Skip

Why Don't I Give Money to Poor People?
September 19, 2013 6:29 PM   Subscribe

"What am I, USAID? Who cares what he spent it on? If those two dollars (or 10, or 20) magically disappeared from my back pocket, I never would have noticed. Why am I Jay Gatsby when it goes to making me better off, but Ebeneezer Scrooge if it does that for someone else? All that shit about enabling, it's just an excuse for me to keep what I feel is mine."
posted by paleyellowwithorange (105 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
I dunno, I'm just trying to secure my own mask first before helping others.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:52 PM on September 19, 2013 [15 favorites]


I'm no sort of economist and am totally willing to be disproved, but I imagine it's probably better to give large, regular payments spread equally among a group than it is to give small, irregular payments mostly to the most aggressive/most persistent/best placed of a group. At the very least, I imagine it's hard to make long-term plans based on what people decide to give you in a day.
posted by Copronymus at 7:12 PM on September 19, 2013 [7 favorites]


after taking a course on Victorian charities and the kind of policing they did on the people they helped, I was way more inclined to give money to panhandlers -- and I didn't care what they spent it on. Food, beer, books - it wasn't my place to judge.
posted by jb at 7:13 PM on September 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


For me, I just don't react well to pushy sales tactics. Any time someone tries harder to get me to do something, I start thinking there's something fishy. I admit, I don't give to homeless or poor as much as I give to charities, but I notice my person-2-person wealth redistribution usually happens if the beggar is either an entertainer or is just a quiet person that has a hat out.
posted by FJT at 7:19 PM on September 19, 2013 [9 favorites]


When I have cash on hand I share it with people who ask. I've been pretty poor, not poor enough to beg but not far off, and it feels good to hand some money to someone. I don't know, there's a lot of privilege involved in the equation, and there's the whole "it makes ME feel better" thing, but in the end, maybe someone can buy a sandwich or catch their bus sooner, or WHATEVER I DO NOT CARE, and it doesn't stop me, at this point in my life, from handling any of my own personal business.

We give to charity too, but man, there's something powerful about one person directly helping one other person.
posted by padraigin at 7:21 PM on September 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


I used to live in Deep Ellum in Dallas in the mid-90's and I hung out with homeless people all the time. Most of them lead really messed up lives, but I'll be damned every time I was short a little money to get a slice of Pizza I could always count on my homeless friends to give me a buck or two to make up the diference.

Ask me about the time we smoked a joint in front of a cop while we talked to him about his day.
posted by Annika Cicada at 7:31 PM on September 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


The most I ever gave to a homeless guy was when he caught me coming out of an upscale nightclub and asked me if he could have $10 for a martini. I gave him twenty and said "Have two."
posted by empath at 7:31 PM on September 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


I give on impulse/impression. That's fairly often if I get the right vibe from the person (even some who don't ask).

But my impression from the pushy, strident, persistent type of person is to immediately shut down and not give.

(I admit: I will sometimes do a humor check and ask, "Do you take Visa?"...but I always hand over a few bucks if I do that...).
posted by CrowGoat at 7:33 PM on September 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


When I lived near Union Square, I used to pass a homeless man soliciting change all the time. He was about a half a block from my apartment. I worked hours so that I was coming home around 5:00 every night. He started to say hello and things like "You're a little late today; Boss on your ass?" and small chit chat. I would stop and talk to him often. I noticed he was drinking vodka out of his paper bag. He never asked me directly for money and I had never offered or put any in his cup. But, the next day while walking home it occurred to me to do this man a solid since he brightened my day almost every day with his idle chatter.

So I stopped at the liquor store and bought him a very very good bottle of vodka. If I gave him money, he would have gotten a drink with it. Why not save him the trouble of dealing with the guy behind the counter. He said his normal hellos and I told him I had something for him. I gave him the bottle. He thanked me several times. The next night was a Friday night and I was out on a date with this girl and we were heading back to my apartment. About a block away, seemingly out of nowhere but really from the warmth of the grate, the man who I had given the bottle bolted upright and said, "Johnny, how did you know that was my favorite brand of vodka?" I just smiled and said, "Goodnight, Bill"

It turned out to be the last date with that woman. She never even made it up the stairs. "How does he know your name? What did he mean about the bottle of vodka? Did you really give him one? You talk to this man?" On and on. I waited for the barrage of questions to stop. When they finally did, I just said, "Yup. He's a friend." She muttered something about it being late and having to get home and left. We never spoke again.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:42 PM on September 19, 2013 [74 favorites]


I keep a couple Clif bars in my car (well I rotate them so they're not stale) to give to the interstate-exit panhandlers. Most are ecstatic - it's like a candy bar, but relatively good for you! One however, blinked and grimaced, "Man, I'm diabetic." I probably should have taken him to the Hardee's across the street.
posted by notsnot at 7:43 PM on September 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


JohnnyGunn: "We never spoke again."

