Tuesday, November 1, 2011


To give, or not to give: that is the question.

Okay… So I’ve borrowed some Shakespeare and changed a couple words.

What do you think when you see someone begging? Do your thoughts vary based on their physical appearance (clothing, race, gender, grooming, age, etc.), their location, and/or their method of begging?


Vacationing in Atlanta, my husband and I decide to ride the MARTA from our airport hotel to downtown. I want another “vacation experience;” to see what Atlanta’s public transportation is like while getting a look at other parts of the city.

Also, I think it’ll be good for our kids. Seeing life outside of the suburbs is always an opportunity to add another page to their sheltered little lives. They’ve been to a few other large cities and found each to be different. Now we’re going to take on Atlanta. After all, they may go to college in a large city or live in one as adults.

So what should happen while riding the train…

A young man appears from somewhere, walking the isles asking for money. I watch the face of a seasoned rider to see how she will handle him. She never looks up; and not in a nervous way, but with body language that says, “Just keep on walking.”

I say to myself, “If he comes over to me, that’s what I’ll do.”

Five seconds later, he is standing over me as I sit dressed in my tourist outfit, laced with a camera bag over my shoulder.

“Got any change?” he asks in a voice that is mild, yet frightening.

I want to ignore him, but can’t manage the attitude of the seasoned woman rider. Sooo… I look up into his eyes, quickly, and shake my head softly from side to side without saying a word. He moves on.

Fortunately, he does not approach my children who are sitting in another seat. I don’t know what my fifteen year old, “I love my cushy life,” daughter would have done. She probably would have broken out in tears and called for her mommy and daddy… or fainted.

There were lots of jokes about this experience later in the day.


For at least six months, a woman has been sitting at the entrance of a shopping center near my home; the strip mall type. Her chair looks like a turned over bucket, and there appears to be a purse or backpack alongside it. Her hair is pulled back. Her attire is sweat pants and a tee shirt. Her complexion is normal and she looks well fed. If I saw her in Walmart, she’d fit right in. I’d never know that she begs on the street.

The first time I see her, my mind tells me she’s a mother; maybe even a wife with an unemployed husband – though I really have no idea. As I pull up to the intersection, the traffic light is red. I give her a few dollars. I say, “God bless you.” She responds with a smile and a sincere (or well performed), “Thank you, God bless you.”

The next time I see her, the light is green. “Good,” I think. I don’t have to make eye contact or purposely avoid her.

I travel this road often and see her a lot. I’m beginning to harden, and I don’t know why; not feeling as sympathetic. I don’t want to ride past her. When I have to be in the shopping center, I remedy the situation by leaving at another exit.

A friend and I briefly discussed this woman. We call her the Barnes and Noble Lady because the well-known book store is at the shopping center near her post. My friend’s husband thinks she should only give food to panhandlers; not money. B&N Lady has this covered though, because she leaves her food bag in a visible spot, as if to say, “I don’t need any more fast food.”

My husband, on the other hand, has a giving nature, and will hand over the occasional $5 bill. I’m more of a one or two bucks person.

I’ve heard so many opinions on this subject over the years; some strongly against giving. After reading a book in 2010, a true story titled, Same Kind of Different as Me (thank you Simone), I was fascinated to learn a few tricks of panhandlers to get people to give them money. The homeless man in the book, Denver, was a heavy drinker and used some of his money to buy alcohol. Reading his life story, though, it is no surprise that his journey was one struggle after another.

There are always going to be poor people; and just as there are among rich people, many will be addicts. Whether an addict or not, panhandling appears to be a hard and humiliating job. I don’t know if it’s right or wrong to hand over a dollar or not? Does it matter?

What do you think?

The sightings of the woman panhandler took place during the summer. I have not seen her since.
Thank you T. K.
image found here


Rebecca S. said...

As with telemarketers my response to those asking me for money varies greatly on the day, my mood, and the tone in which the money is asked for. I'm all over the map with this one. In our town there is a woman who has made a sort of art out of asking people for money. At first I gave her a couple of dollars, but then I began to feel pursued. And now I know more about her life, I am less likely to give her money. I do say hi to her though and try to connect on a human-to human level with her. She doesn't ask me for anything very often now, so that is interesting.
In the cities here there are plenty of young people who make a lot of money panhandling downtown. I would rather seem them doing something else with their time and energy. And I really resent it when they get aggressive.
A while ago I decided to give my money to agencies like food banks and such. These professionals know who really needs the money for food and shelter and I hope my few dollars get to those who really need it.
Still, like I said in the beginning of this long comment (sorry), if I'm in the right mood and someone hits my heart, I will slow the car and hand some change out the window.

