, as I understand it, smoking also suppresses appetite. That might be one reason some folks on the street smoke: because they can't afford to eat and it at least makes them less miserable in the face of that.
posted by Michele in California at 11:55 AM on June 30, 2014 [7 favorites]

You can choose to not support the tobacco industry. You don't even need to factor in who you are/aren't buying it for.

"Sorry, I don't support the tobacco industry. I'd be happy to buy you a coffee."
posted by bondcliff at 11:55 AM on June 30, 2014 [4 favorites]

If someone homeless is asking for cigarettes, please do not offer them coffee in its stead. Caffeine greatly increases the rate at which the body metabolizes nicotine and thus makes people crave cigarettes more, not less. It would make their nicotine withdrawal worse.
posted by Michele in California at 11:57 AM on June 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

For someone who is addicted and does not have any option but to either quit cold turkey or keep smoking, cigarettes may as well be food.
posted by griphus at 11:59 AM on June 30, 2014 [11 favorites]

If you just want to give them food or a drink, then buy the food and offer that to them, don't ask them what they want if buying them that will make you uncomfortable.

It's great that you want to see homeless people like people, but second guessing their decisions is maybe not really doing that, you don't know why they want the cigarettes, maybe a pack of smokes will fight off the hunger pangs over the next few weeks when you're not around to buy them a sandwich. Maybe they can trade them, maybe it makes them feel more like people to be able to have a treat.

If you have problems with the open ended nature of what you are offering them maybe you can make up some care kits to give out. If you shop sales or use coupons these can be pretty cheap to make up.
posted by wwax at 12:19 PM on June 30, 2014 [5 favorites]

Where's the line? Why not refuse them money because being homeless is unhealthy and they should stop being that? How about telling them you'll buy them a cheese sandwich but not turkey or roast beef? Or only gluten-free bread? What if you offered to pay for their prescription medication, but not their antidepressants?

I mean, homeless people are generally accustomed to being patronized, scolded, punished, and having arbitrary conditions put on whatever help they might receive, so you're only a drop in the bucket, but if you want to treat these people like grownups who are making the best decisions they can under the circumstances (for reasons you do not know), either buy the cigarettes or make a cash exception for that one thing, giving them $5-6 for a pack of the cheap shit.

Or specifically offer to buy food/drink, if that's all you're willing to buy.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:22 PM on June 30, 2014 [12 favorites]

If it makes you uncomfortable, you can say no the same way you would say no to buying alcohol. But in the future I would get around it by offering to buy them a specific class of things, like food. That way you won't be reneging on your offer to purchase "anything nearby they might like". (When my husband was a student without much cash in a big city, he'd make two or three sandwiches for lunch every day. If he encountered a panhandler, he'd offer a sandwich, which they'd sometimes take. Other times, he'd have two sandwiches for lunch. It's okay to offer only what you're able or willing to offer.)
posted by tchemgrrl at 12:25 PM on June 30, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'm of the view that part of America's shocking homelessness problem is exacerbated by all the moralistic strings attached to everything that should have been a hand-up. In places I've been that don't have homelessness, the hand-up is done with money, not food-stamps, with the acknowledgment that the recipient knows their own circumstances best, and should have the freedom and dignity to make their own decisions about how to make the most of their situation.

So I personally think cash without strings is best - you're not their nanny. And then you're not just giving someone something that could help, you're allowing them to exercise some respect and dignity, which for a lot of people in that situation is pretty precious in its own right.

But if you've decided to offer food, then you're offering food, and you don't have to offer something else they suggest, and they don't have to take up your offer. But I think life on the street is shitty enough, and the societally-organised help on offer is already narrow and controlling.
posted by anonymisc at 12:37 PM on June 30, 2014 [11 favorites]

There was this recent relevant post on the blue:

The general gist I get is this: If you want to do something to make yourself feel good, you can decline the cigarettes. Buying food and drink is already a lot more than some people do. On the other hand, if you're trying to use your resources to help, at some point, you just have accept that they know better what they need than you do. Yes, some people will spend money on "frivolous" things, but you'll do more good overall by just giving money than trying to pick and choose what they can have.
posted by ethidda at 12:39 PM on June 30, 2014 [4 favorites]