You dodged a bullet with that one.
posted by notsnot at 7:44 PM on September 19, 2013 [50 favorites]


I live and work in a capital city CBD, and I like to make friendly eye contact with as many people as possible, so I get asked for change quite a lot.

I've never been able to settle on what to do. I've tried so many different angles (giving and non-giving), and nothing ever sits quite right in my conscience.

We have (government and non-government) options for homeless and poor people, to which I contribute through taxation and donation.

If I have time (and I usually do), I stop and chat with anyone who asks for money, to try to understand why they don't have their own money.
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 7:47 PM on September 19, 2013


One of my favorite (although, that seems like the wrong way to describe it) stories is of a time when, as a poor record store employee, I was taking the day's deposit down to the bank. On the way, a crust punk girl asked me for a quarter. I gave it to her, even though I was barely hanging on and a quarter meant more back then.

On my way back from the bank she came running toward me, and my poor ass thought "what the HELL, you can't spare me for change twice! I'm poor!". Turns out she needed the quarter for the tampon machine in the Burger King, but it was broken, and she was wondering if I actually just had a tampon she could have. Which I did.

That was a hugely formative moment that defined how I respond to people asking me for money on the street.
posted by padraigin at 7:50 PM on September 19, 2013 [17 favorites]


We have (government and non-government) options for homeless and poor people, to which I contribute through taxation and donation.

We don't have those in the US, but I'd cheerfully pay more taxes if we did! We openly hate poor people here and pretty much ignore homeless people.

I noticed last summer when I was in Paris that the only people begging on the streets were pretty clearly not French citizens. Even countries with wide ranging social programs can't really help all their residents. Something has to fill the gap until a solution is devised.
posted by padraigin at 7:54 PM on September 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


Sort of a tangent but I've been wondering about it a lot lately: do men tend to give more money to panhandlers than women do? My boyfriend gives money to homeless people all the time, and I basically never do (although I am very free with cigarettes (which I suppose has its own moral complications)), and I was wondering if I am maybe kind of a dick, but it occurred to me that he can reach into his pocket and pull out a handful of change, whereas I would have to open my purse, pull out my wallet, unzip it, etc. - something I don't exactly love doing in the middle of the sidewalk. Maybe I really am just kind of a dick, though.
posted by naoko at 7:56 PM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


it occurred to me that he can reach into his pocket and pull out a handful of change

I went through a period of always keeping some money in my back pocket, specifically for this reason.
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 8:02 PM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


If I'm asked for food and I have some on me, I offer it. Because I'm vegetarian and have non-standard tastes in food, I'm only taken up on the offer about half the time.

A typical refusal: I was out to dinner with a friend at a Mexican restaurant at a table on the sidewalk. A homeless man came by asking for money or food, and I had actually just had half of my dinner boxed up to take home. I offered it to him, and he asked what it was. "A tofu taco and a side of rice - the taco's still whole because the dinner came with two and I could only eat one." "No thanks, I don't like tofu. Appreciate the offer, though." And he moved on.

Two women sitting next to me started clucking in shame. "I can't believe he wouldn't take your food! He wasn't really hungry after all! And you were so nice!" I told them that actually I was quite happy to have my leftovers if he didn't want them and appreciate that he didn't just take it and toss it later. Also way preferable to the homeless guy who threw my granola bar at my head when he decided it wasn't his taste.
posted by vegartanipla at 8:14 PM on September 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


I do a lot of midnight runs. 99% of the folks who come for the food, clothing and toiletries are incredibly nice and polite. I am an escort for high school volunteers on these runs and it is great to see the homeless and less fortunate being treated with kindness and respect that likely rarely get elsewhere by the high schoolers.

