Charity on the street
February 25, 2004 9:11 AM   Subscribe

Do you give money to homeless people, panhandlers, and/or beggars? Why or why not? Defend your position.

I don’t, as a rule, but I’m open to having my mind changed.

First, I assume that most of the time the money will not go toward what I would prefer it would (food, clothing) but instead toward something counterproductive (drugs, alcohol). I then assume that it’s better to not fund the latter, ever, than to occasionally subsidize the former.

I’m more definite on reason #2, namely that this fosters dependency, making it that much more likely that the next time the person has a choice (again, assuming they do) between looking for a handout and doing something active to improve their situation, they will look for the handout.

Since I’m not willing (yet) to evaluate each situation on a case-by-case basis, I’ve decided to go with never. So far.
posted by gottabefunky to Human Relations (56 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I do occassionally, living it Baltimore city its hard not to sometimes. Generally its because I'm in a good mood and have change. They can spend it on whatever they want, its not up to me to dicated what they do with their lives. I'd rather they spend it on food but I know that isn't always going to be the case.
posted by Grod at 9:20 AM on February 25, 2004

Um, when did Ask MeFi become a place for people to "defend their positions" when attempting to help people who have questions?

I could understand if you phrased your question like "I am not sure if I should give money to homeless people on the street, or if I should volunteer at the local food kitchen. Which is the best way to help my community and fellow human beings?"

The way you phrased it sounds more like you know your own answer and only want to know what others think. IMHO, this is not the purpose of Ask MeFi.
posted by terrapin at 9:21 AM on February 25, 2004

posted by Grod at 9:22 AM on February 25, 2004

No, because I don't want to.
Defend myself? FUCK YOU!!!
This has been a public service announcement. ;-P
posted by mischief at 9:25 AM on February 25, 2004


Because I can and want to.
posted by cedar at 9:29 AM on February 25, 2004 [1 favorite]

Advantage: mischief.
posted by squirrel at 9:29 AM on February 25, 2004

Response by poster: Ha - I forget how hard it is to convey facetiousness over the Internet. I merely meant, "Please tell me your opinion, as I am interested in it." Sorry.
posted by gottabefunky at 9:31 AM on February 25, 2004

Sometimes I do. Ehhh, often, actually. But I think you can accomplish just as much by looking the person in the eye. Converse a little. If you see the same person often, why not ask his/her name? Shake hands, or ask how s/he's doing? At first they may be suspicious, or even think you might want something, but a little respect goes a long way.

Many homeless people spend that change on alcohol ( or drugs), and if you see the same ones every day you'll usually figure out who they are. Sooner or later you'll leave work at 11:00 a.m. for a bag of Cheetos and you'll see the guy you gave .25 to at the corner store, having just collected enough to buy his first 40-ouncer.

BUT, if you get to know these folks, you'll find that many are just people with problems who stay at the local shelter, people who are often sweet, intelligent, and interesting, sometimes with wonderful stories to tell.

Heh, whatever, mischief.
posted by Shane at 9:31 AM on February 25, 2004

Won't give money*, will give fruit - I can't eat as much as you have to buy at a farmer's market before it rots, and would rather share it than toss it. It's also an attempt at what Shane describes above: being humane and treating them as people.

*though I did give one woman last year local money in exchange for her "useless" Canadian quarter. I lost around 3 cents on that exchange, she gained 25.
posted by whatzit at 9:37 AM on February 25, 2004

It depends.. sometimes, but never if they approach me. In London, where I live, beggars often walk through tube carriages asking for moving while the train is moving, and I won't even acknowledge them, because I just think it's wrong to put people in that position, when they're trapped on a train. Otherwise, I decide on a beggar by beggar basis :)
posted by ascullion at 9:38 AM on February 25, 2004

over the years i've saved up copies of The WatchTower for just this sort of giving.
posted by quonsar at 9:46 AM on February 25, 2004

I sometimes give. As for principles. I won't not give money based on some abstract principle. Sure, the social problems need to be addressed, etc etc. but thats not relevant to this person here now who is asking me for pocket change.

I don't care whether they spend it on food or hard drugs - they're just trying to survive either way. As for not fostering dependency, they are already dependent. Also i prefer to think of people as people, not as pavlovian dogs.
posted by vacapinta at 9:47 AM on February 25, 2004

Who says panhandlers don't have a job? As a rule I don't give money, as I am basically paying them to panhandle, and reinforcing their lifestyle decisions.

