I recently read an article that had been featured by a Chicago Tribune columnist regarding a relationship between a panhandler and a benefactor. In this article
, we learn of the life of a panhandler, how he hit bottom, and of the generosity of a radio host whose contributions helped keep the panhandler going during his rough times. It made me think about my experiences and the conflicts I have felt many times.
My background is that I grew up in a blue collar household. My dad worked a skilled labor day job and worked several evenings a week at my uncle's gas station. During summers when I was an undergrad and in grad school, I worked 60-80 hrs/week working in places/jobs like an electronics factory, working for an electrician, security guard, and as a cashier at a 7-Eleven. I began my first professional job right after grad school and have been employed full time ever since. As I look toward retirement in the relatively near future, I know I will need some sort of job or obligation to keep me busy. I really don't remember what it is even like to not work.
Anyway, I mention all this because it leads to my conflict. What do you do when confronted with panhandlers or others basically begging for money? I am in a position to be generous with these people if I choose, but I think back to how I have always busted my butt working no matter what and therefore feel less giving. However, I also realize that I have been extremely fortunate in many ways in my life, having skills and personal qualities that have helped make me successful.
I have made an attempt to give more to charitable organizations the past few years, and that is always good. However, when seeing people begging on the street , I wonder what the money will really be used for. Food? Alcohol? Drugs? Gambling? And if this person seems to have any type of mobility skills, can't he or she get at least a minimum wage job somewhere?
I feel much better buying a meal for anyone. After having dinner at a local bar/restaurant, I once was confronted at my car by a guy asking for a quarter to buy a McDouble. Huh? Who asks for a quarter? I told the guy that I wouldn't give him any money, but would go inside with him and pay for a meal for him if he was hungry. We went inside, and the waitress was pissed off that he was there, saying that he had been bothering customers all day and had already gotten two or three free meals there that day. Instead of feeling angry or used, my first thought was "How hungry did that guy have to be to continue to beg meals after already having had a few that day?" She told the guy he could get take-out, but the boss didn't want him inside bothering customers. I made sure that he got food to go before I left.
So I feel caught when I see people panhandling. My Catholic upbringing (and Catholic guilt!) make me want to help, yet I question whether or not my generosity will really be helping or only perpetuating alcohol or drug addiction. I have been tempted to do things like go to a fast food joint and hand out some free food, but I have also heard horror stories about people doing so in Las Vegas and catching grief from the panhandlers who were a tad picky about what food they would accept!
Hearing some of the tales of panhandling from Tony Bigcharles
, who used the money to buy in at poker tables, and reading about how some panhandlers actually make more than one would think only makes the whole issue more murky in my mind.
So I ask you -- what do you think?