The problem as I see it is that we only reach those who are motivated and organized enough to be at a set location at a set time for the most part. If we have extra bags of food, we will leave them next to people sleeping next to grates at certain locations.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:22 PM on September 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


I used to give money to panhandlers, on the Steinbeck principle (Author John Steinbeck, once asked why he'd give money to street people, said something like "I'd rather be taken for a sucker than turn down a man in real need.") I stopped after the event which I'll describe below, and now give almost exclusively to organizations that feed and house the poor, rather than to people on the street.

I used to work at this great little deli in Ann Arbor, and at the end of the night we would have to throw away the bread that didn't sell (we had a 30% off bin for day-old bread, but some breads, like baguettes and bagels, were no good even a day old, so we threw them away.) This bothered me and I'd do my best to send everybody who worked there or who came in in the last hour of the night shift home with a baguette or some bagels or whatever. I'd take home bread and freeze it for later myself.

So I'm leaving this place, it's like 10:30, and I have two free baguettes under my arm and I'm talking on the phone to someone, probably my girlfriend. This guy comes up to me and interrupts my conversation. He asks me for three dollars so he can buy a sandwich.

I hand him one of the baguettes from under my arm. I feel good about this: I can feed this man. Right now. He doesn't have to go to the shop. He hands the baguette back to me and says, a little reproachfully, "look, I really want some money for a sandwich."

I feel like, "dude, that's most of a sandwich right there. You can eat that. It's not a totally balanced meal by itself, but it's fucking food. Don't tell me you're hungry and then turn down good bread." I don't accept the baguette back. He drops it on the ground.

That was when I stopped giving cash. I always give food if I have it and it's not gross (i.e., I'm not giving my half-eaten sub because that seems degrading, but I'll give a granola bar if I happen to be carrying one, which, especially in the winter, I often am.) I'll walk into a restaurant or grocery and outright buy somebody some food or a hot cup of coffee. I won't give cash anymore, because I don't believe people are really going to use it to buy food.
posted by gauche at 8:25 PM on September 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


If someone's life is so crummy that they are panning on the street consistently... it's usually because they need to, to get by. Not a scam.

I give occasionally to a few. I actually am on a first-name basis with one guy near where I work.

If you think about it, if everyone doing OK got together, and every group of 10 such people sponsored ONE down and out person, there wouldn't be homelessness. Didn't families used to work like that?
posted by Artful Codger at 8:29 PM on September 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I keep a couple Clif bars in my car (well I rotate them so they're not stale) to give to the interstate-exit panhandlers. Most are ecstatic - it's like a candy bar, but relatively good for you! One however, blinked and grimaced, "Man, I'm diabetic."

Brian: There's no pleasing some people.
Ex-leper: That's just what Jesus said, sir!

posted by charlie don't surf at 8:41 PM on September 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think the pullquote nails the tortured moral calculus we often go through with giving people on the street money, when we happily drop these kind of sums on trivial shit all the time.

This is thrown into even sharper contrast when you're in a developing country - and everyone's an expert on why you shouldn't give etc etc.

When I'm in the developing world, I always make a point of finding a responsible local charity and donating to them; it's almost certain that the money is more effectively spent. However, I don't let that stop me from dropping some change or buying someone something if the mood hits me - I try to keep it as a light as I would feel about dropping $5 in any other situation which is very much don't-give-a-shit territory for me.

I think part of the impulses that drive us to make up "giving" rules, is that the existence of poverty is confronting. It forces you, at a street level, to acknowledge poverty and that these people are not getting something they really have a right to - not because they are stupid, not because they are evil, but because they are unlucky, and you are lucky. That there is something fundamentally unjust about the world; it advantages you (as a westerner), and you're not really trying to address it. So you have to invent reasons why you're not trying to address it, or how you can't, or how you are addressing it, but only this far, this way etc etc.

I think this is a completely understandable and natural reaction - and I'm certainly not holding myself above.

I spent five weeks in Kenya just over a month ago, and had many interactions like what's described over my time there. 40% of Kenya earns less than a dollar a day, and I found the poverty that I - an insulated westerner - could see, quite confronting and depressing, and I'm by no means a naif or untravelled.