In most metropolitan areas of the US there are excellent programs aimed at getting people off the streets, giving them vocational skills, housing assistance, mental health assistance, etc. Many folks who are out on the streets simply don't utilize these programs, instead opting to earn off of the goodwill of passerbys, tax-free of course.

If you want to help, make a charitable donation to any of the many programs that are out there hustling to make a positive change.

An excellent guide is, where you can look at a complete profile for a possible charity, including their mission, programs, and scope of work, as well as past IRS records and filings. Ask your local panhandler for his/ her 501(c) accreditation!

For example, one charity that I am aware of that provides excellent work is Catholic Charities, and they are just one out of many.
posted by jazzkat11 at 10:14 AM on February 25, 2004

One day in NYC a lady with a child pleaded for subway fare. I gave her 2 tokens, I always carried a pocket full. A few days latter, I saw the same woman and child with the same problem, hitting me up again. I laughed at her. Latter consideration made me realize, she could probably collect more than I got paid working full-time.

One day a youth hit a man up on the streets of Portland, Oregon, for some money. He said it was to get some food. The person he hit up was not stupid, nor unkind. Thinking to trip up the begger, he insisted on taking the youth to a nearby restaurant and buying him a meal.

The youth was over joyed, the meal cost more than he could beg in hours on his feet. All he had to offer his benefactor were stories of his adventures.

I was the youth, as you may have guessed. So to answer your question, yes, sometimes I do. If I feel comfortable, I may do a great deal more. Often what they need most is the chance for a shower and to launder their clothes.
posted by Goofyy at 10:18 AM on February 25, 2004 [1 favorite]

No, I do not give to panhandlers, but I always try to look them in the eye and smile when appropriate. I have payroll deduction for charitable donations, and I get to choose where the money goes. Plus, my work and my church afford me many volunteering opportunities. The point is, I don't feel compelled to give to panhandlers because I give my time and money in other ways.

I also grew up in a town with an extremely high homelessness/alcohol abuse problem, so I learned the spare change-equals-more-liquor-for-you equation pretty early on. Not saying that every panhandler is going to buy booze, just that most of the ones I encountered as a child/teenager were doing exactly that.
posted by whatnot at 10:18 AM on February 25, 2004

When I used to encounter these folks a lot in my work neighborhood, I used to give food, especially in the winter. It's not so hard, if you're in the deli anyway, to just get two orders of soup instead of one, and drop one off with the guy.

And Goofyy, any day you get to read a story that ends "I was that youth" is a good day ;)
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 10:37 AM on February 25, 2004

I don't give money at home, but i tend to when i'm elsewhere on vacation (maybe because i'm in a great mood?)

I make it a point to say "sorry," tho, and not just ignore them, and i'll almost always give a cigarette if asked for one (the next person who asks is out of luck.) I give to various organizations tho.
posted by amberglow at 10:43 AM on February 25, 2004

I make a point to always give to people with a good and creative marketing ploy ... like a kid who used to hang out in a public square in downtown Portland with a handmade sign that read "Skateboard Trick Demo $2.00" or the homeless guy I saw in Boston would give you an origami swan made from newspaper or scrap paper in exchange for "any donation". I figure if they're trying hard with whatever meagre skills/resources they have to make some cash, I've gotta reward that.

Marginally on-topic: Sherlock Holmes: The Man with the Twisted Lip
posted by anastasiav at 10:43 AM on February 25, 2004 [1 favorite]

No. I'll buy newspapers from them, I'll go work for Food Not Bombs, I'll hand out cigarettes, or food if asked, and I'll smile and talk to just about anyone. But no, I keep my money. I don't have much of it and I already do a lot of volunteer work and other misc good deed stuff. For me personally I like being consistent and that's my choice: no money handouts.
posted by jessamyn at 11:32 AM on February 25, 2004

I simply do not understand the rationale behind not giving because of what the homeless person may spend the money on. If you don't want to give, don't give because you donate to charity, or because you don't feel like it, or because you're mean. But refusing to give because you're trying to decide someone else's priorities for them is just a power trip. I'm sure most of their lives are horrible enough that a bit of chemical assistance provides a comparatively enormous relief (even if dependence on that chemical is what got them on the streets in the first place), why deny them that (especially since most of us don't deny ourselves the pleasure of a drink or whatever now and again)? And why further their powerlessness by pushing your own morality on them? It's your money, give it or not as you see fit, but please think a bit about your reasoning. I occasionally give money, I have also been known to leave useful things like food, and once went and purchased a package of cigarettes for a homeless man who was being insulted by people he'd tried to beg a smoke from. My decision was based on the fact that the man wanted a cigarette, and I had enough money to give him a whole pack of them at no significant cost to myself, it wasn't my business whether he smoked or not, it was his business, and I don't see why your deciding factor should be what they'll spend the money on, rather than whether or not you want to give directly, through charity or at all.
posted by biscotti at 11:39 AM on February 25, 2004 [2 favorites]

Yes, because I have plenty to give.

