I’d like to get an etiquette opinion on something I witnessed a couple of weeks ago. Although I was not directly affected by the events in this story, it has popped into my mind on several occasions since.
Some friends and I were eating in an outdoor portion of a local pub. The restaurant is in a busy area of town on a pedestrian only street. There was a couple sitting near us, huddled with heads together, very obviously in the middle of a serious conversation. As they were speaking, a homeless man approached them from the street, and started a practiced speech about not being an addict of any kind, but needing money. The man at the table lifted his head, visibly irritated, and said “I’m sorry, we’re having our dinner and trying to talk.” and turned back to his companion, who looked unsure of what she should do. The homeless man eyed the couple’s empty dishes and said “looks like you’re finished to me.” And stood staring at them. The man sitting at the table just said “Dude…” in a voice that very clearly meant he wasn’t in a giving mood. After a moment or two, the homeless man moved on and gave his speech to the next table, as we made our way out to the street.
This interaction sparked a discussion in our group. One of my friends said the guy should have just given him some money. He is a human being after all, and it would have avoided a scene. Another thought the guy handled it just fine. I am on the fence. Part of me felt bad for the homeless man, but another part bristled at his reaction to being told “no”. Although the kind thing to do is to help those less fortunate, the couple owed him nothing, and he was interrupting an obviously intimate moment.
Panhandling has increased quite a bit in our town over the past few years, and will pick up again in the coming warm months. How exactly does one handle this type of situation gracefully? 0607-18
Is it a kindness to help those less fortunate, specifically the homeless, by directly giving them money? Usually it is not because the reasons for homelessness are often far more complex than a simple lack of money. Handing a homeless person cash may be a profound unkindness. You are not in a position to assess within the few seconds of interaction whether money will help or hurt this person. Is the person a professional panhandler? In cities there are increasing numbers of “rescue missions” who offer the homeless a place to sleep, shower, fresh clothes, food, literacy lessons, job skills, help with addictions, money management lessons, and on and on. They address those complex issues in a far more comprehensive way, looking to see what would actually serve the homeless person to become not homeless. Financially support those homeless missions because most of them have excellent track records of lifting people out of homelessness into productivity.
But if a homeless person asks for food, by all means be generous. Pay for a meal to the restaurant, buy fast food and hand it to them. Pack an extra sandwich and apple in your lunch if you know the likelihood of encountering a hungry homelessness person on your way to work will be high. Some people have a unique solution to the panhandling by making and distributing “blessing bags”.
I see nothing wrong in how the man dealt with the situation with the panhandler.