Panhandling Pangs

by admin on July 6, 2011

My husband was backing out of a parking spot at a fairly busy store when a man suddenly knocked on the window of our van. DH was startled, and stopped where he was, blocking the aisle of the parking lot. When DH rolled down the window, the man shared his sad story with us. Apparently he was visiting from a smaller college town about 3 hours away and his wallet was stolen. His vehicle was out of gas and he was stranded. So he had stopped us to see if we had any money he could have for gas.

I have been approached like this several times in my life, and I try to help however I can. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my purse with me, and DH only had his debit card. So, as we looked around our vehicle for spare change, the man told us that he had filed a report with police, but “they’re not going to fill my tank”. At this point another car had come up behind us, but our van was blocking traffic. Inside the van, the baby started crying and my toddler was yelling that he had to go potty. As DH handed the man the change we had found, I wished him good luck and figured that was that.

The man wasn’t done though. He looked down at the coins in his hand and asked if that was it. After all, he still has to get home. DH was flustered and made the mistake of offering an excuse. He told the man that we didn’t have any cash, just our debit cards, so we couldn’t help him. That is when the man really showed his entitlement. With a car behind us, waiting, (the man had positioned himself in such a way that DH couldn’t move our van out of the way without hitting him), a crying baby, and a toddler yelling from the backseat, this man asked us, “Can you go inside and get some cash? Come on, do you know how embarrassing this is, to have to ask for money like this? I’ll pay you back if you want.” My jaw dropped. DH looked like he was ready to explode. At that point I leaned over and told the man no, that wasn’t possible. I again said good luck and good night. DH rolled up the window and the man tried to get his attention again. Finally he stormed off and DH was able to finish backing out and get out of the way of the car behind us. As we were driving off, the man raised his hand. Did he give a happy, thank-you wave? No, he did not. His wave was angry and he only used one finger.    0705-11

You encountered a professional panhandler who specifically targeted your vehicle right at the moment you were most vulnerable with a sob story as old as the hills.   A very good friend of mine had an uncle who professionally panhandled like this for a year and made a right decent yearly salary, too.   The story becomes less and less plausible as cell phones become more and more ubiquitous.   Run out of gas?  Call the wife, friend, co-worker, AAA.

It is not rude to decline to facilitate someone’s panhandling and public begging.  I personally would not have given him any money whatsoever but what you said to him was fine.   As you rightly concluded, no one is entitled to your hard earned money merely because they claim to be down on their luck.

{ 151 comments… read them below or add one }

Yarnspinner July 6, 2011 at 8:41 pm

Some years ago there was a couple running the “Starving, will work for food” scam on the entrance and exit ramps of the highway. They would be out there, sometimes with their kids, in the pouring rain, in the broiling sun, in the middle of a blizzard, knocking on windows and asking for money. They’d be asked to get off one ramp and they would go park in another.

After a year or so of this, someone finally started an investigation. The newspaper reported that the starving young couple paid for their (very nice) house in one of the ritziest towns in the state (many miles from where they were plying their trade) and all their gadgets and toys by–begging on street corners. I don’t remember what ultimately became of them (I know prison time was involved) but it made me angry that for over a year, I had felt so upset and sorry for them and made me mad at myself that I had beaten myself up for not stopping and buying them food.

That’s what these scams ultimately do…they either make us hate ourselves and call ourselves selfish for not helping…or make us deaf to real need for fear of being scammed.


Theresa July 6, 2011 at 8:44 pm

I have worked in the inner city for over 10 years, so I have seen my fair share of panhandlers and scam artists. However, this particular story doesn’t involve money or the inner city. I had just moved into a new apartment, and as a SF I have learned a few things about self-protection. But I never expected this.

It was bright, sunny Saturday morning, and I was leaving home to meet my family for a matinee and dinner. Outside, there was a man parked outside the building cleaning his car. When he saw me, he said, “Excuse me. I am _____ in apartment X, and I locked my keys inside. Could you give me a ride to the super’s house? He’s only a few houses up the road.” He said he had no cell phone on him either.

I was torn. I wanted to help, and there was the chance he was legitimate, but I had never seen him before. And even if the statement about the super’s house was true, it was within walking distance. He didn’t need a ride from me or anyone else. Let’s see…SF…strange man in the car…um, nope.

I offered to let him in the building, but he said no, his apartment was locked too. Then I remembered that I had the super’s cell number programmed into mine. I offered to call the super directly and he agreed. Thankfully the super answered. I repeated the man’s story, and the super asked if he could talk to the man himself. I put him on, they said a few words, and the super told me he would be right over. I wished Mr. Key-less a good day and I was off.

I have no idea what happened afterwards, but I can tell you that I have not seen that man-or his car-since.

Oddly enough, later that same day, my mother was accosted outside the steakhouse where we were going for dinner, by an elderly man who said he needed money for food. Again, this was in a town where you don’t expect to see that sort of thing. Ultimately, she didn’t give him anything, but she said she felt guilty and had no idea how to respond. I told her she should have called his bluff and invited him to dine with us.