Statistically speaking, as a gentleman of the road, he probably won't live long enough to get lung cancer.
posted by misspony at 1:02 PM on June 30, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'd like to push back a little against the notion that cigarettes are a valid treatment option for folks with mental health issues. There was a great review article back in 2011 by Prochaska in the Journal of Drug & Alcohol Dependence: Failure to Treat Tobacco Use in Mental Health and Addiction Treatment Settings: A Form of Harm Reduction? The link takes you to the free full text, but I'll quote here directly from the abstract:
The weight of the evidence in the literature indicates: (1) tobacco use is a leading cause of death in patients with psychiatric illness or addictive disorders; (2) tobacco use is associated with worsened substance abuse treatment outcomes, whereas treatment of tobacco dependence supports long-term sobriety; (3) tobacco use is associated with increased (not decreased) depressive symptoms and suicidal risk behavior, (4) tobacco use adversely impacts psychiatric treatment; (5) tobacco use is a lethal and ineffective long-term coping strategy for managing stress; and (6) treatment of tobacco use does not harm mental health recovery. Failure to treat tobacco dependence in mental health and addiction treatment settings is not consistent with a harm reduction model. In contrast, emerging evidence indicates treatment of tobacco dependence may even improve addiction treatment and mental health outcomes. Providers in mental health and addiction treatment settings have an ethical duty to intervene on patients' tobacco use and provide available evidence-based treatments.
Now, I'm not advocating here for a paternalist approach of "protecting" homeless individuals by refusing to buy them cigarettes. Rather, I want to caution against the idea of providing cigarettes to homeless folks specifically in the name of harm reduction or mental health promotion.
posted by The White Hat at 1:18 PM on June 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

Rather, I want to caution against the idea of providing cigarettes to homeless folks specifically in the name of harm reduction or mental health promotion.

It may not "promote mental health" but I think it does, in fact, work as harm reduction. I strongly suspect that going through bad withdrawal on the street is not only physical torture but possibly a good way to wind up assaulted by other homeless people for being "rude" to them or arrested for some kind of socially inappropriate behavior that could be hidden behind closed doors if you have a home and are suffering withdrawal but, being on the street, you have little or no means to hide it.

Middle class people almost never seem to look at what a homeless person is enduring and think "Poor guy." Instead, it gets framed in the most blame-y, "what can we arrest or banish him for?" manner. I have had some asshole in a car yell at me out of the car window "Drink too much???" when I was puking in the bushes. I do not smoke, drink, take illicit drugs or take medication of any kind (whether prescription or OTC). I have a life threatening medical condition and I sometimes lose my lunch not long after eating it. No one thinks "Poor gal with serious medical condition and look at how she is suffering." They think "Wino -- and obviously deserves to be on the street. Go die, bitch." (oh, and while they are at it, "How can I get my licks in in the nanosecond I have to interact with her?")

I have built-in social support in that I am on the street with my two adult sons and I have an education (including work equivalent to graduate work) and I am generally pretty savvy about dealing with all kinds of problems. For a lot of other people on the street, I can well imagine that a free cigarette to stave off the worst of withdrawal (or suppress hunger pangs) is the difference between muddling through one more miserable day and things coming completely unraveled overnight.

The optimal care your quote is promoting is very much an idealistic goal for upper class people. Most people on the street have no hope of any kind of optimal care on any front.
posted by Michele in California at 2:00 PM on June 30, 2014 [9 favorites]

I would never buy cigarettes for anyone. Basically, If you are so downtrodden you are begging on the streets, I will assist with survival needs but I'd rather give through a charity for more luxurious items as I want them to go to good use. Cigarettes don't help. They are a band-aid and a lot of band-aids make for a larger problem later. I'm not so naive as to believe my refusal to buy cigarettes will make any difference, but it's a line I've drawn and I don't feel guilty.