Judy Thomas said...

Advocates for the homeless say to not directly give them money, but give it to services for the homeless instead. Individual giving may satisfy an immediate need, but not the longer-term problem.

Anonymous said...

For me, it's always a reminder of how lucky I am to be where I am, and how close I once came to being one of those guys. And in these economic times, it's a reminder of how most of us are just one layoff away from being one of those guys.

Here's my story about an experience with a homeless man, if you're interested:

Homeless for the Holidays

Tabor said...

I do not give out money unless I am absolutely cornered and feeling they are going to create a scene. My daughter worked in Atlanta one year and was pan-handled to death as she walked to work each day. I only give food or certificates to fast food places. Most are addicts and will only spend it on drugs or alcohol.

Abby said...

I remember seeing a TV show that exposed a lot of panhandlers as "professionals" who actually made quite a good living at it. Ever since, I've been suspicious - is it all an act?

There was a woman that used to humbly ask for matches nearly every day when I worked at a high priced hotel in downtow Denver. I think she was homeless. I'll never forget her.

Midlife Roadtripper said...

I don't give money to those on the street corners. I used to avoid their eye. A friend who works for an homeless agency says many would just like someone to look them in the eye and acknowledge them as a person. I find that difficult. Sort of like it would then be an obligation to give if I acknowledge their presence. I do now look and nod - but i still don't give. I do give to the shelters and services that support them, though.

Tracey said...

My son is almost seven. We were shopping and a man asked me for money. I declined and kept walking. My son asked what the man wanted. I told him.

"Mom, you should have given him money. You have money. Daddy gave you some this morning."

I tried to explain, but I couldn't. We went back and forth for a while. Man, that kid can ask questions!

"Jesus would have given him money, if he had any. But Jesus didn't have any money. Would you say no to Jesus if he asked you for money?"

Man, that kid can talk!

Anyway, I got to thinking about it. If I give a few bucks to be charitable, what they do with it does not change my act of charity. But if I give money to pan handlers I am reinforcing bad behavior. Not drinking, but begging. And the more it is reinforced, the more it will happen, and the more it happens, the more aggressive they will be. In San Francisco there are beggars with scary dogs who will menace you for change. That's just a mugging.

But it is hard to explain to your six year old why you won't give money to "Jesus."

So, yeah, I don't know.

Tracey said...

I'm leaving two comments because I have alot of bum stories.

Twice, TWICE, several years apart, I have offered pan handlers dollar coins. I happened to have them in my wallet. I normally would only give change, not whole dollars, so I felt like I was being generous. Both times the men pulled their hand away and said, "What's that?" with their tone of disdain. It's money!!!! I had to convince TWO bums, on TWO separate occasions, to take my money!

Sr Crystal Mary said...

For myself, I ALWAYS give... now some of the people may not be needy they may be liars...if so, then God will deal with them. I would hate to think someone went hungry because I tried to sort out in my mind what I should do. What would Jesus do?? that is the question. I believe He would give in love. I now live on a modest pension, but I give all the time...and God returns the blessing, ten fold over. I have been in McDonalds and seen a teenager watching his friends buy themselves food. I got up and gave him the money to do the same. Standing in line in a supermarket a child asked her mother for potato chips at the check out. They mother lovingly explained it wasn't in the budget. She had three children with her, all in school uniform so I know they had just come out of school and were hungry. I bought all of them a chocolate. The girl who had asked her mother, just stared at me and then said, "You must be a kind lady." I was so stunned I missed the chance to tell them that Jesus loved them and cared.
YES!! I believe in giving...however you can, always give in love.

People Who Know Me Would Say: said...

Gosh, I don't think there is a one-size-fits-all answer to this. What a great, thought-provoking post, Anita!

I weigh each instance individually and listen to my gut. I'd like to be able to say that junkies and alcoholics never get my money....but there are times I KNOWINGLY give them money too.

I know so many people who've lost their homes and jobs. And many jobless folks have genuinely not been able to find work.

It can be a messy and complicated world.

Hilary said...