What a world we live in. :-/


nonameplease July 6, 2011 at 9:27 pm

I was homeless for awhile–sleeping in parks, starving, the whole bit–and I never once panhandled. Seeing as how I was actually in a bad situation and managed to get myself out of it without begging/taking other people’s hard earned money that I was not entitled to, I really have no sympathy for panhandlers, especially when they try to give me a sob story, or when they are rude and act as though they deserve the money I worked hard for more than I. I do enjoy the ones with a sense of humor, though: I was in L.A. a few months ago and saw a man who was obviously down on his luck with a sign that read “Sh!%%y advice, $100”. I laughed so hard at the sign that I told him if I actually had cash I would have given him some.


Ange July 6, 2011 at 10:32 pm

I’m one of those who always gives people a chance when it comes to asking for money. As Charchina says some might genuinely be down on their luck. I ran into a man at Sydney central station when I was travelling one day (I’m from Brisbane Qld) and he asked for some change. The man was clearly homeless and an alcoholic but I had some change and gave it to him, we started chatting and 20 minutes later I went to catch my train having had a lovely conversation with someone who wished me well in my continuing travels. Granted he was probably going to take my money to buy alcohol but you could tell he felt a lot better for someone treating him like a human for a change.


Ange July 6, 2011 at 10:33 pm

Sorry – ‘Chechina’


Jennifer July 7, 2011 at 12:01 am

Back when I lived in Seattle, there were a large amount of panhandlers most of them friendly. One person in particular scared the tar out of me. I was on my way to the bank when a panhandler asked me for money. I apologized since all I had on me was my debit card.

The bank was about a block away. When I got there I withdrew some money from the ATM. As I took it out I heard a voice right behind me say “You got money now.” Yes, it was that same panhandler who had apparently followed me. I hightailed it into the bank and told the security guard what was going on. I don’t know that happened to him nor did I ever see him again.


ABF July 7, 2011 at 12:38 am

I live in a small town. Many years ago, the ministers group in our town organzied a system with our local police, gas station and grocery store for people in need. If someone requested help, the minister would visit with them and offer them a set amount of gas or groceries (at that time the amount was $7.00, but that was 20 or so years ago.) The minister would them fill out and sign a simple form for the request. The person in need would then go to the local police station to obtain the signature of a police officer. In order to be valid, the minister had to call the police station to verify they were sending someone. If there was not a call, the police knew to decline to sign. Upon receiving both the signatures, the person in need could take the form to either the gas station or grocery store and it would be honored by the merchant. And then at the end of the month, the treasurer of the ministers group would settle up the accounts. The system has worked very well. Those who were scamming didn’t want to go to the police station and it also cut down on repeat requests. And the people who actually needed it were always very grateful.


Girlysprite July 7, 2011 at 2:42 am

I know that in a few cities in the country where i live, they had a great system to accomodate ‘the real deal’. People could buy coupons for small amounts of money. The coupons could be traded at certain shops (notes on the coupons) for basic life nessecities. The coupons could not be traded back for cash.
If a beggar would ask for money, people could give a coupon and know that the money would not be used for drugs (which is the biggest concern here).

People who live on the street have plenty of options here. One of them is selling the ‘street newspaper’. It is a newspaper supported by charities, written by and sold by those living on the streets. Sellars also have an official pass to show that they are official sellers.
When I encounter them, I buy a newspaper from them, ans ask if they’d like any particular (non-alcoholic) food or drink from a nearby store. I never got any bad attitude from them. I really like the system because it allows beggars to earn some money in a legitimate way, and I know they are ‘the real deal’.


A July 7, 2011 at 2:48 am

On a road trip a number of years ago, my husband and I stopped at a gas station to fill up and get some snacks. A man was outside begging for money. My husband went inside and bought him a sandwich and a fountain drink. As we were getting into our car, the man threw the drink towards my husband and told him he asked for money, not food. My husband hasn’t given money or food to panhandlers since.

Two nights ago, a woman pushing a cart asked me a ride. I told her I had to get home. Then she asked me for money. I told her I didn’t have any. She mumbled something and I quickly got into my car. Money is one thing but why do random strangers think you’ll offer them a ride? I don’t understand. She had an overflowing cart full belongings that she, presumably, wanted to load into my car as well. Unbelievable.


anonymous July 7, 2011 at 3:13 am

@Riri – while it’s true that there is virtually no state assistance in China for those in need, that doesn’t mean that the beggars and panhandlers in China aren’t scammers and professional con-artists. Many of them are. They only need the money insofar as it’s their profession.