What they do with their own money is their own business and what I do with my money is mine, even if I'm purchasing a gift. I'm not going to buy anyone anything just because they asked, I have to determine if it's appropriate.
posted by Aranquis at 2:17 PM on June 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

They are probably not, at that point in their lives, prioritizing life-extension hacks.
posted by kmennie at 2:44 PM on June 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

I also suspect that substance abuse is high on the street in part as a substitute for adequate hygiene. Some people on the street are living in filth and I suspect the drugs and alcohol help keep the germs and infections down to a dull roar.

Excessive alcohol consumption can suppress the immune system, and nicotine does as well. As a result, the innate immune system can't fight off bacterial infections that might become dangerous without treatment, especially those that occur due to injury, skin abrasions, etc. These infections might last longer and cause more damage. Spoiled food may also pose a problem due bugs like Listeria, which is very dangerous.

OP, I'm not sure of your location, but how do you feel about donating to an organization like Lava Mae, which operates in San Francisco? They convert old buses into showers for the homeless. Might be another option.
posted by extramundane at 2:49 PM on June 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Michele, there's a lot of truth to what you say and it sounds like you've been through the wringer of judgemental assholes. I work primarily with homeless IDU at a couple free clinics in Philly and serve on the board of the local syringe exchange, so I'm no stranger to harm reduction or the difference between our "idealistic goals for upper class people" and the reality out under the El. Withdrawal is truly a terrible thing (and hunger, too!), but I can assure you that the only withdrawal cigarettes treat is withdrawal from tobacco. As a stimulant, nicotine only worsens the autonomic and CNS effects of opiate withdrawal (horrible diarrhea, stomach cramps, agitation). As for alcohol, we know that individuals in treatment for alcohol dependence are more likely to die from their tobacco than from their alcohol use.

Again, tossing someone a pack of cigs or a loosie can be a great act of kindness and I doubt the specters of Doll & Hill will haunt the lives of people who do so out of compassion. I only mean to say that, according to all the evidence we have, it's bad medicine.
posted by The White Hat at 3:11 PM on June 30, 2014 [5 favorites]

I only mean to say that, according to all the evidence we have, it's bad medicine.

I agree with you. But, then, I think an awful lot of medicine is bad medicine. (Frankly, I think most medicine is bad medicine and the world would be better served by more education, better nutrition, better family policies and other things totally beyond the scope of this Ask.)

I was only hoping to elucidate the issue for the OP. I wish I had thought to include all of that in my initial post but it didn't occur to me at that time. It only occurred to me in reading through other replies that this is the kind of info that most people, who have never been homeless, would not be aware of. Little things that are minor stressors for people with mostly functional lives can be the straw that breaks the camel's back for someone whose life is hanging by a thread.
posted by Michele in California at 3:29 PM on June 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ultimately, the choice is yours.

There is no more virtue in giving a panhandler food or drink than there is in giving a panhandler money. If you're doing this to provide a good influence or teach them to be better people, this is all about you and not really about the needs of said panhandler, so, you know, feel free to deny the cigarettes if it makes you feel better about yourself.

If you're providing material goods in lieu of cash because you feel that it's more intimate or neighborly or something, I don't see why cigarettes are inappropriate. In fact, hell, why not buy liquor? You'd buy a friend a beer at a bar, so if this is in an attempt to be more "real" and less transactional, you should be buying alcohol, cigarettes, whatever.

Drugs are different because they're illegal.

Also, at the end of the day, homeless people are people. They get to make their own choices about their health, habits, etc. It's not really your place to judge. You are free not to provide anything if you're so concerned about panhandlers gradually poisoning themselves on your dime.
posted by Sara C. at 3:59 PM on June 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

Concerning people on the street desiring cigarettes, it strikes me (as a former smoker myself) that what they're requesting is essentially a bit of dependable comfort; if you're willing to spend that kind of money then good on you, and I don't see it as something that you should object to morally or otherwise. I imagine they have sufficient health concerns that some tobacco is hardly the greatest of their concerns.
posted by mr. digits at 4:06 PM on June 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

One of my clients is a doctor who specializes in addiction. According to him, nicotine is an antidepressant and works effectively as one in a greater percentage of the population than pretty much any other antidepressant (also on Wikipedia). A number of people who smoke (myself included -- though I stopped 6 weeks ago) may be self medicating for depression and doing so effectively, as they're using something that actually works as an antidepressant. The delivery method is deadly, relies on a horrible industry, and is very expensive, but the chemical itself is actually kind of right for the job.