I really don't care if they use it for food, drugs, or take it and walk around the corner to their Cadillac. I don't have time to decide who deserves it and who doesn't. I just don't want to pass over the one person who really needs it.
posted by studentbaker at 11:48 AM on February 25, 2004

Basically, what biscotti said.
posted by studentbaker at 11:49 AM on February 25, 2004

Basically, what Friedrich Nietzsche said: "Beggars should be abolished entirely! It is annoying to give to
them, and it is annoying not to give to them."
posted by Faze at 12:00 PM on February 25, 2004

There aren't any panhandlers where I live (too cold and too conservative I assume) so locally I don't.

Whenever I'm someplace where panhandlers are present I do give my loose change out. The only exception is if I'm feeling pressured or threatened. When I lived near Toronto I did it regularly.

I have treated a homeless person to a meal once, mostly because I found him entertaining. I was leaving a bar in Toronto well after they had closed and this homeless guy was desperately trying to walk a straight line. He couldn't stay on one side of the street much less walk a straight line. I'm passing by and he stops me and asks me if I'll help him get home. I assumed he was homeless, maybe he wasn't and I'd hate to have found out he was hurt because I wouldn't help him out so I agreed. If anything really started looking hinky I could disappear quickly (yeah - I live down this dark alley) I walked with him for quite a while and he started telling me stories. Obvious bullshit, but I was amazed at how complete his fictional world was. He also did know a lot of interesting things about the city and it's history. We keep walking and he offers to treat me to coffee and breakfast. I know this is bullshit as well, this guy didn't have a dime on him but I agreed. Sure enough he 'forgot his wallet' so I paid, no big deal. He decided he could manage to make his way home from there so we parted company.

I was 18 or 19 at the time. My folks were horrified, I could've been mugged, robbed, killed etc. I understood there point at the time but I'd still do it again.

I give away money because I can. At least it's going to a person even if they use it for something I wouldn't. I give away a lot of money to the government because I'm forced to and there are a lot of things that it gets spent on that I don't agree with. My employer pays me and I know very well that some of my activities they do not agree with in the slightest.
posted by substrate at 12:01 PM on February 25, 2004 [2 favorites]

I'm sure I'll regret this later, but I'll bite:

refusing to give because you're trying to decide someone else's priorities for them is just a power trip.

This is not about deciding their priorities - they make those decisions all by themselves. This is about deciding whether or not you want to fund their activities. I assume that you use discretion is how you spend your money in other areas, no?

I'm sure most of their lives are horrible enough that a bit of chemical assistance provides a comparatively enormous relief

If you were familiar with chemical dependency you would have a completely different viewpoint.

And why further their powerlessness by pushing your own morality on them?

No one is pushing morality on anyone else. I'm sure most people who give to panhandlers don't make it conditional, do they? This is very simply about choosing to not fund their lifestyle decisions.

I don't see why your deciding factor should be what they'll spend the money on

Well if you don't have deciding factors on what you spend your money on, then I can see how this makes sense.
posted by jazzkat11 at 12:04 PM on February 25, 2004

I give change freely to people who don't ask me for it. The homeless people who stand patiently with a cup in their hand will as likely as not get change if I have it. There's an older man who often stands on the landing of the outbound Copley T station stairs, and I make sure that I have something in my pocket for him if I'm going down there. (Not "bongo guy"-- I hate him-- but on the other side.)

If they address me personally to get me to give, they get an abrupt "no!" and then I ignore them. I don't think that agressive panhandling should be encouraged because I don't like to talk to strangers.
posted by Mayor Curley at 12:06 PM on February 25, 2004

I give to people who obviously need it and would find it hard to "get a job!": old ladies, legless guys on rollerboards, &c. I give to good musicians and people who make me laugh. I give a cold, hard stare to the punklets in the East Village who slouch against walls and ask passersby for change.

