I read this article on panhandling and it brought some things to mind.
I’ve never been quite sure what to do about panhandlers – they’re somewhat common in Austin (and Houston) and so it’s not infrequent that I’ll be stopped at a light and one or two will be on the median. Back when I first started driving, I leaned towards giving them a dollar and feeling good about myself. “After all”, I’d tell myself, “even if they are just going to spend it on alcohol or whatever, it’s not my place to judge them, and I have the right to spend my money on stuff that isn’t great for me, so why shouldn’t they?” I thought it was the Christian thing to do.
After a while of that, I got a little jaded, and thought about the fact that economically I was encouraging more panhandling by “rewarding” those who were. (cold-hearted economics strikes again!) My mom tended to have a bag of non-perishable food (cereal and the like) that she would give instead of money, which is actually a pretty good solution.
Now I’m generally torn on the issue. Since we moved further away from downtown I don’t see panhandlers as much so it hasn’t come up, but reading the article sure makes me less likely to give. I like Denver’s solution of converted parking meters where you can drop money and the city will give it to homeless shelters, etc. – that way you can give at the time you’re being asked while ensuring it goes to a good cause.