For no particular reason I opened up Wikipedia and clicked the “Random Article” link. What came up was “Aggressive panhandling”. Funny because just a few days prior a friend had posted on Facebook that he’d given a few bucks to panhandlers and wondered if he was a sucker for doing so. What I think this means is that all social media is interlinked and the giant corporations are directing our web traffic to support their evil schemes. Oops, that’s another blog post.
Unless you live in Lebanon, Kansas you’ve seen ’em. Beggars, bums, panhandlers, urban campers, 17th century music majors, hobos.
They stand on corners, intersection medians, and near shopping areas with their cardboard signs. “Down on my luck”. “Homeless and hungry”. “Need gas money”. “Homeless vet”. “Why lie, need $$ for beer”. They range in appearance from young-ish kids sporting multiple face piercings, to sad older folks, to filthy wackjob looking guys who’ve clearly need a serious delousing. You sit in your $30k car watching them shuffle from window to window looking for a dollar. The guilt sets in, especially women. You fish through your pocket or purse, find a buck just in case he gets to your window before the light changes. If you don’t have anything handy you do everything possible to avoid eye contact. Staring down intently at your phone seems to be a favorite tactic.
For most of us a dollar isn’t going to make or break the monthly budget. It’s not like your children will have to skip dinner tonight if you give up a buck. Should you feel guilty about not giving? Absolutely not! Don’t give them money!! Ultra liberal do-gooders are probably hyperventilating at this point. Don’t worry, they’ll be ok once they have a chi latte. First off, it’s the rare exception that these beggars actually need that dollar to eat. Per a PD contact, many of them can easily make up to $200-$300 a day. Yes, you read that right. It’s common to see them wander off the median and head to their car and drive off when the (sucker) traffic is slow. Many dress for the part and carry multiple cardboard signs with various sayings in case the current one isn’t working.
If nothing else, there’s the safety issue. Do you really want to roll down your window and invite a hepatitis infected drug addict to reach in and grab your purse or worse? Think it doesn’t happen? I know in your Hello Kitty, sunshine and rainbow-filled world all people are good, but that’s just not reality. Sorry.
I’m certainly not suggesting these folks are well-off. They’re out there for many reasons. Probably the biggest one is a drug addiction. Sadly, they’ll take that dollar from you just as quick as they’ll break into your car or home looking for stuff to steal and sell. Gotta feed that addiction. Mental illness can be a factor as well as a host of other unfortunate events. Waaay down the list is the true, down on his luck, lost his job, home foreclosed on, can’t feed the kids, homeless guy. Why? I believe that most people will take steps before things got to that point and do everything possible to either prevent, or get themselves out of that scenario ASAP. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen, but my gut tells me it’s the rare case.
Warning, politically incorrect statement: At least in the SF Bay Area, 90% of the restaurant dishwashers, car washers, and fast food workers are our southern friends – here in a temporarily undocumented status. They do not speak English. (no complaints, their English is better than my Spanish) The point is that they work, and work hard. If an illegal immigrant who does not speak english can find work and survive without begging… so can many (most) of the dudes working the street corner. Begging for money has become a choice for them, not a survival mechanism. Like it or not, giving money is only enabling the behavior. It’s not an accident that cities like San Francisco who pride themselves on being tolerant towards panhandlers are meccas for the homeless. It’s hard to walk down the street in SF without being accosted by some scary looking dude looking for money.
Giving is good. Giving makes you feel better about yourself. I like giving. The difference is that I want to give in a way that maximizes the benefit. Give (or better yet, volunteer) at your local soup kitchen/homeless shelter. Give to a drug, job, outreach center. Give to your church. Find a charity that matches your personal goals and opinions and give. You’ll feel good, and the overall benefit will be 100x what that dollar you give at the intersection does.