I give well-earned kudos to biscotti, studentbaker, and substrate.
posted by languagehat at 12:24 PM on February 25, 2004

I do, but I try not to because I know that hand outs enable them to stay on the street rather than getting their shit in order... sometimes the rational part of my brain is momentarily overwhelmed by the emotional.

read: I do give out money, but i do not have a rational defense for my position.
posted by Tryptophan-5ht at 12:32 PM on February 25, 2004

If you were familiar with chemical dependency you would have a completely different viewpoint.

yes, yes, yes.
posted by whatnot at 12:35 PM on February 25, 2004

I agree with Mayor. The hard seller beggers who taunt me when I say "I don't have any change" (mostly because I don't carry cash) who the press on. As if I have some obligation to help them. I also don't like when people will come up to me on the street dressed in North Face and go "Oh man, I need a few bucks for gas". First time I would have if I hadn't just spent my money, I felt sorry for the man. Then everytime I was in this bad part of town to visit friends, it happened on a consistent basis. In that case, I don't care if it's for a meal/alcohol/coke whatever... I'm not going to just give a handout because I look like I'm not from this part of town. I guess I've been lucky because more then a few times they've come in my "personal space" looking at my pocket as if they were SURE I had a $5 for them. Even if they are 70 pounds heavier then me and 6 inches taller doesn't mean you can scare me into a hand out.

Sorry to diverge, but demanding and intimidating (especially when you're obviously not a man just down on his luck) has turned my naive "help my fellow man" upbringing to be more cynical. And what's up with this "I need a few bucks for gas" thing? Do people teach each other that line?
posted by geoff. at 12:41 PM on February 25, 2004

oops, should read "who then press on piss me off".
posted by geoff. at 12:42 PM on February 25, 2004

Depends on the person asking. There are some people in my area who are indeed homeless (I see them outdoors in all kinds of weather). Then there are the panhandlers who come out with the sun. I don't bother with the latter.

My most memorable encounter with a homeless guy--which forever changed my view of the homeless--was when I found a shoeless, shirtless man lying in the snow, nearly dead, in the ravine near my house. I managed to keep him warm and talking while a jogger climbed up the ravine to the street to call 911.

The guy passed out before the paramedics arrived and then became conscious just as they were coming down the hill. The paramedics weren't at all sympathetic. The first words out of their mouth were: "Are you drunk?" (He didn't smell at all of alcohol).

The following fall I came across the same man lying about 100 yards away from where I found him the first time. Someone had beaten him to death with a bat.

So yeah, I give them change and food when I can. I've considered inviting "regulars" into my home but have yet to do so. I've also considered a blog about the homeless in my "community"--interviews, photos, bios, whatever. I'd buy them dinner in exchange for their time. I've mentioned this to some people and almost without exception they've said it'd be taking advantage so I'm still thinking about it.
posted by dobbs at 12:50 PM on February 25, 2004

This is not about deciding their priorities - they make those decisions all by themselves. This is about deciding whether or not you want to fund their activities. I assume that you use discretion is how you spend your money in other areas, no?

Right. Which is why I said that your decision should be based on whether or not you want to give them money directly, give money to charity, or refrain from giving at all. Deciding not to give a specific person money because of disapproval of what they may spend it on seems ridiculous and cruel to me. YMMV.

I'm sure most of their lives are horrible enough that a bit of chemical assistance provides a comparatively enormous relief

If you were familiar with chemical dependency you would have a completely different viewpoint.

I am more than a little familiar with it, both personally and professionally, and yet somehow I don't have a completely different viewpoint. Funny, huh? Having an hour or two of drug-induced anaesthesia is most definitely an enormous relief for someone whose life has been reduced to living on the streets. Does it solve the problem? Of course not, but unless I plan to take someone home or to rehab, or donate to charities which will, I don't see how "solving the problem" rather than "helping to make this person's day a bit less miserable" is any of my business.

No one is pushing morality on anyone else. I'm sure most people who give to panhandlers don't make it conditional, do they? This is very simply about choosing to not fund their lifestyle decisions.

"I don't approve of your lifestyle choices, therefore I won't fund them". Your choice, for sure, but based less on compassion than on morality.

I don't see why your deciding factor should be what they'll spend the money on

Well if you don't have deciding factors on what you spend your money on, then I can see how this makes sense.

