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Panhandling And The Polite Spine

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.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Leslie Webber June 11, 2018, 7:36 am

    Maybe the homeless man should have waited in front of the restaurant, right outside the door or something. I’m actually surprised the restaurant let him panhandle among their patrons. (Or maybe they just didn’t see). I’m all for helping poor people, but I’ve been approached while praying in Church (not during mass). That, also is disturbing. It’s hard to know what to do, although buying food is a good idea. Or maybe carrying a business card for the closest shelter.

  • Meegs June 11, 2018, 7:58 am

    Did anyone in your group give the homeless man money?

  • ErindV June 11, 2018, 8:20 am

    I have an acquaintance who prints off a list of the local missions and the days they serve food/have programs and then staples a granola bar to each one to hand out to any panhandlers who approach her, which I think is a great idea.

    • admin June 11, 2018, 9:27 am

      Oooo, I like that idea!

    • Kimberly June 11, 2018, 1:07 pm

      I have friends that do the same thing but add a bottle of water. It is cooler than a normal day here and it is 90F with the heat index making it feel like 97F today.

  • Girlie June 11, 2018, 8:30 am

    No one is under any obligation to give money to another human being, unless it is a self-prescribed moral one.
    I thought the man having dinner handled the situation beautifully. He didn’t appear to be rude or brash, but was straightforward about not being willing to offer the homeless man anything. The homeless man, however, was very rude in his follow-up about their dinner being over when HE was the one who interrupted their intimate moment.

  • VickyJoJo June 11, 2018, 8:43 am

    As a rule, I generally do not give money directly to a homeless person for many of the issues cited by the admin. I donate to charities. On occasion I have bought coffee and a sandwich for a homeless person. There is a mall in a nearby time with panhandlers near the street entrance. It is well known that these people take shifts and are not homeless but professional panhandlers.

    I do not take any issue with how the diner reacted. If I tell an individual “no” whether it is an in-person solicitation or on the phone, I expect that to be respected and for the other party to continue on his way. So I disagree with the LW’s friend who said that the guy should have given money just to avoid a scene. To me the homeless person should have immediately moved on after being told no.

    On another note, the homeless problem is difficult to address. Whether it is due to job loss, addiction or mental illness, there are not enough resources for these individuals. Many towns solve the issue by pushing the homeless out of their town and into another one. Additionally, not everyone wants help. When I worked in Boston, I encountered many homeless people. Most were kind and polite but a few plagued with mental illness made it difficult to walk the streets at times. I once had a homeless man throw a glass bottle at me as I was going to my car. Scared me so much that for weeks, I had security or a co-worker walk me to my car. It is a shame really.

    • EchoGirl June 11, 2018, 4:09 pm

      There’s also an issue because many of the services present problems for the people they’re trying to serve. In the city where I went to college, there was a whole big to-do because there was a homeless camp, and people kept wanting to shut them down and pointing at the existence of the shelter. The trouble (as the homeless kept trying to explain) was that the shelter didn’t actually align with what many of them needed. They had a cutoff time by which people had to be inside or they wouldn’t get shelter; if someone missed a bus or had a late shift, they often couldn’t get in. They weren’t allowed in many cases to bring in their possessions (often the only things in the world they owned), and even if they could, there was no way to secure them. There were issues with the building structure and systems that weren’t being fixed or even paid attention to, like constantly being overheated. They set up a “winter day center”, which was originally supposed to be relatively close to the original building but they bowed to pressure from the community and put it somewhere that was all but inaccessible for someone without a car. And, unfortunately, the old saying of “beggars can’t be choosers” was being mutated into “they should be grateful we give them anything, even if it’s completely useless to them”, so no one was addressing the issues being raised. I feel like a lot of these programs would have more success if they actually accepted input from the people they’re trying to serve, rather than condescendingly assuming they know best no matter what.

      That’s not even getting into the issue of certain religious-based shelters using their programs to push religion on their clients. No one should feel like the things they need to survive are being held hostage until they allow themselves to be proselytized. I’m not saying all or even most religious-organization-run shelters have this issue, but it’s common enough that it should be addressed, not blown off as if often is.

      And yes, pushing the homeless out solves nothing. It’s a textbook “not in my backyard” approach.