The ones who are missing limbs etc. – I feel sorrier for them because honestly, what often happens is either they are born that way or maimed and picked up by a professional begging ring run by gangsters. They get dropped off at their begging stations in the morning, all live in squalor (similar to the begging ring in Slumdog Millionaire) and get picked up at night with their money confiscated by gangsters. They’re fed disgusting food and put back down for the night. Sometimes the gangsters themselves chop off limbs or blind them – even the children. Often you see healthy children in filthy school uniforms with cardboard signs begging for school tuition money – sometimes it’s genuine but it’s usually another scam.

Same thing in India and other countries, even developed ones like Taiwan.

Just because the country is developing and there aren’t a lot of social services for the poor doesn’t mean that the beggars there are any more genuine – chances are your money is just going to gangsters.


chaoyinglin July 7, 2011 at 5:04 am

I was homeless for awhile–sleeping in parks, starving, the whole bit–and I never once panhandled.


anon July 7, 2011 at 5:41 am

This reminds me of a man in Manchester who used to do this. He actually became so famous for it, he has a facebook page devoted to him I belive. Basicly he would acost you in the city centre claiming to be a Canadian tourist who had been mugged of all his cash (he even kept a would on his head open), and could we spare him some cash to get the bus to the embassy in London. The first time I saw him I was with friends, and I was about to try to help him, when one of my friends piped up with “You have given me this story twice in the past month, you know” to which he replied “your talking s$$t”, and ran off! He also had another routine which involved getting onto a bus, standing up and giving a big speech about how he was down on his luck, but had just been offered a job, so could we give him some money for a shower/meal etc just for that night. He just went on, and on about how low he had reached, how he needed help etc whilst everyone sat there and cringed. I experienced the mugged tourist routine four times, and the bus routine three in total! It became a running joke with people how to respond to him, with several offering to call the embassy, starting to dial the police to report his mugging, trying to assist he came to the hospital with him, telling him if they told him the hostel he was staying at they would happily go there and pay the hostel directly etc. he always just swore and scurried off, but I am still shocked by the complete lack of pride he displayed especially as he obviously asked the same people time and time again.


Edhla July 7, 2011 at 7:22 am

Several years ago I had a woman come up to me at Central Station in Sydney, pulling some BS line about a sick mother she needed to visit. When I (honestly) told her I had no cash on me, she demanded we go to an ATM!! I was terrified (only young at the time) she was going to mug me for my wallet. Fortunately I found the station security, who told me she’d been a menace before and escorted me to my train.


karma July 7, 2011 at 9:14 am

Something else I thought of, having worked in retail stores and restaurants in my younger years, if a person hasn’t got the money for something small (say, under $20), some businesses will hold their driver’s license until the person can come back with payment. We’ve done that before, and when you offer that, the legitimate person will say, “Great! I’ll be back in under an hour” and really come back. The faker often doesn’t want to surrender his or her license.
I thought of that when people said that someone approached them about specific items, like gas, a car belt, etc. It would only matter if you were in a business working at the time, but you could make that offer and see how the beggar reacts.


Twik July 7, 2011 at 9:20 am

Yarnspinner – I agree with you. The worst thing the scammers do is force us to harden our hearts to people who appear to be in need. They not only injure those who give them money under false pretenses, but the people who might, some time, need to ask for money because they are indeed in desperate straits.


Rachel July 7, 2011 at 9:38 am

Panhandlers in Montreal are usually very polite and try to “work” for their money in some way (many of them will station themselves at subway doors and open them for commuters, others will busk, one guy will recite Shakesperean sonnets for a dollar), so overall I don’t mind them. I’ll give them some change, say hi to the regulars, that sort of thing, especially if they have dogs (and the dogs look well cared for).

I think the most memorable encounter I had with a panhandler was a few months back. My husband and I were in a sandwich shop buying lunch, and a middle-aged woman approached me. She asked if I could spare some change, and I told her, truthfully, that I had no cash (I was paying with debit). She said, “Oh.” And looked sad for a moment, then said hopefully, “Can I have a sandwich?”

I couldn’t refuse that. So I told her to pick whatever she liked, and ended up getting her a trio (a sandwich plus a drink and a bag of chips). She was so incredibly grateful, she kept saying “God bless you,” and “thank you so much”. She then asked for my home phone number “In case of emergency”, but I drew the line there. Still, I feel good about that one, and I hope that woman is doing well.


Louise July 7, 2011 at 9:39 am

I give money to buskers. I’d give a few coins to the man with the funny sign in nonameplease’s post because he entertained me. That’s earning money, as far as I’m concerned, not begging.


sj July 7, 2011 at 10:59 am

I find that when declining ANYTHING you should not make an excuse. You should just say no. If you make an excuse, they can just find a way around it.

A panhandler asked me if I had change for a dollar, then, just kept my money and asked to take the rest she glimpsed from my wallet. Yikes.


Enna July 7, 2011 at 12:25 pm

@ LaurenP: I’m diabetic too and one time I went really giddy I just managed to pay for the chocloate bar and fruit juice – I think the man who served me thought something was wrong because he asked me if I was okay and I smiled. As I was hypogalcemic I couldn’t respond properly just managed to stuff the chocolate in my mouth. Must have thought I was hungry!