One night on our walk to the shops, a really dirty, smelly dude was hassling the group for something to eat. They all ignored him, but I told him to wait, I'd go buy him some food. Went the bakery, bought him a tonne of bread rolls and baguettes. Then he asks for a something to drink. I'm like, "no sorry dude that's enough", he starts following me and getting real close and crazy (I think he was an addict or something). Had to duck into a store so security would scare him off.

Easy to feel threatened or upset, or cynical when stuff like that happens, I just had to remind myself, it really wasn't a big deal in the scheme of things; dude was if nothing else several loaves of bread better than he had been. But I always end up feeling guilty. Still feel guilty about my discomfort in Kenya some six weeks later. Much easier to pretend poverty doesn't exist out in the Sydney suburbs. The hypocrisy makes me feel dirty.
posted by smoke at 8:43 PM on September 19, 2013 [14 favorites]


I won't give cash anymore, because I don't believe people are really going to use it to buy food.

Probably not - almost certainly not, sometimes. But you know - and I'm not attacking you - sometimes I don't begrudge someone with what's probably a completely shit life the chance to buy some ciggies, or a drink or I don't know whatever really, who knows what they really need at that moment. If I was homeless, I'd probably want to be high most of the time, too.

I dunno, I don't want to bring my morality into it, if I can avoid it - feel like people should have a right to autonomy (note: not always successful at doing this).
posted by smoke at 8:48 PM on September 19, 2013 [16 favorites]


you have to invent reasons why you're not trying to address it, or how you can't, or how you are addressing it, but only this far, this way etc etc.

This would be a case of rationalizing in order to avoid responsibility. But in my case, I become paralyzed by indecision brought on by concern that in giving money to those who ask, I may be enabling objectively poor choices. I want to help people, not help harm them.

people should have a right to autonomy

Yes. But while it's one thing to stand back and allow someone you love engage in self-destructive behaviors; it's another thing to actively enable such behaviors. That is my concern here.
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 8:52 PM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


it's another thing to actively enable such behaviors. That is my concern here.

I understand, I guess I feel that's giving yourself an agency - and a role - in relation to this person's life that I'm not really sure we have; though I think dominant discourse encourages the wealthy in these interactions to think of themselves as wiser, as leader, as benefactor.

Firstly, I think if someone wants to smoke some crack or whatever, that's probably gonna happen whether I give them a few bucks or not.

Secondly, there is really no way I can know what they're gonna do with the money I give them. Any attempt to ascertain what will happen to the money assumes that they will make a terrible decision; and is probably gonna be degrading for both of us. And god knows people outside the mean in society get enough prejudice in one form or another.

Thirdly, Presupposing their financial or life decisions are going to be worse than mine on their behalf is wrong; they live their life, I know almost nothing about it and its decision tree and what's rational or right. Maybe smoking that crack is actually the best thing for them at that time, I don't know.

Let the record reflect: I don't always abide by these high-faluting morals. I bought the dude in Kenya some bread instead of giving him the 500 shillings in my pocket.
posted by smoke at 9:12 PM on September 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I know I'm an asshole for not giving to poor starving homeless people. But pushy people scare me and I have been literally grabbed on the street and harassed BY homeless people in broad daylight. I just don't want to interact or give them attention or encouragement to keep bugging me....of course, me not wanting to give those guys attention is what encouraged them to go grab me and harass me in the first place.

Forgive me for not being confident enough in a stranger's sanity or my safety for not giving and giving "spare change" to the poor and hungry.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:41 PM on September 19, 2013 [9 favorites]


I love giving gifts, even when I can't afford it. I love giving money to nifty kickstarters or other random fund drives, even if it's of the "help me pay off my credit card variety." And most of the time I'll give money to strangers who ask. I don't know why, it's just money and I spend it on stupid stuff I'll forget about anyway. With beggars/strangers, it does depend on my mood though, and how the interaction happens... If I'm extra poor, sometimes I can't. If I'm in a hurry, it depends how accessible my money is. If the person is extra aggressive, I won't. But I've always thought "it's just money."

Count me as someone that doesn't care how it's spent. Who am I to police someone else's behavior? If it's alcohol or other drugs, chances are they're self medicating a mental illness that we don't have an adequate program for. Or maybe they just had a really shitty day. Or a really good day. But then again, I don't mind if people use food stamps to by lobster and think poor have as much a right to choose how they want to live (note: not the same as saying they've chosen that life.) Everyone needs a relief valve, and if my money goes to that, we'll, spectacular. Heck, if they're saving up for a ridiculous purpose like a evening gown or tuxedo, or a 46" TV they're planning on hooking up to stolen electricity.. Sure, why not?