  • Stephen Dedalus June 11, 2018, 8:57 am

    I agree. I was once too kind, and would give money to most of those panhandlers in the street. I was living in Vienna, Austria and you would see many people out with cups, some shaking with palsy, some on their knees or lying on their faces with the cup in the air. I felt sorry for those people and would give them money sometimes. Then one day I was in a fast food restaurant with my son. Over at another table were two men, one very large and the other with a jacket and slicked-back hair (the boss?). The panhandlers I had seen came in one by one and handed the boss money. He would look over their takings and give them back a euro or two. Then they would go and get a burger and sit at a nearby table. Even the one with palsy came in – but his palsy disappeared while he was in the restaurant, and resumed again when he left.

    I was shocked at how brazen it all was, and stopped giving to them from then on. There are people who sell a charity newspaper – The Augustiner – those people are vetted – and those I would still give to.

  • Vermin8 June 11, 2018, 9:15 am

    I think the diner handled it well.
    BTW, drug addicts often lie to get what they want; saying “I’m not an addict” should not be taken into consideration when determining whether to give money to a panhandler.
    I could mean the speaker is not an addict; it could also mean he needs the next fix and will do anything to get it.

  • MPW1971 June 11, 2018, 9:24 am

    Having seen so many investigative reports on fraudulent panhandlers – the notorious “Shaky Lady” of Toronto was recorded removing her wig, entering a Mercedes and being driven to a luxury apartment – I *never* give money directly to panhandlers of any kind. Between the frauds and the alcohol/drug abusers, there might be people who can be helped, but I find it hard to open up my wallet when I see a supposedly “homeless” teenager with a brand new (not to mention clean) Columbia winter coat – in white! – and perfectly manicured nails begging for money.
    I will donate to charities who work with the homeless, or better yet, who provide shelters for abused women and their children.
    People should never be pressured to be a “captive audience” to a panhandler – that they don’t have the freedom to refuse without consequence. The restaurant should be providing a place that is free from that – maybe give the panhandler a meal in return for leaving the people alone. Either way, I wouldn’t have given anything here because of the level of discomfort I would feel by being pressured like that.

    • Sarah June 12, 2018, 10:00 am

      Why should a restaurant have to give the panhandlers something to leave people alone?
      They should leave people alone or the restaurant will call the police.

      • MPW1971 June 12, 2018, 12:40 pm

        That’s the nice way of doing things – the carrot. Calling the police is the stick.

  • Lara June 11, 2018, 9:34 am

    I have a friend who would carry a book of bus passes, and maps to the local homeless shelter and food pantry. When approached, he would never give money, but he would say “Here’s where you can get help, and here’s a bus pass to take you there.” I used to carry small packets of non-perishable foods in my car, to hand to people who panhandled at crossroads. I hated not having anything to give to people who could be in very real need, but as the Admin said, cash usually isn’t a good idea.

  • NostalgicGal June 11, 2018, 9:49 am

    Big city I used to live in had a real issue with the panhandlers. What got people in an uproar and finally put pressure on law enforcement and social services to crack down hard and clean them up (remove them from the streets-and we were a major tourist mecca to boot) was finding out that one that had ‘his corner’ not far from where I lived and dressed in tatty military surplus… lived in a gated community apartment about eight blocks away, had a new Lincoln, and was pulling in about $80k a year, under radar. He knew how to look and smell scruffy and bought his wardrobe from the surplus place in that particular burb we all knew about…
    I do not fault the couple from not giving him anything. The fellow truly could have fallen through the cracks, or on the other side is the professional hustler. I like someone else’s comment about printing out the places that will help someone and give the panhandler that.
    One intersection in my former city was so bad for the ragmen that I went out of my way to avoid it. (they would wander up to your car and run a crotty rag over the windshield and try to panhandle some money out of you. Now the driver has a purposely smeared mess… if you coughed up they had a clean corner and would make it so you could see again… you were stopped at the light and not much you could do…)