This is something I would take into consideration. And I, personally, if in the position to do so, would probably buy the person cigarettes.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 4:30 PM on June 30, 2014 [6 favorites]

Now, I'm not advocating here for a paternalist approach of "protecting" homeless individuals by refusing to buy them cigarettes.

I am.

You are talking about essentially giving to charity. That's what you're doing, even though you're giving to an individual rather than an organization. You should only do this if you think it's the best charitable use of your finite funds. Do you seriously think that enabling someone's cigarette addiction is the best donation you could make to do some good? I think the answer is obvious.

The fact that smoking "suppresses appetite" of course doesn't make it any healthier.

The fact that buying them anything would make it easier for them to buy cigarettes isn't a good justification for buying them cigarettes. When you do that, you're essentially guaranteeing they'll smoke cigarettes, which is a more direct effect than merely making it easier to do so.
posted by John Cohen at 6:02 PM on June 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

The cigarettes are probably currency, effectively - they are going to barter them one by one for food items or other stuff they need, not smoke them.
posted by citron at 6:52 PM on June 30, 2014

Anti-depressants may have their own down sides.
posted by xarnop at 7:43 PM on June 30, 2014

Coming at this from another angle: my father, who has smoked for longer than I've been alive, once asked me to buy tobacco for him, not because he didn't have money but because it was more convenient for me to do it, since I was going to the shop. My father had previously lost his own father to a cancer that was probably partly smoking related. I was only 18 at the time (only just legal to buy tobacco in my jurisdiction) and although I did buy it for him, I felt really weird about it. If he asked me again I would probably say no. I would be less likely to buy cigarettes for a homeless person than to give them cash.

I am curious about what you are imagining when you offer "to bring them some food or a drink or anything else from nearby they might like." Although I recognise that homeless people have needs beyond food and drink, and while you'd probably be willing e.g. to buy them a newspaper or a bus ticket, I think the open-endedness is what's causing the awkwardness. You could consider offering only food or drink, if that's what you're comfortable with, and making a donation of money or goods to a homeless shelter, perhaps?
posted by Cheese Monster at 8:24 PM on June 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

Also my point was not to suggest that antidepressants are always the wrong choice, but rather than all treatments have side effects and nicotine does in fact have efficacy at treating depression and supporting the brain during periods of chronic stress, such as being homeless.

While there are many studies studies about antidepressant use over the course of a year or five years, longitudinal studies of 20 to 30 years of use are much harder to find. Remember just as someone could use antidepressants for a few years and get off, so a person could use smoking for a few years and get off once they are no longer homeless and they are in a more stable situation.

It's your money and you don't have to do anything you don't want to do with it. It's fine to just buy people food. But I wouldn't worry if you found out they sold the food for a cigarette, and I wouldn't worry about letting someone on the streets have a smoke if they are already a smoker and want one. There's a lot of mixed information about how long term use of psychiatric meds effect lifespan as well, and quality of life during the process of enduring really terrible circumstances should be factored into lifespan considerations (particular with respect to personal choice of the person who has to ensure both the current and future issues.)

But really, they'll find some smokes, so you don't need to worry about funding this (and yes the tobacco industry itself is SKETCHY and it's understandable to not want to help fund them!). I'm just offering you some info so you could have an open mind about why people make the choices they do and that the variables and objectives that make sense to a middle class person with a decent job doing health research might not matter in the same way to someone who doesn't know if they'll live through the year or not anyway and who may have to endure a lot of pain, and physical injury to their body and brain in the course of making it through already.
posted by xarnop at 8:37 AM on July 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

In light of xarnop's last comment, I will add that some people are on the street because they are very ill and are basically dying. Some of these people have no real hope of getting off the street. In which case, enabling any addictions they have amounts to palliative care, like a more upper class person might receive in a hospice. It amounts to easing the suffering of someone who is doomed to die and can no longer be saved.