I do think he makes a good point in the article about not missing the money. Realistically, you can't give to everyone. But a few bucks here or there.. If people weren't so busy worried how it would be spent, they'd never notice it was gone.

(thus concludes why I'll never be rich.)
posted by [insert clever name here] at 10:31 PM on September 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


I know I'm an asshole for not giving to poor starving homeless people.

If you don't feel able to judge need on the fly, based on an instant first impression of someone who put himself in front of you, that's called being a normal human being. Nobody can. An awful lot of the really needy aren't out there panhandling at all because they can't hold their own in that world; a world which is typically a lot more structured than you ever imagined, and not in a good way. If you want to help people who are trying to survive and aren't out there playing the game, consider donating to a shelter for women and children.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:32 PM on September 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I moonlight with a few homeless outreach and advocacy groups; have worked on a few campaigns related to homeless issues and when I get shit from well intentioned friends and the above doesn't really help, I'll usually pass this article on.

I don't mind giving to anyone as long as it doesn't seem to be supporting aggressive/intimidating behavior. Even when I can't/don't want to, just a look in the eye and saying "Sorry, man, not today" is still a respectful thing to do. Not that someone's ungrateful if a guy just jams a dollar into a cup and scurry away, but making eye contact and saying "Have a good day" while you do it is really where it becomes a true act of kindness, still about the money, but also something more.

Being acknowledged when you're living proof that we as a society don't give much of a shit about people that don't fit into the model that we've defined as worthy is not much, but it's more than you'd think.
posted by modelenoir at 10:40 PM on September 19, 2013 [9 favorites]


I hadn't seen homeless people until adulthood when I first travelled to America. Homelessness is a solved problem, and in wealthy nations it exists only where society has decided to not take care of its own. As the USA - with it's culture of immense charity - demonstrates, all the charity in the world is useless compared to a simple, organized, social safety net. But so many people here prefer to lose $2 to the endless social costs of homelessness we are all forced to pay, than give up half that amount to eliminate the problem, because someone else might get a buck or a break they "don't deserve". Cut off the nose to spite the face.

One of the things I miss - where there aren't masses of people forced to sleep in the streets, the city parks can be open all night, you can take a romantic stroll through public gardens at any hour. The nights are beautiful when you're not surrounded by human misery. And the stench of human excrement.
posted by anonymisc at 10:47 PM on September 19, 2013 [39 favorites]


I live in the heart of downtown, so there are some panhandlers around here. Most of them use the same corner most of the time and I rarely give them anything, basically because I don't want them to get the idea that every time they see me coming they can hit me up for money. Instead, if I'm buying a hamburger or something from the deli for supper, sometimes I'll buy two and then I'll watch for someone who's homeless or close to it and give them the second sandwich - I tell them I bought one for a friend but forgot that that friend was gone for the day, don't want the sandwich to go to waste, etc. I also contribute when I can to food bank and diaper drives, things like that. I contributed through United Way for years when I was working, but I like the personal side of doing it this way better. I don't care one whit what anyone spends the money I give them on or what they do with the food - if their dog needs to eat more than they do, they're more than welcome to feed the sandwich to the pooch. Wish I had more to share, though - there are an incredible number of people going without the most basic of basics.
posted by aryma at 10:52 PM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Homelessness is a solved problem, and in wealthy nations it exists only where society has decided to not take care of its own.

Yeah, and most European countries have decided or are in the process of deciding that, contrary to all evidence, what we need is an American style society and break down our safety nets. The current coalition government in the Netherlands is talking about turning the welfare society into a *gack, spit* participation society and fuck everybody who can't participate.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:56 PM on September 19, 2013 [8 favorites]


I try to give money whenever asked, and if I have none I make eye contact and am polite as possible. I don't give a damn what the person is spending the money on. When I worked at a community center in the inner city there was an incredibly smart guy (a former air traffic controller) who became chronically homeless for various reasons, yes, including drugs. Anyway the guy was one of the most dedicated volunteers at the center. And he always said the worst part about being homeless was the invisibility. People just passing you by, not even bothering to look at you. Then if they do they always assume the absolute worst. Giving money isn't just making life a little easier for somebody whose life isn't great. It's also a moment of acknowledgement, of humanity, of validating the worth of the person you're giving the gift to. You give them freely something that can be used for anything, and in that moment you're telling them you see a person, not some horrible crack-smoking bumfight cariacature.