  • JD June 11, 2018, 9:52 am

    My husband used to offer to buy a meal or would give food to panhandlers in the city where he worked at the time, rarely handing out cash. Some gladly accepted it, some got angry at no cash. In fact, my husband used to hire the homeless who worked through a day laborer company. It took him several times for it to sink in, but his boss had warned him — no matter how well they work, you can’t hire them as a permanent employee. They won’t stay. He would hire some really good, hard working homeless guys, and they would all disappear right after being hired. They couldn’t handle the idea of being locked in place at a job, he was told.
    I almost never carry cash anyway, so I’m not able to give cash.
    My brother-in-law was approached by one of those guys who want to help you with your groceries, in the town where he lives. He refused the help, as he only had a couple of bags. The guy tried to take a bag from him and put it in the car’s trunk anyway, but my BIL held on to the bag and told him that was enough, just leave. The guy slammed the trunk lid down on my BIL’s hand! He misjudged my BIL, though, who, although near 70 at the time, is quite tall and lifts weights for exercise — even with his left hand caught, he had the right hand free to knock the guy down with one punch. He was able to click the trunk open, and although badly bruised, his left hand wasn’t actually broken. The panhandler managed to get back up and run off when he saw both hands were now free.

    • Bea June 11, 2018, 3:31 pm

      I’m so relieved your BIL was only bruised up! How terrifying.

      Years ago one of my crew members brought in a guy who was the town homeless man. He lived in a tent outside the small town they were in. My dude knew we were happy to hire on labor given our industry, we went ahead and filed all the paperwork. The homeless dude was too tired to work that day, so went to nap in Crew Member’s truck for the work day…okay. Next morning Crew Member came into the the office upset and apologies spewing over because he went to pick up the guy and again, just too tired to go to a job that paid enough for an apartment in any of the surrounding communities we had. Sigh.

      I refused to let it harden me and I’ll still hire someone on the hope and a prayer they need that chance. I’ve had guys really down on their luck and at very least they were able to dust off. It’s worth it to just let the others flake to help that one guy who needed a hand up from his bad spot.

  • Jackie June 11, 2018, 10:52 am

    Our town has professional panhandlers. They claim they are homeless, when they are in fact, not homeless. They claim they can’t find jobs, which is, again, a lie. Our store manager, when they were found on our store property, were offered a job, and they said they didn’t want to work. A coworker of mine saw a child give one of them food, and he just threw is aside when it was given to him. They are a nuisance, and need to have people quit giving them money. I like the idea of giving them the granola bar with the addresses of the places that assist them.

  • Lerah99 June 11, 2018, 11:00 am

    I understand that homeless people are human beings deserving of compassion, care, and help.
    Many homeless people have mental illness issues and/or addiction issues. And in this world most of us are one disaster away from financial ruin. So “There, but for the grace of God, go I…” and all that.

    On the other hand, I have seen a homeless camp set up near our city park. And practically overnight the park went from a great place for families to a dangerous place. There were used needles and condoms in the playground. Panhandlers became very aggressive about soliciting money.

    The city responded by locking the restrooms and welding shut the doors.
    This lead to homeless people defecating on picnic tables, playground equipment, and the front lawns of near by residences.

    A local church tried to help by opening their parish hall at 7pm, providing dinner, an opportunity to shower, a cot to sleep on, and breakfast in the morning. Then the homeless would need to leave for the day at 9am. And it became a daily struggle. Many of the homeless people refused to leave at 9am and would become threatening with the volunteers who were there to put up the cots and get the parish hall ready for church business for the rest of the day. The church requested a couple of police officers to help encourage the homeless to move on each morning.

    Then one night two of the guys got in a fight over which cot was “theirs” and the police had to be called again. The church had to stop offering the service because their volunteers no longer felt safe and the church realized they were in over their head. That they weren’t prepared to provide the mental health and security needs of a homeless shelter with a small rotation of inexperienced volunteers.

    Local businesses struggled with homeless people loitering, soliciting money from customers, and shooting up/passing out in the bathroom.

    And there was a large increase in property crimes and petty theft. Kid’s bikes stolen off porches. Windows broken and houses robbed while people were at work. Garden tools and lawn mowers stolen out of back yard sheds.

    So I can understand the people who say “Yes, we should help the homeless. But I shouldn’t have to sacrifice my family’s safety to do so.”

    This isn’t just a local issue. There are lots of big cities struggling with surging homeless populations.