I struggle with this one, believe me. There's a guy holding a "Homeless Veteran" sign who sits on a bucket at the intersection near Morgan's school. While I wouldn't lean out of the car and hand him some money, I have been tempted to give him some of the snacks I usually have on hand. I feel better about getting food than money because who knows what the money is going for. That being said, just last week, I was in the parking lot of Starbucks about to treat myself when this well dressed guy in a Toyota or some such flags me down and lays on me this story of how he was from Farmville, lost on his way to a job interview, had no money for gas, had been to the gas station next to the S-bucks and they couldn't help him and bla bla bla. I was about to say "Sorry, can't help you, " but then, I saw there was a baby seat in back of his car and here I am about to get an overpriced coffee drink. So, I forked over $5 and said, "Get home safely". I really think I'd been taken for a ride, but I was about to drink up $5 worth of coffee, now wasn't I? Would I make it a habit of handing out money? Nope. I'd rather donate to food banks. Sorry for the long comment!

InSeason Mom Cynthia said...

I've actually learned something by reading the comments about professional panhandlers. Most panhandlers approach my husband who gives and they usually don't approach me...and I thought I had a "friendly" face! Thanks for sharing another thought-provoking post.

Buckeroomama said...

It depends. Sometimes I give, sometimes I don't. When I give, it's mostly to much older people, not those seemingly able-bodied.

Karen said...

Like everyone else, I struggle with this. But I now believe that it's better to contribute to organizations that will help these people rather than support the panhandlers directly. Part of the reason for this may be my injured pride. I remember once giving a man a few dollars only to be mocked by him because it wasn't "enough"!

Meg said...

Hi Anita! Before I get into panhandlers I just wanted to say thank you for visiting! That was such a nice comment you left, and I feel the same about my kids - I love them no matter what gender!

On to panhandlers - we've had quite a few experiences with the ones around here. Most of the time we (my husband or I) have offered to buy them food they look at us with a sort of snarl and say they just want money. There is a gang that works the streets near my husband's work and he has seen them many times get a few dollars, go the store and get a 6 pack, then sit under the bridges and drink 'em down while their buddies take the next "shift". Because of this, I hardly even acknowledge panhandlers anymore. It does still hit my heart and I wonder if perhaps I should have given that person something, but I don't want to be the one to support an alcohol/drug addiction. I am more than happy to give food and if I see someone who looks genuinely hungry I would of course give them something to eat. Whew, that was a long winded way to say "Food, yes. Money, no." :)

Sandra said...

Oh boy, food for thought this late on a Friday night...but here's what I think: I used to be terrified of panhandlers and poor people. Now, after working in a hospital as a nurse, I see these people as people. My kids however, like your daughter, are living in this bubble of cushiness, and are terrified. This is a really good thought provoking post!

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Hilary said...

I do what I can, if I can.

As several have stated, there isn't a single answer to cover all situations. I know that some will use the money for drugs or alcohol. I can't judge who they might be, nor is it my place to decide whether one person is needier than another. An addiction is also a need. Sad but true.

I'd certainly rather see someone get the help for their addiction but that's not being realistic. My saying "no" is not going to result in their getting help. And in the meantime, regardless of the reason, they're suffering.. and they might just truly be hungry.

So I do what I can, if I can.

A fine post, Anita.

Chapters From My Life said...

Living in India, we cannot avoid the people who are poor and take up begging as their profession. Someone of them have developed tactics to annoy people enough to give in to their wishes.
I have tough time dealing with these people.

MissKris said...

Until I read this I'd forgotten about the "Exit Ramp" panhandlers in Portland...they're EVERYWHERE and very competitive with each other. Plus a huge nuisance. That is one thing I DON'T miss having to deal with. I haven't seen anything like it around here in SE Michigan but I've yet to drive myself into Detroit and have no desire to go there. But Portland also had problems with panhandlers in the downtown area, too... they could get downright aggressive. I don't mind helping out someone who truly needs it, but when rumors fly that the "Exit" panhandlers are pulling in hundreds of dollars per day, that just sits sour on my stomach. I like what my daughter would do. If she had half a Subway sandwich she'd hand it out the window to them! As depressed an area as Detroit is you'd think there'd be panhandlers on every corner but there is a lot of pride here.

MissKris said...

And by pride, I mean these are hard-working people who've really hit upon hard times. It's been devastating to their economy and to their lives.

Midlife Mom said...

We don't seem to have much of a problem with panhandling here in my area. There are numerous food pantries and several homeless shelters available along with several churches that do free meals. We tried that for several years at our church but didn't have many takers. We did have about 6 or 7 children that came every week and one week one boy ate TEN bowls of chili!!!!! They were transient and finally all left the area but we were sure glad to feed and interact with them while they were there.