@ Hannah, if that man really was diabetic, who is having a hypo symtoms are: shakey limbs, sweating, slurred speech, going pale, fainting/passing out. If he was doing some of these then he might have been but from what you say he looks healthy. Ask the shop assistant to get the first aider – if it’s real then they’ll stick around, if not they won’t.


Miss Raven July 7, 2011 at 2:19 pm

Whoops! Last story I was the OP and I forgot to change my tag when I commented this time! Accidentally claimed this story as my own — it is not. Apologies if there was any confusion and to the current OP!


Amanda July 7, 2011 at 2:53 pm

I, too, usually take the “assistance rather than money” approach to try to weed out the ones who really need it. Hubby and I have actually given leftovers from a meal out to someone who had a sign asking for change to buy food. We got a confused look out of that one, but as it was on a highway ramp, we couldn’t stick around to see if it was rejected or not. If I can’t offer assistance, I usually just reply that I don’t have spare cash on me (which is frequently true, as I keep only my credit/debit cards in my wallet).

I’ll also give money to people who are “earning” it, whether it’s due to amusing signs, selling flowers or newspapers, or playing an instrument. At least that way, no matter what the person uses the money on, I’m still getting something in return.

Luckily, I’ve only had one scary incident, and it’s pretty tame compared to others on here. A friend and I were walking around downtown in my smallish city just at sundown, looking for a shop we wanted to check out before riding the bus back to my place. Some lady chatting with someone on an apartment stoop called out to us to ask if we had any cash to spare, and we apologized and said no. She immediately started cussing us out, yelling at us that we were liars and just didn’t want to help. We kept walking, picking up the pace a little, and she thankfully didn’t follow us.


Jay July 7, 2011 at 4:21 pm

I remember in college, I’d see the same panhandlers around the same areas, so I’d recognize some of them. I stopped giving them change when I saw one of them about a half-mile from the busking spot, counting out nickels to buy a pack of cigarettes.


ciotog July 7, 2011 at 4:55 pm

I once set up an interview with a man who had advertised for a writer, saying he wanted to record the life of his father, who had been a butler for a noble Irish family. This is related to my work, and it sounded intriguing. I arranged to meet the man at a hotel. He runs in and starts telling me that his car broke down and he needed to go to the mechanic, and I needed to go with him. Well, I don’t get in cars with strange men, for any reason, so I said I’d wait there while he went to the mechanic’s. He left for a little while and then came back; I still don’t know if he went to the mechanic’s or not. We chatted about the job, and it turned out he’d only selected women to interview. He also wouldn’t tell me which family his father had been in service to. Now, maybe he was just a really clueless guy, but with all those read flags…I’m glad I read Gift of Fear and learned that “no” is a complete sentence. Many women, and some men, feel a lot of pressure to be nice even when they feel wary.


kingsrings July 7, 2011 at 6:58 pm

Never underestimate how clever some of these panhandlers can be. I saw one recently outside of a Target. She had a shopping cart with her to disguise her panhandling. And just a couple of weeks ago, there was a couple panhandling at the gas station I stopped at! They were actually parked in a car at one of the pumps, asking everyone who pulled into the station for money, and giving them lip when they refused. The manager told them to leave, they refused, so she called the police. Now they actually come up to you when you’re in your car, which always frightens and startles me. If these panhandlers truly were needy, they can do what myself and the rest of the economically disadvantaged do and seek help from a food closet and places like that.


DocCAC July 7, 2011 at 7:17 pm

My “panhandling” stories mostly come from my professonal life; two really stand out. The first is a woman (new patient) who asked if she could postdate a check for payday. We agreed, only to find out on payday she had written a check on an account that had been closed for 3 months. The second is a woman (once again a new patient) who, when her appointment was over said she didn’t have enough cash and she was going to the ATM and would be right back. We later joked it must be one long line and we hoped they had portapotties and pizza delivery since we never saw her again. I got into the habit of reading the court news in the weekly paper and paying attention at local merchants who put bounced checks up on the wall next to the register so everyone who came in could see who had stiffed them. There was a couple of times when we were asked to transfer records and we did (which in hindsight we should have refused to do until we were paid, not sure of the legality of that in this state though–if you don’t pay for something do you still own it?) but we also called the new doc’s office and gave them the heads up about the person being a deadbeat. Usually they had already pulled something that had the new office staff wondering. Probably can’t do that now in the age of HIPPA, more’s the pity.