Also it really fucking burns me up when people get all indignant about a homeless person not wanting their chicken sandwich or stale baguette or whatever. It's fucking degrading. What, now that they're homeless they're not allowed to have preferences? They're not allowed to think tofu is weird or avoid gnawing on old bread? They're not allowed to want to get their own sandwich? I have a friend who loves to talk about how all homeless people are scammers because a lady asked for money for food, but wouldn't eat the chicken sandwich he offered. But would HE take a random, unsealed sandwich from a total stranger? What, a hungry person doesn't deserve help because they're not ready to lick food out of dumpsters or whatever?
posted by schroedinger at 11:08 PM on September 19, 2013 [22 favorites]


I used to worry a lot about what people would do with the money I gave them. Maybe I wasn't really helping, maybe they were scamming me, maybe they were just going to waste it on drugs or liquor. But, really, so what? Anyone whose best career option is to beg strangers for money must be having a pretty shitty life, whether the story they're selling is true or not. And if they use that money to get drunk or high, who am I to judge? It's not like I live some puritan life of righteous sobriety - I've got a pipe full of weed and a bottle of whiskey at my elbow as I write this. So why am I judging some homeless dude for choosing the same things? Is it really so bad if he decides to spend the $5 I gave him dulling the pain of his fucked-up existence with a bottle of malt liquor? He probably needs the relief more than any of us. So now I basically just give money to anyone who asks, as long as they're not a dick about it, and I don't care what the story is or whether it's even plausible. If I can't give then I generally just look 'em in the eye and say "sorry, not today" and hope that acknowledging them as a human being is at least worth something.
posted by Mars Saxman at 11:20 PM on September 19, 2013 [7 favorites]


From the article linked to by modelenoir:

"A stock answer or unbending principle flirts with treating the man or woman in front of us as a problem to be solved or awkward situation from which to quickly move on, as opposed to a person to be encountered and somehow to bless. A good answer to the question depends entirely on a specific situation as it presents itself and the unique individual asking for money. If there are unbending principles to apply, they are love and dignity."

Nice.
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 11:42 PM on September 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


Haha! From the same article:

"C.S. Lewis's stepson tells the story of a time when Lewis was walking with a friend and a person on the street came up and asked him for spare change. Lewis emptied his pockets and gave it all to the man, and once he had left, the friend challenged him, 'You shouldn't have given that man all that money, he'll only spend it on drink.' To which Lewis replied, 'Well, if I'd kept it, I would have only spent it on drink.'"
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 11:44 PM on September 19, 2013 [29 favorites]


I never give money to people on the street, solely because I can't tell who really needs it or not. That being said, I was sitting at a cafe in Pnom Penh having a beer and this guy with no arms and legs sort of slithered up to my table, obviously looking for a hand out. I actually would have given the guy some money, but I couldn't readily figure out what to do with the money (put it in his pocket myself?) and I was a little bit too freaked out to spend a lot of time thinking about it and just averted my eyes.

Yes, I am a jerk.
posted by Literaryhero at 12:00 AM on September 20, 2013


I had one of those weird privilege bubbles the other day when I realized that I hadn't had cash on me in probably over a week. I had one of those reflexive, "Well, maybe the homeless should take credit cards… Oh, wait, if they had credit card machines they wouldn't be fucking homeless" idiot thoughts.

But yeah, this is why we have governments, GOP food stamp idiocy non-withstanding.
posted by klangklangston at 12:52 AM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I hand him one of the baguettes from under my arm. I feel good about this: I can feed this man. Right now. He doesn't have to go to the shop. He hands the baguette back to me and says, a little reproachfully, "look, I really want some money for a sandwich."

I feel like, "dude, that's most of a sandwich right there. You can eat that. It's not a totally balanced meal by itself, but it's fucking food. Don't tell me you're hungry and then turn down good bread." I don't accept the baguette back. He drops it on the ground.


I had an amazingly similar appalling moment recently. And it's only one of a shitload i've had.