Your sarcasm is enlightening. I'm just pointing out that there may be better factors to base your decision on, which are less based on disapproval.
posted by biscotti at 1:28 PM on February 25, 2004

I'd buy them dinner in exchange for their time. I've mentioned this to some people and almost without exception they've said it'd be taking advantage so I'm still thinking about it.

Taking advantage?

I think that's a great idea. If you're not profiting off them, how are you taking advantage? You're calling attention to their plight, and painting them as human beings as well. Like I said, these folks have stories to tell. You can't live in a doorway or under a bridge or spend nights in a shelter without learning things, and there's probably a story that got you there in the first place, too.

Sorry about the Ravine Man, dobbs. That's terrible. I wonder what his story was..?
posted by Shane at 1:28 PM on February 25, 2004

Holy crap, dobbs.

A similar thing happened in Cambridge (Mass) a few years back, and it really shook up the Harvard Square regulars - and this is an unusually well-organized homeless community, with an excellent newspaper and relatively decent social services.
posted by PrinceValium at 1:38 PM on February 25, 2004

Shane, I think the worry is that people would take advantage of dobbs.
posted by substrate at 1:49 PM on February 25, 2004

dobbs , thats a good idea , dont bother your arse about what anyone says , sounds like a big issue type idea , i take it youve heard of that.
posted by sgt.serenity at 2:20 PM on February 25, 2004

A friend of mine reports that she and a friend once spent some time standing next to a local panhandler (they were waiting for a cab or something) and started talking to him. He flat-out told them that he cleared (IIRC) $40,000 a year. Claimed to pay income tax on it, too. And he said that if anyone asked him what he made, he always told them, but that hardly anyone ever asked. He also had all sorts of great tips for them about how to make your clothes look and smell right for the job. I don't know for sure how typical this is, but it kind of diminishes my sympathy for panhandlers in general.

Another friend who used to live in Chicago used to regularly offer people with "Will Work for Food" signs a hot meal if they'd come clean out his garage, and never once did one of them accept his offer.

Now, when a co-worker I visited Atlanta one time for a convention, we found a panhandler earning his keep. It was stiflingly hot and the convention center was like three blocks away from the nearest MARTA stop. As we came off the subway on the second day, this guy stopped us and asked if we were going to the convention. When we said we were, he told us that if we went in through this one building whose entrance was nearby, we could walk in air-conditioned comfort through connected pedestrian bridges all the way to the convention center. Grateful, I gave him $5. That man was performing a genuine public service for visitors, and I bet he easily made a couple hundred bucks the first couple of mornings of every major convention that hit town. Of course, the convention center could undercut him at any time by putting up better signs.
posted by kindall at 2:30 PM on February 25, 2004

Actually, the issue is that i'm taking advantage of them. Simply put, what makes them interesting (as far as such a project goes) stems from the fact that they're homeless. My friends have argued (and I suppose i must agree or I would have started already) that were the person not homeless I wouldn't be buying them dinner (a given) and were they not hungry, they more than likely wouldn't subject themselves to being interviewed or photographed in exchange for something that's a basic human right (food and getting out of the cold).

The gent I found in the ravine was named Bill West. Later research revealed that he was mid 60s and used to work in construction. He'd been homeless for close to two decades.

Thanks, all, for the encouragement. I think about the idea quite a bit. I jump back and forth on what I think about it so the enthusiasm on your part helps.

Kindall, I've known people who've also made "good money" panhandling. However, it's very easy to spot these people as, as mentioned above, they're never out when they don't have to be. I live in Toronto and the cold can sometimes be brutal. I never see those "employed panhadlers" out in the cold or rain. The worst thiing about them is how much derision they create in others for the people that truly need your help.
posted by dobbs at 2:44 PM on February 25, 2004

Sorry to chime in again. I rarely give to homeless people now because I live in Baltimore and they are aggressive here to the point where the local business community is trying to enact a law that would make soliciting change an arrestable offence. At the moment I believe the cops just ask them to move along.
I do know a few of them well enough that we wave to each other, and they've learned not to pressure me. Generally I give out cigarettes, which probably costs more than loose change, now that I think about it.

One thing I miss about the Cambridge Boston scene is how different the beggars are. I can't decide now (since I haven't been up there in a couple years) if they were more downtrodden or simply more respectful. Whatever the reason, I never felt guilty if I said no and because of that I was more willing to say yes.
posted by Grod at 2:53 PM on February 25, 2004

a hot meal if they'd come clean out his garage, and never once did one of them accept his offer

And they'd be right not to do so ... first, how do they know he's not a Jeff Dahmer type, luring them to a private place to do them in, or even just some unscrupulous type who will pin a theft or other legal indignity on them;and second, if he's garage is anything like my garage, that's several hours hard labor for very little return ... certainly not even equal to minimum wage.