In my personal life, I got to the point that I would offer to give them food or drink (non-alcoholic) instead of cash. I never had anyone take me up on the offer and some of them looked pretty down and out, but obviously not down and out enough to take free food and a non-alcoholic drink. I recall one beggar in New Orleans though (very pre-Katrina) who caught me sitting on a bench by myself waiting for the last bus back to the hotel. I thought I caught a glimpse of something crawling on him (wasn’t sure if it was a maggot or lice) and I gave money to him just so he would go away and not transfer his crawling things to me. He was filthy and I have no doubt he was an alcoholic or drug user (my best guess would be alcoholic, although I can’t tell you why). I don’t remember how much it was exactly–at least $10.00, could have been $20.00 but it was worth it to me. He looked very surprised and thanked me. I was in a conference the rest of the week and wondered on and off if he hung out there hoping he’d see me again! I was a pretty easy mark that particular day.


John July 7, 2011 at 8:19 pm

Some of the comments on this story reminded me of an incident that happened while I was at university in the UK. There were a number of panhandlers who frequented the city center of the town; One day I stopped at McDonalds and they were having a special where you got a free cheeseburger with a set meal. I didn’t really want the free cheeseburger, so as I was leaving I took it out of the bag and offered it to one of said panhandlers, who was sitting across the way from the store. His response was “Thanks mate, but I’m a vegetarian.” Apparently beggars *can* be choosers :)


Joannie81 July 7, 2011 at 9:47 pm

I often have people at fast food place stop me. They come up to people who are in line for the fast food window. There are 2 that I see all the time. As soon as I see them, I roll up my window and shake my head at them when they come up to the window. Usually they just leave. Sometimes they are more persistent and wait for me to roll down the window to order. Once in a while I see someone come out of the restaurant to shoo them away. That helps a little bit.


Twik July 8, 2011 at 10:33 am

“…one guy will recite Shakesperean sonnets for a dollar…”

I would so pay for that!

In any event, I don’t believe that buskers should be classified as beggars, if they make any effort at all to actually provide entertainment. They are actually working, even if on a very ad hoc payment basis.


Mechtilde July 8, 2011 at 3:21 pm

If you really want to help homeless people, give your money directly to a reputable charity.

If you give money to someone on the street, the chances of it actually helping them longterm is virtually nil, and it is not unheard of for gangs to have one member beg money, so that another member can see where you keep your wallet and pick your pocket. It can even put your personal safety at risk.

If someone asks for money, say no, and keep moving.


Ginger July 8, 2011 at 4:01 pm

My cousin lives in DC and saw a man near a McDonald’s restaurant, clearly homeless. It was cold outside, so my cousin went to the restaurant and bought the man a cup of coffee. Instead of saying thank you, the homeless man asked for cream and sugar. Can you imagine the gall of this person?! Here is a total stranger giving you a warm drink on a cold night and you complain?!

I understand that people fall on hard times, but there are so many programs to help the homeless, especially in big cities. Plus, you can never be sure if they are truly homeless or if they don’t feel like working and are scamming good hearted people. It’s sad not to trust, but with this economy, many people have fallen on hard times.


Mamaduck43 July 8, 2011 at 4:05 pm

I lived on Oahu for 26 years and used public transportation almost every day. There is a large ‘homeless’ population – – they get to Hawaii, and cannot afford a ticket back to the mainland. I was approached many times for handouts, and usually had a granola bar, a bottle of water or the like that I was happy to hand over, and if I was in the downtown area, I would often take the ‘poor soul’ with me and would buy them something to eat, and something to share with their friends – a bucket of chicken was always accepted gratefully.
One evening, I was at the bus stop and was watching a man approach everyone at the stop. “I haven’t eaten for 4 days” , was his pitch… I had stopped at a made to order sandwich shop and had a half sub for that night’s dinner and the other half for tomorrow’s lunch… I told the guy he was in luck and pulled a beautiful sandwich from my tote bag and handed it to him…. He cussed me out – – threw the sandwich to the ground, and proceeded to grind it to bits with his feet…. Needless to say, several folks at the bus stop who had gotten some change out to give the guy, pointedly returned their change to their pockets and as one, they turned their backs to him… That certainly made me think twice before I help anyone else….


Ginger July 8, 2011 at 4:12 pm

Another story I just thought of:

While riding the subway (I live in NYC), a man got on asking for change. A woman took out her wallet and gave him a dollar. He then leaned over and tried to grab her wallet. She yelled out and he walked away. No one else in the car gave him any money. He should have thanked the lady and went on his way instead of trying to take the rest of her cash. Very rude.


Cat July 8, 2011 at 6:16 pm

I have to admit that I have given money to beggars several times recently. One young man asked me for money for food for himself and his wife, who was with him. He was at a gas station at 11 pm and could have easily taken my purse and run. There was nothing I could have done about it if he had. Since he was nice enough to ask, I gave him twenty dollars.

We are in hard economic times. I have been asked several times for money at gas stations. One man had the hood of his car up and needed transmission fluid. Another young man in a very old car needed gas money. I gave him five dollars and he hugged me (I’m 61 and very fat so this doesn’t happen very often). I figured a professional panhandler couldn’t be that happy over five dollars.