When I was in downtown San Diego, there was an elderly female panhandler sitting on the ground at the same corner fairly often. I could not give anyone money but I sometimes had extra food that I could give. One day, I offered her a granola bar. She had to decline and explained that she had stomach cancer and just could not eat it. So I offered her a banana in its place and that she was able to accept. After a while, I stopped seeing her on the corner. I have always wondered if she simply died.
posted by Michele in California at 9:37 AM on July 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

My comment above was probably not adequate enough to make my point.... and I was made aware that it sounded derogatory to the homeless. Definitely, I shouldn't have called them "gentleman of the road"...

You should do whatever it is you feel comfortable doing/giving. If buying someone cigarettes makes you feel yucky, then don't do it.

I, personally, am a smoker and cigarettes are very expensive in my country. But my dad, who cares about my health- will absolutely NOT buy me cheap cigarettes at duty free when he comes to visit. (I never even asked him, I just know)

You are allowed to not to spend your money on things you find abhorrent. Even if that person really wants it, could benefit in the short term, it would make them happier, whatever.

My sarcasm was aimed at choosing a moral battle so meaningless. Rough sleepers DO have a much lower life expectancy. They lack adequate medical care, adequate nutrition, and are under extreme stress. If you look at Maslow's hierarchy of needs.... and you are thinking about his needing to take self care at such a high level, like self actualization level- he can't. He is not operating with safety and shelter. THOSE are his priorities.

So I was tongue in cheek. If you want to feel better about having homeless people around you, and not feeling guilty- it is going to take more than a sandwich.

I am american but now live in a country with a very strong social safety net, and there are very few rough sleepers. I, myself, just went through a break down in an abusive-ish relationship and have no familial support. If I were not in a supportive country, then I would be homeless. Where do you go, when there is nowhere to go? In the future I will pay in much more than I am benefiting now- but I am getting to keep my life.

And in England, I worked with youth at risk of homelessness and my ex-partner worked as a broker to let homes to rough sleepers. And he would help them obtain and then maintain their tenancy. Many many of them had just had very bad luck. A job loss, breakdown in a relationship- whatever. They sofa surf for a while and end up on the streets.

If this really really eats at you, I would look at alternate models of dealing with homelessness and work towards activism.

Because the truth is that life can be really really tough.... and a lot of people wouldn't stay homeless for long if there was a supportive path back to a mainstream normal life. Some may choose it, sure? But most others are homeless because of bad circumstance, mental illness.... etc. And it is shameful for one of the richest countries in the world to let the homeless fall through the cracks and live in misery.
posted by misspony at 10:31 AM on July 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


In my country we don't have a lot of true rough sleepers, but we get a lot of street beggars of romany decent....

Many of them have a "pimp" who gives them a place to stay and food to eat but collects their daily takings.

I doubt it happens in America, yet, but here- that is why they often decline actual food. They have to make a daily quota.
posted by misspony at 10:38 AM on July 1, 2014

I guess you can bring up points like tobacco being an appetite-suppressant or an antidepressant or whatever, but frankly, giving tobacco to someone just seems like you're helping them reach their cancer goal--like
"Here ya go, three steps closer to your dying of cancer!"
posted by blueberry at 1:55 PM on July 1, 2014

I think it is a privilege to give to someone who asks for something. I think respecting their dignity as fellow autonomous human beings is a greater good than trying to be their caretaker or higher power. Hint: this also works for people who are not homeless.
posted by macinchik at 9:43 PM on July 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

I hardly think I need to be worried about what people spend their money on, however they earn it. Except that I do, apparently, balk at buying someone smokes.

If you don't personally want to buy the smokes, but you don't care what they spend their money on, you could just give them the money that you would have spent.

You wouldn't be the only former smoker who wants to avoid the "buying smokes" habit.

If you aren't sure the person is old enough to purchase their own smokes, you could end up in some trouble for providing them.
posted by yohko at 1:39 PM on July 2, 2014

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