    For example, Los Angeles has over 58,000 homeless people. With the price of housing continuing to skyrocket, more and more people are ending up with no place to go. The Los Angeles Times has several articles about the crisis in their “Without a Home” series:


    • Dee June 11, 2018, 11:42 am

      Lerah99 – You could have written about my city, in fact my whole province – and country. There is such a dearth of mental health services coupled with a raging housing market that homelessness is rampant. If you can’t get treatment through proper channels then you are forced to treat yourself, in whatever way is available to you. Thus the explosion of pot and heroin use, with fentanyl deaths skyrocketing.

      I don’t give to panhandlers, not even food, because then they will use their money to buy drugs. I know certain corners yield profits that would make many working people jealous. And the charity missions are multi-million dollar industries, with gov’t contracts. They don’t want the homelessness to end because they’d then go out of business. So their goals are far different from those who donate to them.

      I don’t think the diner in this story was rude. We don’t know what kind of conversation he was having with this companion, whether he was relaying news of such a serious nature that dire consequences were being discussed, or whatever. His needs may very well have been greater than the homeless man’s. We just don’t know. But he’s in his right to ask for respect from others, including the panhandler.

      The answer to the problem, overall, is for gov’ts to fund services appropriately. Counseling needs to be available and accessible to all, from a young age on up. It should be an automatic part of the public health services. Mental health treatment should be swift and appropriate, not long wait lists of months and years. And housing should be affordable, and that would require curtailing foreign investment. And to do all this means the federal gov’t actually wants to solve the problem, with laws and regulations.

      Until then, there is little any one person can do to directly help. But we all can pressure our gov’ts to provide services and funding to solve the issues right at the core. If that is, in fact, what we want, since it will mean higher taxes. But the relief we’d all feel would be worth it.

    • rindlrad June 11, 2018, 3:47 pm

      My co-workers and I used to go out to lunch every week to the Cheesecake Factory. Those of you who are familiar with this restaurant will know that the portions are LARGE, so I’d ask for a take-home container. There were usually a group of homeless people who waited outside the restaurant at lunchtime and would ask/demand that people leaving the restaurant give them their left-overs. I usually did.

      One day, I ordered a piece of cheesecake to take to a co-worker back at the office. As I was leaving the restaurant, a homeless man asked for my leftovers. I told him I didn’t have any today. He pointed at the bag containing the cheesecake. I told him it was for a co-worker and continued walking. The guy ran up behind me, snatched the bag out of my hands, and started stuffing cheesecake into his mouth before I could say anything, let alone snatch it back from him. He stood there with cheesecake all over his face and clothes and said, “NOW you don’t have any leftovers.” He went back, cackling, to his friends. Still covered in cheesecake. I was speechless. I’m fairly sure there was some mental disorder going on with this man. I certainly didn’t feel safe confronting him, so I didn’t.

      I won’t say I never shared my leftovers with homeless people again, because I do. However, I make sure I never give to anyone overly aggressive and you can be darn sure I keep a secure hold and watchful eye when I have something that I don’t want to share.

      I too like the idea of cards with the addresses of the city’s homeless shelters attached to granola bars / bottles of water. I always find such great ideas here!

  • SamiHami June 11, 2018, 11:55 am

    My mother once was approached by a woman with a couple of small children. The woman said she and her children were hungry and had no money. There was a McDonald’s right next to them, so Mom said she would buy them a meal there. The woman turned her nose up at that and said she just wants the money.

    I don’t give money to beggars.

    • staceyizme June 11, 2018, 6:27 pm

      It seems that the lady in question wasn’t a beggar, but a petty extortionist.

  • Skaramouche June 11, 2018, 12:58 pm

    I’m sorry to say it OP but your friend, the one who made the comment about avoiding scenes and about the homeless man being human, is the worst kind of enabler. Panhandlers rely on two emotions to do “business”, pity and embarrassment…pity for their plight and your embarrassment at having/eating/buying nice things while they don’t have any. By giving in to the desire to not cause a scene and by excusing the gall of the panhandler with the excuse that “he’s only human”, your friend makes the problem much worse.

    I am, by nature, a bleeding heart sort of person. I’ve wisened up to scams over the years but I still cannot help feeling sorry for the unfortunate and trying to help them. I have some fun stories just from the last two years:

    Exhibit 1: older man standing at the subway, looking worse for wear and with clear foot trouble. He was asking for money so he could buy a subway token to get somewhere. I was taken in by his sorry appearance and asked if he wanted to walk down with me and I’d buy him a token so he could take the subway. I should point out that the entrance to
    the subway was right next to the ticket booth. He pointed to his foot and shamelessly told me that he couldn’t go down because of that. I laughed to myself and kept walking.