Etta Kett July 8, 2011 at 9:37 pm

Sv, Chris, you are part of the problem. I don’t think you realise some of these people make up to $40,000 a year, and they take it from people who most likely can’t afford it. Never ever give money to a panhandler. If you feel the need, offer to buy them some lunch and most of the time you will get anger in response instead of a willing agreement. That should tell you something. People who are truly in need would absolutely take your offer. But the professionals will make more money during the time you are buying them lunch so they won’t bother with even a free lunch. That should tell you how much they actually need your money.


lkb July 9, 2011 at 5:49 am

@Etta Kett:
Wow! I’m amazed at your tone to Chris. I get it that you don’t agree and probably that you had some negative encounters with panhandlers but to give another poster the equivalent of a finger-wagging lecture strikes me as a bit too much. Chris’ opinions and experiences, while not yours, are still valid.


lkb July 9, 2011 at 5:57 am

I see now that Etta Kett’s comments were directed to “SV” and “Chris”. (I thought when I first read Etta Kett’s post that “Sv” was a typo for “So”. My recent post should have reflected that, sorry.

Again, Sv and Chris, were doing what they thought was best in the specific situation. I am surprised by the vehemence of Etta Kett’s response. Etta Kett wasn’t there and probably does not even live in the same area, so I am disappointed at the lecture.

Admin: Please feel free to combine these posts if you wish.


spyderqueen July 9, 2011 at 1:06 pm

I live in Philly and we have the full scale of panhandlers. I won’t give money, but for the “I need to get home” bit, I’ve frequently given out extra bus tokens I’ve had on hand. So far, only one has legitimately thanked me for it – the others have scowled and walked off. Regulars in an area I keep an eye on to get a feel for them – we had one guy who’d hang out outside the Wawa and hold the door for people. I got him a sandwich once and he was very pleased and thankful. Another in that same area would panhandle with his dog (very well behaved for a street dog) who was always thankful when someone brought food for the animal, even if they didn’t bring any for him.

One guy didn’t approach me, but another man at the bus stop asking him if he could spare about a $1.05. Such a specific amount caused the man to raise and eyebrow in surprise and the panhandler said “That’s all I need for the whiskey I want.” My fellow traveler laughed, said “Hey, at least you’re honest” and handed over the money.

I should also note, I don’t usually give money to buskers unless I’ve been REALLY impressed. The guy playing the Harry Potter theme on a hammer dulcimer in the train station got a five off me. THAT was awesome.


Enna July 11, 2011 at 5:56 am

I think it depends on the circumstances of the sitatution. Personally I would be careful about giving money out to people as there are professional scammers about and also I wouldn’t want to feed someone’s alcohol or drug habbit, in that situation giving money does more harm than good. Offering food or offering to make a phone call can help filter out the scammers.

It is a bit strange that some beggers ask for milk and sugar in the coffee, that was strange although with sugar it would have more energy. As for the homeless person who said he was vegetrain – he might have eaten meat before that was given to him that made him ill, that could have put him off excepting the hamburger. Also if he was a vegetarian before he was homeless his stomach won’t be used to the richness of the meat and as he is homeless he can’t afford to get ill. My great aunty made the mistake of preparing a veggie meal for her daughter in a bowl which she had prepared a meat dish in and her grown up daughter was actually ill from it. Although from what I read in Food Tech, if a bowl has had raw meat, fish or poultry in it, it should be washed up before being used again.


slythwolf July 11, 2011 at 4:43 pm

“Come on, do you know how embarrassing this is, to have to ask for money like this?”

Obviously not embarrassing enough.

I had a similar thing happen to me in the parking lot as I was leaving my minimum-wage retail job, thankfully much less invasive–the guy was at least three cars away. I had to wonder at the stupidity of someone who could see I had my nametag on and what kind of car I drive asking me for money in Michigan in this economy. Thankfully he took no for an answer the first time I said it and left me alone.


Nemme July 11, 2011 at 8:04 pm

I like the story of the homeless guy who turned down the hamburger because he was a vegetarian… It’s nice to see someone who refuses to compromise his moral or beliefs even when he’s not in the best situation


Natalie July 12, 2011 at 9:23 am

Etta Kett, it sounds like you’ve had some bad experiences, but I disagree that “most” beggars will get angry if you offer them food. It’s probably true that most people who approach you with a sob story will get angry, but IMO those aren’t beggars – they’re scammers. I’d love to see your citation for professional beggars making $40,000 a year.

Generally I’ll give money to anyone performing and may offer food to people that are just sitting or standing with a sign. I’ve never gotten a bad reaction to offering food. Anyone who attempts to pressure or scare me gets nothing.

