Got A Quarter?

Posted: March 29, 2008 in Compassion, Employment, Homelessness, Money, Panhandling

"Excuse me, can you spare some change?"

It’s a question most of us have heard at one time or another. Or, if we haven’t been asked, then we’ve seen a person standing on a corner holding a cardboard sign telling us that they’re homeless. Anything helps. God Bless.

Sometimes we’re not sure how to respond – or even if we should.  

Should we help? Should we just ignore the person? How do we know that person isn’t going to use the money to get drunk? Are they dangerous? Why should I give my hard earned money to that person anyway?

And, why in the world are they panhandling in the first place? They look able bodied. There doesn’t appear to be anything wrong with them. They should be out there looking for work instead of just sponging off of the rest of us.

If they’re too lazy to work, then let them go over to the homeless shelter and get something to eat there. After all, that’s what the homeless shelter is for, right? For people like them.

***** ***** *****

This past week, whenever I’ve checked to see how many visitors I’ve had to this site, I keep seeing,

Why do the homeless panhandle?

show up as one of the questions someone has been using on search engines. That question has listed one or more of my posts as a possible answer.

I can answer the question with just one word: money.

The whole world needs money. That’s just the way it is. The bartering system has gone the way of the dinosaur. Money is the medium of exchange for services and goods.

Our wanting the homeless not to panhandle is a paradox.

The way we view it is, if they choose not to work then let them go over to the local homeless shelter. But, we aren’t willing to require that our city leaders allocate adequate funding to the homeless shelter, and we personally won’t make donations sufficient enough so that the shelter can provide better services to the homeless.

One city worker I was speaking to one day, said to me that the reason more funding isn’t made available for the homeless support services is that the city doesn’t want to make it too easy for the homeless.

Oh sure! Being homeless is just as easy a life as anyone could possibly want. Let’s not provide sufficient funding to meet their most basic of needs. If we do, they’ll get spoiled and think that life is one big bowl of peaches and cream, and that whole world owes them something.

Yeah, right!

The unadulterated truth is that the homeless support service agencies DO NOT provide adequate services for the homeless. But the fault isn’t theirs. It’s ours. We refuse to help them help the homeless. We do that by not providing them with the funding they need to expand their services – much less the ability to implement and maintain programs that could help the homeless get back on their feet.

And expecting all of the homeless to just run out and find a job straightaway is as foolish an attitude as thinking that the world is flat.

The unemployment rate is rising. The cost of housing is rising. In fact, the cost of everything is rising. The only thing that is really going down right now is the economy. And it doesn’t look like that’s going to change anytime soon.

Admittedly, there are a number of panhandlers who aren’t the nicest of people. Some are uncouth. Some are foul mouthed. And yes, some of them are out there to just get enough money to buy themselves a beer or whatever.

But, like Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder sang in the song, Ebony and Ivory,

"There is good and bad in everyone"

Just as there are homeless who "abuse" panhandling, there are also those homeless who actually use the money they are given to purchase things like clothing, shoes, personal hygiene items – and yes, even something to eat.

As I said a bit earlier, the homeless panhandle to get money. For some, it’s the only means they have for getting money. Just because they are forced to panhandle doesn’t necessarily mean they’re lazy. For whatever reason, they may be unable – or have been unable – to find work. Some even have disabilities that may preclude them from being able to work.

And don’t be fooled. Just because they look like they’re able bodied, doesn’t really mean a thing. There are disabilities that people can have that simply cannot be discerned just by sight alone. A person can have cardio-vascular problems. That’s certainly not something you can tell about a person just by looking at them.

Look, if someone asks you for some spare change or if you happen to see someone holding a sign you have the right to say "no." You aren’t obligated to give anything if you choose not to.

On the other hand, if you do decide to give that person something, don’t put conditions on that gift. Remember, once you make the gift, it’s theirs to do with it as they choose – even if you may not approve.

But here a few things to consider –

Imagine what it must feel like to be homeless and have to ask others for money. Think about how de-moralizing; how humiliating it must make that person feel. And, if you think that it doesn’t feel like that – go out and try it yourself.

Also consider this –

Just because the person may be panhandling and you may not like that, it doesn’t give justification for you to say something mean or disrespectful to that person. And, it could actually make the situation worse.

Panhandlers get verbally abused quite a bit. And, after a while, that verbal abuse gets under a person’s skin. Sooner of later, it’s going to erupt. If you say something mean or nasty to a panhandler, it could very well be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back. You may find yourself on the receiving end of some nasty words in return.

And consider this also –

I’ve heard all of the stories and rumors about homeless people making hundreds of dollars per day out panhandling. I’ve met a lot of homeless people. And I’ve met a lot of homeless people who panhandle. None of the ones I’ve met come anywhere close to taking in that amount of money. Many of them have walked away from their corners with $10 or $12 for four or five hour’s worth of standing in all manner of weather conditions.

I’m not saying that the stories and rumors aren’t true, but I’ve never met any panhandler who is "making a killing" flying a sign. If they were, they would at least be able to afford a motel room every now and again instead of having to sleep behind buildings and under bushes.

Lastly, consider this –

As I’ve said, everybody needs money – homeless; non-homeless – it doesn’t matter. People need money to acquire goods and services.

Isn’t is better to have someone quietly standing on a corner holding their sign, hoping that someone will find it in their hearts to give them a few bucks, than it would be to have that person hanging about an ATM waiting to accost somebody as they make a withdrawal?

  1. “The unadulterated truth is that the homeless support service agencies DO NOT provide adequate services for the homeless. But the fault isn’t theirs. It’s ours. We refuse to help them help the homeless. We do that by not providing them with the funding they need to expand their services – much less the ability to implement and maintain programs that could help the homeless get back on their feet.”

    Thank you!!

    This is truly the reality that so many agencies face – there are many, many more needy individuals than we have services to provide. We depend, in many ways, on the support of our communities. In return, we work with men and women who are homeless, helping them to return to housing. This benefits our community dually by getting homeless people off the streets and saving taxpayer dollars that would otherwise go toward repeat ER visits, etc.

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