    Exhibit 2: mid-30s man with an ingratiating expression on his face in the parking lot of a subarban sushi restaurant. He was supposedly not from there, needed money to eat something and take a bus out of there. As a rule, I don’t give money. But this time, my husband fell for it and gave him the smallest bill he had. Good deed done, we went home. We were back 3 weeks later and guess who tried the same trick on us again!

    Exhibit 3: young man outside the bus station in the downtown core. I was taking a “once a week” class that ran until 9:30pm. I attended it after work and was generally exhausted and very hungry by the end of the night. I had just run in to the McDonald’s for a snack and I was on my way to my bus. Man with a desperate air about him approached me and told me that he hadn’t eaten in 2 days. Even though I was crying inside at having to share my snack, in a gesture of supreme selflessness, I offered him the better and more substantial part of my food. He looked at it, mumbled something, eyes looking past me already for his next quarry.

    I have at least 4 other stories but they will have to wait for my next comment :D. It makes me SO angry that these schmucks make jaded people of us and divert help from those that really need and want it. I’ll keep persevering but every encounter like this makes me a bit more sceptical. That’s why comments like “they are only human” drive me up the wall. People really in need don’t try to shame you by looking at your empty plate and doubting the veracity of what you said. Not making a scene is never a good excuse to enable someone else’s bad behaviour…

    • lakey June 11, 2018, 2:07 pm

      My addition to your list is the woman who was going up to cars in the grocery store parking lot asking for “a few dollars” while smoking a cigarette. In my area cigarettes are between 6 and 7 dollars a pack, so that made me chuckle.

      On the other hand, I’ve been involved with one organization that provides meals and another that is a food bank. The people operating these organizations are realistic. That’s why they give food, clothes, and blankets, rather than cash. The truly needy will accept food, while professional panhandlers want cash. Also, addicts need to eat, but giving them cash won’t help them, a meal will.

      At the food bank that I dealt with, some of the volunteers were former addicts who were giving back.Administrator and many of the commenters here are correct. Give your money and food donations to the organizations that know what they’re doing.

    • Iggy June 11, 2018, 5:28 pm

      I have had several similar things happen to me. Once I was unloading groceries from my car when I lived in an apartment complex. A woman approached me saying she needed money to buy milk for her grandson. I did not have any cash on me, but since I had just come from the grocery store, I had milk and offered her the milk and she refused she just repeated that she wanted money to buy milk.
      I had some one approach me in the grocery store and say that she needed money to buy diapers and formula for her child so she would pay for my groceries on her benefits card and I could give her cash. I offered to buy her some diapers and formula for her child, but not do the groceries for cash swap and she refused, I saw her a few minutes later trying to do the same thing to another customer.
      Another time I was waved over a few blocks from my house by an old woman. I stopped my car and she asked for money for food. I had just had a picnic and had some leftovers, pb&j, apples and cookies, and she refused the food and again asked for money, so I drove off.
      On the other had, my church has a spaghetti dinner monthly as a fundraiser. We invite people in to eat if they are hungry, we let them use the phone and the facilities and try to give them food to take with them if they need it. Some of these people come back, some we see only once, but all have been grateful for the food and company.

  • viviennebzb June 11, 2018, 1:28 pm

    I will never deny a hungry person a meal, if I am physically able to provide one at the time. I give my monetary donations to my local Food Bank.

  • Nicole June 11, 2018, 3:04 pm

    Our city has passed an ordinance stating that panhandlers cannot operate within 20 feet of a public entry or at busy intersections. This was to prevent harassment of customers and to stop the rash of panhandlers stepping into traffic to get change from cars and getting hit. This law has not eliminated them, they just can’t harass you in doorways and restaurant patios. I highly recommend donating to the local homeless shelters as they can distribute the money more effectively.

  • Bea June 11, 2018, 3:04 pm

    I thought this was going to be where the homeless person asked for their leftovers. I’ve had that happen before and had no problem sharing. However how absurd to think the man is obligated to give the begging person his money.

