Sunday, April 10, 2016

To Give or Not To Give?

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?


Blogger JT88Keys said...

I never give an amount that would hurt my personal bottom line...just the change in my pocket or a buck or two. My personal philosophy is that I would rather accidentally give to somebody that didn't really need it than miss an opportunity to help somebody that desperately did need it.

3:59 PM  
Blogger Pete P. Peters said...

Having spent the past 21 years in DC, I don't even think twice about it any more. Panhandlers are so prolific, they just seem to blend in to the city's scenery at this point. My impression is that those who put effort into their "craft" do OK. There's always someone (possibly, many tourists) that are willing to give a buck to two. Others just seem so far gone (likely due to mental illness, drugs or sickness that they put no effort into it at all and probable are lucky to pull some spare change every no and then.

Personally, I haven't given a dime to anyone in years. I mean, fuck them - pour people are disgusting. I'm kidding. I'm kidding. Nowadays, I use a credit card for EVERYTHING (sweet, sweet, airline miles) so I rarely have any money on me, and have no moral dilemma. Of course, the day dem homeless get credit card machines, I'll be in trouble . . .

4:18 PM  
Blogger Tony Bigcharles said...

just waking up and reading the post. i would be glad to hear u would like to help, instead of automatically say no like so many. i would want to be sure they dont drink or buy drugs. often people have just ate, yet still need money. this happened to me many times years ago. giving larger amounts which can be used for shelter is needed, or buying them a nights sleep. test them, offer them a $1 beer, then if they say they dont drink, give them $20 cash, knowing they will not abuse it and really need it. most people dont have near the ability to learn poker that i did, but if more panhandlers could be taught, it would keep them off the streets for good.

11:29 PM  
Blogger Memphis MOJO said...

My brother is retired but used to own his own company. He saw a guy with a sign "Will work for food," and stopped and offered to hire him for the day at $15 per hour. The panhandler turned him down saying he could make more for the day just standing there.

When I lived in Memphis, they had downtown programs where people could get a meal and a place to sleep. I believe I'd rather donate to something like this -- seems the money would be better spent.

Having said all this, it's a complex topic, and I have mixed feelings.

7:26 AM  
Blogger Pete P. Peters said...

Tony, I would submit that many people who are panhandling suffer from mental illness or mental/physical disability. For such individuals, social services would seem a more effective solution than, say, teaching the homeless poker. These people have varying needs, including, of course, shelter and medical care. Gambling is not going to help them secure all of their needs. Sadly, while it's important that they are taken care of, presumably, mental illness/disability precludes many of them from seeking the social services they'd benefit from in the first instance. It's an unbreakable circle -- mental disability is what qualifies them for social services which they could greatly benefit from; yet, this very mental disability forecloses their efforts to seek services. Tony, curious what your thoughts are on this.

7:47 AM  
Anonymous KenP said...

Any good size town has shelter and various support options. Often it is via a local church or Salvation Army facility. Make a note of the location. Donate there and give the indigent their card.

Then, wonder why the government keeps adding expensive program after program that you also pay for; while mental health facilities have been all but shut down.

BTW, I saw that Lutheran charities had to shut down because Illinois hasn't paid them since the budget kerfuffle. So what that is on a little generosity isn't a bad idea. Books of McD coupons can be a way to avoid the problems and you can use them up yourself, if they are left over.

8:28 AM  
Blogger The Poker Meister said...

I generally just ignore the beggars. There are many opportunities to make money in this country - but many people unfortunately choose an "easier" path rather than put in the hard work. Doubtless, many of the homeless people begging for money have mental deficiencies, but I can't help but think that the buck or two I give them would help advance their life in any meaningful or non-meaningful way. They need to get help which requires time that I cannot contribute to them.

9:26 AM  
Blogger Poker & Gambling 24/7 said...

I can only go by the majority of local authorities who say that people should not give money (or even food) to panhandlers but instead to local charities who cater to the homeless.

I know firsthand that San Diego is very aggressive in warning the public not to give anything to panhandlers. They even have donation areas around the city that go directly to a city-wide project to end homelessness. Apparently, giving money and food only encourages more panhandling and people do not get the help they need.

4:06 PM  
Blogger Tony Bigcharles said...

difficult to believe memphis mojo guy would claim this. most of these guys rarely make over $20. i was outside of memphis like 20 yrs ago holding one of these signs and a guy put me to work in his business for the day. some type of factory if i remember right. but he paid me, and i mightve done it more than 1 day.. couldve been the same guy mojo knows. wish there was a way to know.

5:00 PM  
Blogger Cranky said...

so interesting to read your post, light. I just started my blog back up and wrote a post on the same subject. I have decided to give money to panhandlers rather than organizations that raise money for the homeless. Sure, some of the money will go to drugs or alcohol, but money given to organizations has its own skim.

Thanks for publishing this. It is definitely a topic worth thought and dialogue.

7:58 PM  
Blogger seattleirish said...


Interesting post - The Atlantic had a great article on this topic. I found it very informative.

it does quote a study (one of many quoted in the article) that says full-time "professional" panhandlers make between $600 and $1500 per month.


5:45 PM  
Blogger edh530 said...

I used to stop at breakfast place before work and the owner kept beggars out of his restaurant. A guy in the parking lot asked me for a dollar. I said no money but I would get breakfast so what did he want. I thought I did a good deed. Two days later the guy comes up to me and asks " Hey did you forget to buy me breakfast" I had to explain I had not agreed to adopt him.

4:58 PM  

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