Saturday, September 17, 2011

Panhandling and Begging

Yesterday I saw a dirty looking guy on a busy street. He was carrying a styrofoam doggy bag that someone had just given him from a nearby restaurant. He walked down the street a ways, discarded the container on the grass without examining the contents, then pulled out multiple cardboard signs from his back pack, unfolded one and set up shop on the corner soliciting people for financial aid.

I don't usually give to people begging for money because my Spidey senses tell me they usually want the money for booze or drugs. A man once approached me with tears in his eyes asking for $5 since he had starving kids at home and he needed to buy them food. I offered to go to the store with him and get some groceries but he got pissed off at me for calling his bluff and walked away.

On another occasion a guy approached me and said he had not eaten for days and he was homeless. I had not eaten that day and was on my way to lunch. There was a Burger King across the street. I told him I only had $4 on me at the time, which was true, but I was willing to split it with him and we could each get two items off of their dollar menu. He then said with how infrequently he ate, he needed a big meal. He said he wanted to to the Golden Coral since it was an all you can eat buffet. He declined my offer. The phrase "beggars can't be choosers" came to mind.

After having many experiences like these or seeing the same guy in a mall parking lot over the period of a month telling people his car just ran out of gas and he needed $10, I have become more cynical. Cheeseboy recently shared an experience about when people ask him for money because they ran out of gas or because their car broke down, he gives them Monopoly money. When they say "this isn't real" he tells them "neither is your story."

I know I am not supposed to judge the beggar. The scriptures tell us we should "impart of our substance one to another" and that "inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." I just wish it was easier to identify those who are truly in need. I have more empathy for the people clinging to a shopping carts full of garbage or people who literally live on the streets, since they most likely suffer from mental illness and are not there to scam people for money.

There are many panhandlers and con artists who have cried wolf for so long to the public that it has become hard to tell when someone has a legitimate need anymore. I'm sure there are many people who really do need help, so it is sad that so many people muddy the waters and make it hard to tell who is really in need.


Crystal Pistol said...

That's a toughie. I agree, I feel so guilty when I don't just hand over my cash. So usually I DO hand over my cash. then I hope it's being put to good use. But in most cases it's probably not...

Bob Sanchez said...

I'll just hand someone a buck and not worry if they want to buy drugs or food. If they're begging, chances are they do have a drug or alcohol problem, and they may be hungry too. If they're scamming me, well, they haven't gotten much. A buck is too little to be any real help.

mCat said...

After working downtown and seeing the scams that go on with the panhandlers (same guy with the same sign for YEARS that he just needed bus fare to get back to Oregon - and the same 3 legged dog that gets passed from person to person), I became far too cynical. I guess I donate extra to my church each month and know that the funds will go to people who truly need it.

Pedaling said...

I'm sorry for commenting so late on this post. I actually read it shortly after it posted. But, I wanted to tell you, it's one of my favorite posts of yours.
I've been scammed in the parking lot--Never Again. I like Cheeseboy's solution.
I've offered food to some and been turned down.
Then the whole Elizabeth Smart thing--seriously made me look at the homeless differently.