    I’ve known many people on a budget. A meal out is a luxury and in no way could they afford to pitch this man a dollar just to be nice.

    I’m always fast to buy a meal for someone and honestly I’ve bought a beer for a few who cut the lies and just ask for a cheap tallboy to quench their thirst. They’re already at the bottom and I’m not one to judge if someone isn’t pestering me.

    I’ve seen atrocious things said to homeless people. Heard of disgusting things they’re paid to do for sick humor of others who love the misfortune of others. I’ve seen the stories of how disposable they are to some. Yet my ability to assist in a way I see fit isn’t something I can assume all others should do as well.

    The guy was respectful and asked to be left alone. The homeless guy pushed. Which is tacky and rude, therefore he’s lucky he just got a “dude” as a response. The guy shouldn’t have to tell the homeless person or anyone else “no means no.”

  • Amberly June 11, 2018, 3:23 pm

    I love the Admin’s response here! I have a personal policy of not handing out money to panhandlers for the same reasons. But my response is typically, “Sorry, I have no cash.” Usually it’s true at face value, and sometimes it’s true simply that I have no cash earmarked for giving to people on the street. Now, if someone were to ask me to purchase a sandwich and hand it to them, I would absolutely do that. And I’ve handed out a granola bar and a bottle of water before, because hey, if that’s my lunch (it was that day), then it’s good enough to be a free lunch for someone else.

  • staceyizme June 11, 2018, 4:46 pm

    People panhandle for all kinds of reasons and it’s true that homelessness is more complex than a lack of money. When any of us consider the times in our lives that were financially strained, a combination of factors, situations, habits and attitudes got us there, for the most part. Exceptions are situations like Hurricane Harvey, the recent and developing situation of Mount Kilauea’s eruption, war and other acts of God whose impact is difficult to anticipate and fully prepare for. Even with financial resources from applicable insurance and disaster relief funds, it may be some time before the impact is healed. But for many who panhandle as a way of life, they may be feeding an addiction, have difficulty obtaining and sustaining employment if they have a lack of skills or a felony on their record. Some panhandlers, especially in urban areas, are victims of human trafficking. In all of these cases, giving money doesn’t help to get them into a home or even out of the hands of those who are abusing them, whether themselves or a third party. Street donations of money are a stop gap that enable someone to avoid staying on medication, avoid having to comply with the treatment requirements of a program servicing addicts and/or the mentally ill, and avoid many of the requirements of civic, community, personal and fiscal responsibility. I do think it helps to give food, when you have the opportunity (and if it seems appropriate). Other basic necessities can also be helpful and some veteran homeless are a fixture in urban neighborhoods. Not all panhandlers are homeless, however. And the guy who tried to shame the couple into giving a donation was out of line, in my view. It’s fine to ask, in general terms. People can always say “no”. It’s not acceptable to target someone like they are a “mark” that you plan to con or scam.

  • Vicki June 11, 2018, 5:46 pm

    I do sometimes give cash to panhandlers–maybe they won’t make the best use of the money, but that’s true of almost everyone, and poverty doesn’t improve anyone’s decision-making skills.

    However, I don’t think that I have to give to everyone to asks, and I definitely don’t owe either money or a justification to anyone who asks “why not?” or tries to convince me I owe it to them. (The same policy applies to people asking for a date, only moreso: they’ve just proven they won’t take no for an answer, and that’s more of a risk from the guy who wants me to come home with him than the one who wants a dollar.)

  • LadyV June 11, 2018, 5:48 pm

    The person that should be dealing with this situation is the owner of the restaurant! Just because people are eating outside, they’re still technically in the restaurant, and should be able to enjoy their dinner without being panhandled. I am not unsympathetic to the plight of the homeless, and help when I can, but I would NOT feel inclined to give to someone who approachec me at dinner.

  • Ashley M June 11, 2018, 7:33 pm

    I’ve had four experiences with panhandlers that turn me off of giving anyone money or food directly.

    1) I was in Chicago and young and thought absolutely nothing of giving $5 to someone. Another person noticed and suddenly a whole flock of people were following my aunt and I until we got into the safety of a building. Terrified me.