I would never give panhandlers money. I would go get them some food first. I think so many of them are drug abusers and money would enable them to buy. It's very sad and I'm sure I would feel guilty if I didn't stop but there must be facilities especially in a big city like Atlanta that reaches out to them.

No I can't get my sister on a horse. She won't even sit on poor old Lil' Bud for a picture and he is about as safe as any horse!!!!! I don't think she had a bad experience on one, I guess it just doesn't come natural to her like it does me. She loves to look at them and give them carrots but that's about it. :o)

Eileen Astels Watson said...

Oh, I struggle with this, too! I was just in Toronto this past weekend and saw many pan handlers and some even sleeping on the sidewalks. My heart breaks for them, but yet I didn't donate to them. I guess I figure I'd rather give to United Way and pray that they use the funds to help these people out as they go to soup kitchens or community events or out-of-the-cold programs.

I don't know the answer, but I do believe we need to give in some way, whether it's by handing over money individually or supporting charities that work to help these people gain better lives.

Aubrie said...

Seeing people ask for money gives me mixed emotions. I feel like if I give them something, I'm making myself a target. I think it's best to give to food banks and let them handle it.

Stephanie said...

If I am with my children I do not give. If I'm alone I tend to be more generous. Perhaps this is backwards or even completely wrong but it's just the way I do it! Oh, unless they are wearing brand spanking new 250.00 runners.....then they get nothing:)

Arlee Bird said...

Unemployed for the past couple of years, I no longer give money to anyone cause I don't have it to give. When I was working I sometimes gave depending on the way I was approached and how I felt.

I too see a lot of the same beggars frequently and have so for the past few years. I often wonder about them since some of them look quite sober and fit. I'd love to interview some of these people and perhaps I will someday.

By the way, I also took a train the other day--to downtown L.A. in my case--and saw a guy like you described going down the aisle asking for money. Must be a standard tactic.

Tossing It Out

Alena: Oh, Its Just Perfect! said...

This is a fabulous discussion Anita. Typically, I don't give money, but I will give food. Ben, on the other hand, always gives money. I guess living in DC has hardened me a bit because it's something I see on a daily basis. It always makes me feel sad and guilty when I walk on by, but all the soup kitchens and homeless shelters I've volunteered in have said it's actually causing more harm than good to give them money. Is that true? Who knows.

Tammy@Beatrice Banks said...

Good post. I guess the bad apples in the bunch have ruined it for me. I much prefer to give to people who I personally know. There are people suffering as bad or worse than the panhandlers who do not take to the streets. I feel if we know someone who has a need, we should try to help.

SuziCate said...

This has always been a terrible dilemna for me. I usually try to help the homeless. My friend(who is a dr.) told me of a man who hangs out near his office and every gave him money all the time...then one dr. saw him in a bar one night where he was bragging that he made as much as the dr.'s with their handouts and his job was to stand at the corner with a sign everyday. Still, I feel guilty if I don't help because I know not everyone is like that. Sat. I went into B&N and some man asked me for money for food and I politely told him I did not have any extra. I went in and made my purchase and it was gnawing away at me. I came back out and called him over and gave him the four dollar change from my purchase. I don't know why those type of things make me feel guilty. I have a feeling he probably got much more than what I gave him.

Always Nesting said...

This is a tough post for me to read because it truly brings out strong emotions. Since our move to Oregon, I am saddened, and amazed that on almost every corner in our city there are people begging, and most often the same people on the same corner.

Also, handouts from the state seem to be normal for a lot of people in Oregon and surprisingly, people that won't (not can't) work can collect food cards. I know families that are generational in their abuse of "the system." and who is paying for their groceries, taxpayers. Any type of handouts should be for the truly needy - kids - not druggie parents, but who can monitor this? It's tough.

It breaks my heart to see the begging on corners but I have become immune to it after 6 years. Most often the people begging show signs of substance abuse. There has to be another way to help other than giving more money for drugs or alcohol. I wish I knew what the answer to this problem is, but I don't. I've also stopped feeling bad because I refuse to give.

yonca said...

I belive in giving, Anita. My beliefs have changed in last a couple of years.

Nezzy (Cow Patty Surprise) said...

I've read where many of these professional panhandlers make more than any with regular salaries per day.

I've paid for meal and bought food before but I learned long time ago not to just hand someone money. It may go for drugs or an alcohol fix.

