panhandling

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.

11 thoughts on “panhandling”

  1. I would like to point out that on several occasions I have offered (and gone through with) buying the person lunch or something like that. I refuse to give cash because (a) it’s dangerous with all those cars around to stop and have people walking amongst them and (b) I have no idea what that money will be spent on and I don’t want to pay for someone’s cigarettes.

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  2. Yeah I’m sort of torn myself. I used to give them a few dollars in Austin. I always feel compelled to give them at least a little something b/c unless they are drivin’ off in a nice BMW or something – they’re probably living a life that’s much worse off. Though I have encountered genuine con-men around here in atlanta – you can usually tell them apart b/c they are very aggressive and are usually looking for you to help them jump their car or drive them somewhere and they’ll catch you on your way to your car. But yeah in general, it’s a tough choice :(. Some cities such as NY & (I heard) Dallas have vans that drive their homeless to other cities that are much better prepared or have open homes in surrounding cities. In NY – they shipped them to Albany, Ithaca, Rochester & Buffalo. In Texas, they drove em to Austin :- That’s at least the rumor I heard. Not sure how true it is.

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    1. The “much better prepared” sounds to me like what they tell you right before they herd you into the cattle cars. Not to commit a Godwin, but in seriousness, no jurisdiction has ever responded to an influx of people who need support and resources with anything other than dismay or at best politely concealed dismay; cities who try to get rid of their neediest are dumping them, not delivering them to better care.

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      1. Yeah, various cities have been found guilty of dumping their homeless on other cities. It’s despicable but some people will do anything to get rid of a problem.

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  3. 1. I never give money to panhandlers. 2. I do give money to buskers. 3. I do give money to people selling things like Street Sense. 4. People approaching my car might be panhandlers, or they might be carjackers. 5. People approaching me on the street might be panhandlers, or they might be muggers who want to know where you keep your wallet. Basically, I’m a jaded bastard.

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  4. I don’t give from the car. It encourages them to stay near busy streets and that doesn’t seem safe. I don’t give on foot anymore really because I use plastic all the time. Who carries cash anymore?

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  5. I don’t encounter panhandlers very often. When I do, the panhandler is usually a man with a cardboard sign standing at a street corner or under an overpass. These people are easy to ignore from the comfort of my car; I generally feel a pang of guilt but shrug it off. Panhandlers one meets while walking around on foot are a little harder to ignore, especially if they say something to you. I usually try to avoid eye contact in hopes of not being talked at. If the panhandler does ask me if I can spare any change, I mumble a “Sorry, no,” and walk away quickly. When I was younger I often dug up some coins to give, but I don’t anymore. This is more to do with fear for my personal safety than with worrying about what the person will do with my money: I want to keep my interaction with the panhandler to a minimum. Prejudiced? Perhaps. One summer day a couple years ago, I brought my lunch to the edge of Central Park to eat, and a guy came up to me and gave me some line about why he needed money. He was pretty persistent and actually struck up a conversation with me. I was a little uncomfortable, but at the same time I was amused, and eventually I gave him the dollar or two that I had in my wallet, more for the entertainment value of his story than because I believed what he told me. I had another encounter last year, which I describe here. I often wish I’d had a granola bar or other conveniently packaged food to give the person instead of cash, since he/she usually claims to be hungry.

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  6. I don’t tend to give to panhandlers. I don’t like people wandering around traffic, especially feeder roads during rush hour. To that end, I absolutely refuse to give to any “charitable” organizations who use the same tactic. To this end: 1) Why do you send your 16 year old daughter to hustle money on a street corner wearing a crotch length skirt? Now this is called “fund raising” for cheerleaders or drill team or whatever. I call it pimping out the jail bait. 2) The fire fighters who wander around w/boots to fill? Are they on the clock or are they on their own time? If the are on the clock, they aren’t ready to go fight fires having spent the last 3 hrs on a street corner panhandling. If they are on their own time, do they reimburse the city for the use of the fire engine (gas, insurance, lack of it being available for real emergencies, etc). Oh, and in my parents neighborhood, they ride around running the siren to get people to look outside and give them money – this dilutes the meaning of the siren IMHO. I support their cause, I don’t support their methods. Also, more to topic, general panhandlers and/or people who ask for money: 1) In Austin, apparently there are people coming around offering to do stuff like mowing your lawn for cheap ($10, compared to the normal $40). They claim they need money for food, but refuse to take food saying that they can’t carry it. They typically are casing your house & backyard. 2) Sob stories, con artists, etc annoy me. They aren’t just asking for spare change or a dollar – they want $20 to pay for gas or a tow and swear they will pay you back (to the point of getting your address, etc). I don’t even bother being polite to these people. 3) True homeless looking panhandlers – I try to be polite, but rarely give money. I’ll give a smile and a wave or a peace sign, and shake my head. I try my best to treat them like people, without feeling obligated to give away my money. I have seen a panhandler in Austin get picked up by a friend in a Benz. Cracked us up.

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