    2) Worked for a sandwich shop. A guy was sat outside with a sign saying something about being hungry. Manager brought him a sandwich. Sandwich got thrown back at him, manager comes back in all in a huff and says “He just wanted the money…”

    3) Was driving home from work one day, and saw a guy outside an area restaurant, with a sign claiming he had run out of gas money. Saw him in four different nearby towns over the course of the next two days.

    4) On vacation, walking to dinner. Guy outside a restaurant, panhandling. An employee on his way into the restaurant to start his shift, does a double take at the panhandler and says “Dude, y’all ain’t homeless, I was at your place playing XBox last night” and told him off.

    I’m sorry, I just cannot trust anyone in the street asking for money. Those four experiences, plus experiences of others in the town I vacation in have ruined it for me.

    It kind of stinks I feel that way because I have since moved to a new area and see way more people with signs and stuff. I can’t tell who is for real or not.

  • CookieWookiee June 11, 2018, 8:04 pm

    I am fairly soft hearted, but I don’t give out money. DH appointed himself the carrier of all our food because I would offer my share to people begging, and he didn’t like it. But in all my years of traveling on public transit, I’ve only had an offer of food accepted ONCE. I gave the guy a pear from my lunch and he kind of looked at it like “what do I do with this?” I’ve gotten everything from “I can’t eat that” (fair enough, anyone can have an allergy) to “I don’t like that.” My favorite though was the woman who accused me of trying to poison her when I offered her my apple. Then she mumbled something about Jesus saying she couldn’t eat apples and went around to everyone else in the subway car asking if anybody had a hamburger or a hot dog they could give her (?)…but of course she’d take money too.

    Today I was accosted by a woman demanding money for food for herself and her daughter (not present) in a loud sing-song voice. She stuck her hand out under my nose and asked for money. I said nope, sorry, I don’t have cash. I considered the silent “for you” to be implied. I hate having to do that, actually, because like the OP I feel badly for the homeless, but I know that giving money won’t help.

  • KEMcL June 12, 2018, 7:03 am

    When my son was 6 (20 years ago) we went to a car wash (Not a bad area of town) . He was off to the side of the bay playing with his toy dinosaur while I scrubbed down my car.

    I heard a noise from my son (Kind of a squeak of alarm) and looked up to see an elderly but large & intimidating man wearing a shabby suit, standing behind my son, holding him by his shoulders. My son was squirming but could not break free. The look of panic in his eyes terrified me.

    The man proceeded to calmly talk about his job interview across town and his need for gas money to get there. He said that he KNEW that a mother with such a lovely little boy would be more then happy to help him out. He briefly caressed my son’s cheek as he mentioned him.

    Shaking, I dug in my pocket for my car wash money and offered it to him (About $5). With one hand still tightly holding my squirming son, he took the money and put it in his pocket, before once again grasping my son’s shoulders with both hands. He then shook his head and said that I could do better then that. He gave my son a little shake as he said it. My son started to cry.

    I rushed to retrieve my wallet from inside the car and pulled out all the money inside (About $30). I held it out while simultaneously showing him the now empty of cash wallet (If he had wanted the wallet & cards he could have them).

    The man reached out to take the money. Only when he had it in his hand did he shove my son toward me. He did say, “Bless you for your generosity.”

    I snatched up my son, jumped in my car, locked the doors, started the engine while telling my son to fasten his seatbelt, and roared out of there in my bubblegum scented sudsy car.

    The police dutifully filed a report but seemed disinclined to pursue it further. Apparently they felt that since the man had been polite and never directly said that he would hurt my son, I COULD have just said “no.” They did tell me that I shouldn’t go to that car wash again.

    That was the worst of several unpleasant encounters with aggressive panhandlers, all of which combined have made me disinclined to “give” to the less fortunate on the street. I do donate via payroll deduction to accedited charities (Only a small percentage of donations go to overhead – Majority directly benefits those in need).

    Since then I do not wash my car very often and when I do, it’s at a drive thru car wash where I can stay inside with the doors locked (Washing my car brings on anxiety attacks).

    • Vrinda June 13, 2018, 5:56 pm

      Where was the car wash staff when this was going on?