In short, make a more reasonable offer and I'm sure that people honestly in need will accept it. But don't be dismissive on the basis of an unreasonable offer. These people are homeless, not stupid.
posted by anastasiav at 2:58 PM on February 25, 2004

I used to, but I quit after a bad experience.

I was standing on the street, chatting with a friend, watching a beggar with bandages on their arm. She was holding a money cup looking all sick with the bad arm, and she managed to drop it. Well, wouldn't you know it, WOOSH! She picks up the cup faster than Ben Johnson could have on 'roids.

That was it for me.
posted by shepd at 3:44 PM on February 25, 2004

I give to these folks. They are on the streets day after day, and they know better than I who is a scammer and who needs help.
posted by stonerose at 4:13 PM on February 25, 2004

I don't and for a simple reason: if I see you on the street at night getting ready to ask, I won't let you get close enough to find out what you want. I don't smoke on the street at night for the same reason.

Which isn't a moral judgement or an assumption about what someone might spend it on, or if they're lying. I sometimes walk home between three and four-thirty AM after work with cash in pocket, and I'm simply not going to let anyone get within grabbing distance. The cops pull out of my part of town around three, so if you're ambulatory at that hour, we really don't have anything to discuss.
posted by trondant at 9:31 PM on February 25, 2004

I'll sometimes give food, especially in the winter, yeah. Sometimes I'll ask if they've any basic needs - soap, advil, what-have-you - then pick up $5 or $10 worth of groceries from the corner store. This is generally just for those that look like they're having a hard time of it.

One of my first nights in Eugene, I somehow got to talking to a guy who was planning to sleep out in the graveyard for the night, then hop a train on to the next town. (Eugene has a surprising number of hoboes.) I ended up loaning him my blanket for the night, which he very kindly folded and left on the doorstep the next day.

I'll generally talk to someone a bit, feel them out a bit, and do what I can, if I think it useful.
posted by kaibutsu at 10:58 PM on February 25, 2004

I've always felt bad about my stance on it, but I only give when i'm not in a bad mood. Someone said something earlier about a power trip. Could be sort of like that. But usually, I'm in a good mood, so i grab a handful of whatever is in my left pocket and give it to them. Not my business what they do with it, i figure.
posted by Slimemonster at 11:09 PM on February 25, 2004

No money, but if I have one I will give them things like a Subway card that is good for a free sandwich. I don't like the idea of giving them money to buy drugs and alcohol since I am a poor college student and can barely afford drugs and alcohol for myself.
posted by gatorae at 1:29 AM on February 26, 2004

I never hand out money to strangers on the street, for any reason. If someone sees me smoking in Nortwest Portland while im having a coffee, I will only give them one if they say please.

One time this scraggly old bum asked me for 5 dollars, and I told him to get a job. He then grinned and flashed his disgusting brown teeth and told me he was a marine, then showed me his marine tattoos. I told him my friend was a marine and he doesn't walk around asking strangers for money because hes man enough to do something about it. The bum got angry and walked away.
posted by Keyser Soze at 1:59 AM on February 26, 2004

I tend to be generous with beggars in my neighborhood (Budapest, fourteenth district in Pest) and around my metro station. There's a palsied guy down the street - sometimes I will go downstairs and meet him on the street if I see him staggering step by slow step to give him something. These are my neighbors, so I feel I am keeping the home turf up.

Outside of my district, though, I'm a tough and sometimes nasty cookie to crack. I don't have a lot of spare cash, and I use my change. Also, I know and work with a lot of Gypsies. Some (not a heck of a lot) are very anti-begging, and others simply explain it as an economic activity, like harvesting grain for peasants. I can be pretty curt with them in their own language.

When I was out visiting San Francisco and LA I was amazed at the amount and tenacity of the begging community. On the east coast, DC used to be very impressive. I lived in Boston in the 1980s. Is Mr. Butch still hanging around Kenmore Square?
posted by zaelic at 3:14 AM on February 26, 2004

I can be willing to give out a cigarette if nicely asked but I rarely give out change.

One of the funniest things I've heard of that has reinforced this tendency happened to one of my sister's friends that I disliked.