I also really don’t begrudge a homeless addict their alcohol or cigarettes. (My experience as a former smoker who still chews nicotine gum has probably influenced my opinion.) Addictions are incredibly difficult to manage as a middle class person with adequate food, shelter, mental health support, and creature comforts. I really can’t fault someone who sleeps in shelters or under overpasses every night for not being clean and sober. And denying them the drug (whatever it might be) doesn’t force or convince them to get clean. In the case of alcoholics and hard drug addicts, it seems to just encourage them to steal.


Jennifer July 13, 2011 at 10:24 pm

That’s aggressive panhandling and it’s actually a crime. You should never have rolled down your window. I used to buy the occasional coffee and sandwiches for the homeless guys on my walk (I’d ask them what they wanted). The levels of drug abuse and mental issues among the homeless are so high that you aren’t doing any favors just giving cash. It’s better to donate to a drug treatment or homelessness cause. That guy may have been a con artist at the worst.


Jennifer July 13, 2011 at 10:50 pm

Just to note: We had a sort of town panhandler in the college town I used to live in. He was a little off, but since he had issues in shelters (he wasn’t violent, just a little off, he used to play a guitar with only two strings) people gave him a small apartment and kept his pantry stocked for him. It worked out pretty well.


Anon for this July 14, 2011 at 12:13 pm

Ah yes, “panhandlers” Uh huh. Call me cynical, call me jaded, call me a mean old hag, but they don’t get anything out of me. Period. Not. a. single. dime.

The reasons:

-A local news report, several years ago, where the reporter followed a local “homeless vet” home. She took footage of him getting in an expensive new car, then got footage of him going into a very nice neighborhood (next to a gated community/golf course) and a beautiful home. A hour later he was cleaned up, and golfing on the golf course that was adjacent to his house. The reporters followed this guy for several weeks, taking note of his “sob story” at each location, and getting more footage of him golfing, mowing his lawn, even eating at a nice restaurant and paying cash. Mind you, this isn’t a big city we are talking about, this is a small town local network affiliate doing all this investigative reporting. When confronted by the reporter the guy was belligerant and told her to ” off and mind your own business!” What brought this guy to the news channel’s attention? His neighbors in that fancy neighborhood. He had panhandled one of them and they recognized him. Rumors spread through the neighborhood and a “friend” of the man got him to open up and brag about how much money he made “Tax free!” spending 4 hours a day on various street corners. The amount of money was staggering. Eventually police were involved, but I don’t recall any charges being brought against him. I do know a local ordinance was passed prohibiting panhanding because of this story.

-While visiting “Big City” I have had several unpleasant encounters with aggressive panhandlers. One even said to my DD “Your mom is mean! I am going to starve to death!” He’s lucky I didn’t kick his a** all the way to the shelter with that comment or worse. On the rare occasion I have offered up whatever change was in my pockets, I have been met with more disgust than thanks. I have heard “Is that all?” more times than I wish to remember.

-I was in “Medium City” during the winter months. I spent a great deal of time at a local hospital. Several of the homeless wandered around the halls of this place and occasionally would take up residence in the family waiting rooms. Being from “Small City” this was all new to me. Most of them were quiet and respectful, so I didn’t mind….much. Then I heard one of the volunteers complaining that they drank all the hot chocolate again. Not just the packages placed out for waiting family, but they had opened the cupboard and taken an entire case of packets. Plus all the sugar was gone and a substantial number of creamer packets were taken as well. The volunteers complained that they can get free coffee and food at the shelter and they didn’t mind offering up a warm drink (or 2 or 3) if the homeless didn’t act so greedy and entitled.

-Same Medium City. Same hospital. While in one of the large upper floor waiting rooms I was taking in the view of the city. One of the nurses who knew me came in to chat with me while he was on his break. He started advising me what areas of the city to stay away from (he knew I was from Small City and not used to Medium City) and I related to him an incident with a homeless man urinating next to the highway off ramp for the hospital. I explained my young child had seen the man’s “parts” and I was disgusted that he could have easily walked 2 blocks to use the restrooms in the hospital instead, as I knew the hospital was very lax about allowing the homeless to use their facilities and drink their coffee. The nurse then went on a rant about the homeless in Medium City. Apparently most of the shelters were unused by local homeless and sit more than half empty all winter long. (The climate in this city is bitter cold in winter) Why? Because the shelters ask that residents abstain from alcohol and drug use. The other tidbit he shared was the well funded FREE drug and alcohol programs associated with all the shelters were rarely utilized. It was a personal peeve of his to that help is available to so many people living on the streets….free and qualified help, but they’d rather panhandle, drink, do drugs and urinate in front of innocent children than live productive lives. He was especially upset about the plight of these people because he had done a rotation in the ER during his schooling. He got choked up while explaining one of the regulars coming in with such severe frostbite they had to amputate his leg from the knee down. He personally made it his mission to offer comfort and support to this man while he recovered. The guy was fully detoxed and showing signs of improvement. He was gaining weight and seemed to be doing well in PT. The nurse became jaded when the man’s homeless friends visited and gave him illegal drugs to use while in the hospital. When he confronted the patient, the man said “I’d rather be high and homeless than work for a living. I am getting free room and board, right now and all it cost me was a leg.” The nurse said he never again felt sympathy for their local homeless community because he realized they would rather mooch off society (by panhandling and stealing drinks from the hospital) than receive the help that is there, ready for them. The nurse said the overfunding of local homeless programs was something that bothered him because there were other programs in the city suffering (like programs for children/victims of domestic abuse/charities that help the sick) for lack of funding and yet every single year tax payer money was funding these unusued shelters for a community of people who will never want the help because that would mean they might have to actually get a job, someday, and being a productive member of society was just “too hard!”