God bless and have a wonderful day sweetie!!! :o)

Anonymous said...

Good question Anita. We had some homeless in Saipan and there were one or two that I felt led to give to. Another that I was led to buy groceries for and still another that I knew to avoid. I let the Lord lead my heart in these areas. It is unfortunate that sometimes people who appear to be down are really swindlers...or have addiction issues who keep them in the situation. I try not to figure out why they are the way they are -I just pray and ask for guidance.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Somehow my comment posted twice-I removed the double..sorry!

Unknown said...

Anita, Same Kind of Different as Me also impacted me in a way that I hadn't been impacted before. It made me view the homeless as people with all types of situations leading them to the places that they are at that point and time.

I work right next to a homeless agency so daily, when my blinds are open, I watch them as they walk by. Some are in wheelchairs, some have babies in strollers, others are talking and cursing to themselves, others are digging in public ashtrays for cigarette butts....but there is all one commonality...they no longer have a place to call home.

I treat each person that I feel led to help, differently. At times, I will carry an extra set of gloves in my car and pass them out when I see someone standing in the cold. Other times, I may give a handful of change that is overflowing in my unused car ashtray. Other times, I just say "hi" and keep walking, while saying a prayer for that person.

Like the book, each person has a face and a name.

gayle said...

I'm not sure what I would do! I would want to give but might be too scared!

Monalisa said...

I'm not sure how i missed this post, but can't help comment though very very late.

I live in a place where begging is almost a profession. We do not encourage it, and its written everywhere not to encourage it. But what would people do when some destitute person comes up with that look? Oh we don't give that much, but just as rain drops make an ocean, beggars are the best money makers in our towns.

Many times its like they come limping and go away in perfect health. Perhaps our coins have that healing capacity.

I won't blame all of them, many are really destitute, but I still won't encourage them to beg. There are many charity works going on here to rehabilitate them and they should be taking care of such ppl. But some really go about fooling people, and we all know that.

My father-in-law did engage in a charity association, and once they tried to rehabilitate a beggar who was seen laying fainted on road side, gave him medication and everything they could, and a roof to live in, but once healthy, the man got stubborn he wanted to go back to the street for begging. They tried talking a lot, but no use. Perhaps, thats the only job he learnt to do. Or perhaps he considered it something like a greater duty upon him to beg ? Not sure what his condition is now. Your post reminded me of that person. I'll ask my father-in-law whats with that person now.

Nice article Anita. I once had a post about an experience I had with a beggar. Its here if you wish to read http://monalisagonewild.blogspot.com/2011/03/my-daily-visitors.html

Nezzy (Cow Patty Surprise) said...

Just poppin' in to wish you a great weekend!!! :o)

Anita said...

While in the mall today at the mall service desk buying a gift card, a woman walked up with change in her hand and asked if it could be exchanged for a dollar bill. Service Desk Lady said yes, after she finished helping me. The first thing that entered my mind was how people in line at the toll booth pay for the next car's toll - as a "nice thing to do." So, I told her I had a dollar and then told her to keep her change, and said, "Merry Christmas." She smiled and walked away. Service Desk Lady said, "That was sweet."

Then I thought of this post, and said, "Hmmmm...nice hustle." LOL

I analyzed the whole thing as I left: her looks, the way she spoke, if it could make her a lot of money doing this often - after all, she'd can't do it again at the same location.

With all the people I see on the streets asking for money (seems to be a lot more; they're now in the suburbs), I have become suspicious.

The woman might be an average shopper that needed a dollar for some reason, and I've labeled her as a dishonest person.

What do you think?

Just Two Chicks said...

I give money to panhandlers, but not all the time. It depends. I often don't even carry cash. If they come up to me in a parking lot, and ask for money I don't give it to them. There is nothing more frustrating to me than the people who walk around parking lots with the same "I just need 5 dollars for gas so I can get somewhere," story. It's scary to even be put in that position. One night, the wife and I were pumping gas when a woman approached with a sob story about how she needed to get her daughter to Weatherford. "She's pregnant and needs to get back to her home." The wife offered to drive them to Weatherford, which made my mouth drop, and the woman was just as stunned, and of course didn't accept the ride. I think I may post a blog about this. LOL. I

binabug said...

no I would not give money to a panhandler but I DO donate to other causes where people can go and eat (Soup kitchens and such) and when my children where small I used to send all their old clothes to the street mission as well) I have never heard of anyone ever being turned away from our soup kitchen in the city