She and my sister worked in downtown Milwaukee in the same building, and on payday, the friend would go out of the building and into the next (attached) building and deposit her check.

On one of the days she was doing this, she was approached by a panhandler on crutches who had one leg. He asked her for change and she opened her wallet to get some. He leaned over, took all of her money and her paycheck and started crutching away. She stood there dumbfounded and said something like 'Hey!'

He said, 'What are you going to do, chase a one legged man?'

She watched him crutch off without doing anything (they caught him later and got her paycheck back and told him he was not allowed to be outside of those buildings).

I know it's mean that that makes me laugh so much but it also points out that at least for me, I'm not going to let on to anyone that I have money on me, because it's kind of an invitation to have something go very wrong.
posted by ugf at 5:19 AM on February 26, 2004

dobbs, I say go for it. If they understand the deal and choose to go for it, it's their decision; it seems to me paternalistic to preemptively say you must be exploiting them. It's not like you're taking anything away from them, and they may feel that your writing about them may do some good. If they don't, they don't have to take the deal. And do let us know if you start; I'd like to read it.

I don't understand you people who don't give because you saw this beggar who pretended to be crippled but wasn't, or turned out to make more money than you would have thought. Hey, I once knew somebody with the same name/job/hometown as you, and that person was a dick, so no, I won't have lunch with you, you dick!
posted by languagehat at 8:46 AM on February 26, 2004

I do. It's a religious duty, a moral act and a decent thing to do.
posted by 111 at 9:25 AM on February 26, 2004

Most of the time, yes, if I have it I'll give it out (and when I know I'll be in high-panhandling areas, I'll put some change in my pockets because I won't pull my wallet out), just because it's not skin off my back and it might help the person out in some way. I'll buy a meal or drop off a sandwich or whatever, too, if it's convenient.

Conditions under which I will not give people money:

1. When the person asking is obviously lying as part of a ploy (couple bucks for gas, my wife needs surgery, I need to get to *state* to see my kids). I've got no patience for that manipulative nonsense.

2. When the person asking is standing at the corner of a busy intersection bothering people in their cars. This just irritates me to no end. I do smile and wave as I drive away, though. There's one guy on the corner I pass when I go home who recognizes me now and smiles and waves to me first. Oh and this applies to actual beggars as well as people soliciting donations for organiziations.

3. Gutter punks or trustifarians who I know damn well are no more than a phone call away from a warm bed and a hot meal from family members and who are just playing at being street for kicks until they settle down and sell out. (I feel comfortable taking a hard line on this one, having been homeless by choice on and off for a few years in my early 20s and knowing damn well I didn't have to be--I never spare changed, however.)

Mostly, though, I do what I can. I don't think begging is an easy or fun career path and like I said, it doesn't cause me any harm to help.
posted by jennyb at 10:14 AM on February 26, 2004 [1 favorite]

Sometimes I give money to homeless people. I won't give money to anyone who makes a speech or claims to be fundraising. When I lived in Minneapolis, I'd give money to people who played musical instruments, but too many NYNY buskers seem overly professional in their panhandling. I want to help people who are down on their luck, not people who are making a career out of avoiding steady work.

Does anyone know whether those groups that set up tables in front of the Union Square B&N or in front of Gray's Papaya on 6th Ave. near NYU (by Fat Beats) are legitimate? Fuckin-A are they annoying.
posted by subgenius at 10:27 AM on February 26, 2004

It's usually a case-by-case basis. I don't give out money very often because I barely have any to begin with, but I do carry around a little food just in case someone asks. All too often someone who just claimed to be starving gets offended when I whip out a can of soup or fruit or a box of Pop Tarts or something, but sometimes they react the way Goofyy described.

It's obvious the homeless often have perfectly real problems not of their own making and could use some help from time to time. (The ones who've started following me into the store and asking me to trade cash for food stamps notwithstanding...)

Anyway, what jessamyn said about Food not Bombs and other charity services; what gatorae said about coupons, discounts and freebies in lieu of cash; and for Faze (in imitation of anastasiav's tangential link) here's a link to a Mark Twain short story whose moral I have yet to discern.

My position? *shrug* Life is complicated.
posted by tyro urge at 12:37 PM on February 26, 2004

If my schedule permits, I offer to take them somewhere and buy them any meal they choose. Most decline.
posted by NortonDC at 7:11 PM on February 27, 2004

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