If a person looks truly hungry, I might offer them some food, but if they only want cash, they won’t get it from me.


Tori July 16, 2011 at 6:56 pm

I don’t give money to people on the street to often. Half the ones in my town are scammers. The others are junkies. So I normally only give to registered charities. I have a tradition for Chritmas shopping. I get the cash I’m gonna need and whatever is left after I’m done I give to the salvation army people. Normally about 12 in change and a dollar or two.


Michelle July 21, 2011 at 2:09 pm


Here’s just one:

There should also be an episode of Dateline on the subject floating around somewhere. I’m sure a more extensive Google search would bring it up; mine only lasted about 10 seconds. Maybe next time you might try doing that yourself, instead of demanding that someone else do so for you. It’s no wonder you sympathize with the scammers.

What gets me are the ones who fake a disability. A few years ago my mother was coming out of a rest stop when she felt a tug on her sleeve. A woman was standing there, and handed her a card. The card read, “I am deaf and only speak American Sign Language. I am broke and hungry. Could you spare some change?” My mother, who holds a 4-year degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders and is fluent in ASL, began excitedly signing to the woman, asking her if she had somewhere to stay, and indicating that she had no cash but would buy her food inside the store. The woman’s eyes got huge, and she turned and ran away. A man who had just parked his truck and gotten out had observed the whole thing and started laughing. He told my mom that all the locals there knew the woman wasn’t deaf, but nobody had “gotten her goat” until my mom.


DRS July 25, 2011 at 1:13 pm

Not directly related but my father told me this story recently: In the mid-60’s he was a minister in Florida. People would come to the door and ask for money. The church had an exterior wall, paint, paint brushes, and painting clothes for these people. If they would paint the wall, they could get money. Many people would turn up their noses and just walk on. However, one day he had a man and woman stop for money. When told they had to work, they immediately put on the painting clothes and painted. A while later the man was knocking on the door again. He explained they will happily finish the job but his wife was too weak from hunger and could they get some money now for food? My dad took one look at her and saw they were for real. He immediately found them some food and then emptied every penny from the church’s petty cash and took what he could find of his personal money and gave it to them. To this day (50 years later) he wishes he had had more to give them.


Enna August 2, 2011 at 5:40 am

@ Anon for this: it’s a real shame that in the Medium City you talk about the homeless are so additcted they would rather be homelees on the streets. However I do see an issue with the homeless shelters wanting them to abstain form alochol and drugs from day one as it is easier said then done. There needs to be better ways for homeless shelters to support the homeless and get them off the streets and detoxed. I can imagine in other places homeless people would jump to the chance for a fresh start. Maybe the homeless in Medium City who don’t want help are too far gone? They would need more intense help maybe psychological.


See August 7, 2011 at 1:30 am

I am mexican/hispanic and never really thought about looking like it but two panhandlers come to mind pointing it out. One was a lady who reminded me of a dear friend of mine I haven’t seen in 15 years that died around 12 years or so ago. She tried to ask for money in spanish very poorly I might add but she reminded me of my friend who I knew was homeless the last time I had seen her so I gave her a few dollars. It made her day and I didn’t know it at the time but by then i’m sure my friend had passed.

The other one was when I went to a fast food restaurant with a friend who i was doing work for. She didn’t have money to pay me but would pay for our meals or what I needed when we’d go places. Well at the restaurant this homeless looking man asked for money for a hamburger. Friend didn’t have cash and said so but she would buy him a meal. He went off at ME who hadn’t said a word at all. Told me if I couldn’t support HIM that I should go back where I came from. I was living off of good people who worked (yeah sure dude) and so forth. I told him I hadn’t declined the offer and called the manager outside. The manager chased him down the street telling him not to come back and then gave us coupons for free drinks.


Jenk August 13, 2011 at 12:55 am

I never give money to panhandlers. A friend once offered to buy groceries for a man begging outside of the grocery store with his young son and the man refused her offer…obviously he just wanted the money. My husband overhead a couple on the bus one day bragging about how they were going to the Walmart the next town to beg because they could get $10-15 an hour there.

One good experience though from a few years back: I was walking down the street and a young man, who looked like he’d been on the road for a while, asked for change. I told him that I didn’t have any money but I did have some cookies, which he graciously accepted with a huge smile. It totally made my day!


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