  • Jelly_Rose June 12, 2018, 7:45 am

    We have to be careful around my area, the downtown of the city has grown a reputation for aggressive homeless, heckling and following tourists. In my little town outside the city, we have notorious ‘professional homeless’. The one that sticks out the most can be found around a fast food joint I used to work at, she’ll sit outside just beyond the property line so my old boss can’t kick her out. She’ll sit all day with her three year old with a sign saying she’s a single mom and anything will help her and her kid…. Only for the two to be picked up by her husband at the end of the day in a top of the line Mustang….. Some people…

  • Mames June 12, 2018, 8:48 am

    I’m a little late. In my town there is a very quickly growing panhandling problem. There are a few legit homeless people, and virtually no resources in our town. The past couple of years there has been one at every corner it seems, with almost no exaggeration.
    There is a woman that goes from town to town with the excuse that she’s out if gas and need to get to the hospital to see family.
    Most of the new ones are young people. And I know I can’t tell a person from the outside, but when you’re wearing better clothes than me, and talking on a smartphone, it’s kinda hard to give you the money I had to work for.
    I usually say now that I have no cash, only my debit card. Nobody yet has asked me to go to the atm, but they’re getting pretty agressive.

  • BeachMum June 12, 2018, 2:46 pm

    I live in a beach community known for its homeless population. I see the same people daily, and many of them are happy to take my leftovers or a fresh meal. (DH often offers, if we’re on our way to dinner, to bring someone back a fresh meal.) It’s expensive to live here and I’ve seen some of the ‘regulars’ going to their car (to sleep) later in the evening. Some may have other problems, but they aren’t the horrible people that so many have described. I don’t wish to demean anyone’s experiences, but there are some seriously needy people out there and the services offered by the government and NGO’s aren’t adequate.

  • ALM June 12, 2018, 5:55 pm

    I don’t give money and I’m not giving anything to anyone dressed better than I am. (Since I work in a research lab, that’s pretty much everyone).

    Now if I could only get rid of the aggressive utility scams constantly calling me to switch my utilities, but they have the wrong name and don’t know my address. They always seem surprised when I tell them that no, I’m not going to give them my name, if they were legit, they’d know my name.

  • CherylAC June 12, 2018, 6:51 pm

    I see nothing wrong in how the man in question handled the panhandler. The last time someone came up to me and asked for money for food, I was in a fast food burger place with my mother. She refused to give him any money. I started to reach for my purse, then told him I didn’t have any extra money but I would give him my food. I am overweight and even joked it wouldn’t hurt me to miss some lunch. We had just sat down and had not started to eat yet. He refused it and asked again for money. I repeated my offer and his reply was “I don’t like this place’s food.”. I frowned a little and thought then why are you in here asking for money for food? He left then and a man at a table next to us told me the panhandler was a regular and yes, would have spent it on his addiction of choice (I don’t recall now if it was alcohol or another drug) and reassured me I had handled things correctly.

  • Lauren Alergant June 14, 2018, 2:47 pm

    Here in UK I will give a small amount to people sitting on the street like £1. I always remember one man though when I lived in Manchester he would sit with a book and ask if anyone could help him. Most of the time he just asked for a hot drink or a sandwich. He told me that he had lost his job as a mechanic after a fire where he worked and he had lived above the business. He camped out all over winter in terrible conditions. On the odd occasion I would give him £10 so he could go to a shelter for the night. Other times we would sit and have a coffee together and talk about the book he was reading. I haven’t seen him in a long time and hope things worked out for him. I find that in the UK the homeless are not aggressive when asking for money and I see the panhandling more when I visit other European countries.

  • Christi Emerson June 18, 2018, 11:28 am

    I work hard for my money and I would like to know where every penny of it goes. If I give it to someone who says he is homeless and that he needs something to eat, I don’t know for a fact that that is true. He may go somewhere to buy food or he may go buy drugs with it. It’s better to buy him and meal, sit with him and watch him eat it than to give him money to spend on who-knows-what.

  • Marozia June 20, 2018, 8:18 pm

    Mum and I were sitting at a cafe in the City when a homeless person came up to us asking for money.
    Mum said in a clipped, stern voice, “I beg your pardon, but this is a PRIVATE conversation”.
    He moved along very quickly.

  • Justme July 9, 2018, 7:59 am

    I don’t give to beggars. There are so many resources out there to take care of them. If they can walk around begging, they can push a broom. When you do too much for people, they won’t do for themselves.