And before i get to that, i want to preface this with the fact that i've been homeless. More than once in my life actually. Never under the bridge homeless, but sleeping in the freezing back seat of my grandpas old broke down car hidden on a sidestreet that i hope no one notices and calls the city to tow homeless. Or sleeping on a friends couch, with that couch being the only barrier between me sidewalk homeless. Once for more than a year. I also regularly talk to a lot of friends, and friends of friends who are homeless or just traveler/street kids who sleep wherever.("Oogles", if you will)

So, that said, i've met more than a couple of these fuckheads.

On the most recent occasion, i was sitting on the turf next to a bike polo court with a bunch of friends, acquaintances, and their friends. Some gigantic pizza/catering delivery got fucked up so the delivery guy who knew some of the people there dropped off what must have been $400+ worth of pizza. Like 10-15 pizzas, a shitload of bread sticks, salads, all kinds of sauces/condiments and other sides. Giant pizzas too, and from an expensive fancy place. One of the best in town.

Enter homeless guy stage left. He comes up and asks for a couple bucks to get a cheeseburger. We offer him any of his choice of the pizza, breadsticks, etc. And now before someone jumps in and says "well maybe he couldn't eat that or something!" the place he called out by name that he wanted money to go eat doesn't allow changes to their orders, and a burger from there would include meat, cheese, tomato, etc. There was nothing on that pizza he couldn't eat if he could eat the burger.

He stares at the pizzas, back at us, and goes "FUCK YOUR SHIT" and stomps off to the next group of people on the turf who go "didn't you just ask those guys, who offered you pizza?". By the time he makes it to someone far enough away that they didn't hear the first encounter we're all just going "HEY, PIZZA NOT GOOD ENOUGH FOR YOU MAN?".

I've also seen several intances of the "offer someone a sandwich, they throw it on the ground" routine.

If you ask for money for food, and someone offers you food and you reject it, fuck you.

And for what it's worth, i'm with smoke here. I don't think it's up to me to decide how you spend your money or judge your decisions. But really, fuck you if you're going to lie to me. And i'm not even saying i don't understand why they'd go for the sympathetic food line, it's just that actually out right rejecting food is fucking disgusting.
posted by emptythought at 12:53 AM on September 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


Here in Singapore, most people who "beg" for money do so by 1. selling some cheap (or useless) item at an inflated price, and 2. making a public display of their misfortune in other to provoke sympathy. For example, its quite common to see people selling packets of tissue papers in the hawker centres, at $1 a packet (they usually cost like a few cents). And often they might drag along some elderly relative who is disabled in some way, e.g. blind or missing a limb, to demonstrate why they need the money.

My main problem with this is that first I don't really like the idea of purchasing something I don't want or need; I'd rather just give them the money but not take the trinket and create more waste.

Second, I'm uncomfortable about how they're basically making a performance of how miserable their lives are, in hope you will give them money. I kind of feel that if I do give them money, in essence, I'm rewarding them for that performance. That encourages them to make even larger displays of misery, and I don't want to reward people for "selling" their self-esteem and dignity. I think I'd prefer if they just asked me for cash straight up.

Am I wrong to think this way though? Am I perhaps judging them in a way I have no right to do so? I understand part of the reason why they resort to such measures is that the average Singaporean will probably be unwilling to give any money at all unless you pull on their heartstrings in such a way. So they're just being practical. But something about the whole thing turns me off, and I'm not sure if I'm in the wrong for feeling this way.
posted by destrius at 1:01 AM on September 20, 2013


I dislike pushy salesmen tactics. I routinely choose not to buy anything after salespeople initiate an interaction. Almost any panhandling comes of as pushy salesmanship too, so I never give them money.

I once gave $1 to a guy playing music on a Paris RER. Yeah, that's $1, not 1€. He laughed. Also, he was the only good metro musician I recall from living in Paris.
posted by jeffburdges at 1:22 AM on September 20, 2013


Here in the Netherlands, it's complicated. We have homeless people, some of which sell street newspaper; in recent years, there seem to be more and more street newspapers. Some of them, it appears, are sold by people from Eastern Europe who come here especially to do that: beg and peddle those papers.
Word on the street is that there are powerful gangs behind them, an entire shadowy organisation. The peddlers can be seen getting into a van at dusk, as they're being picked up at the end of their working day. Are those people really homeless? It seems that there is a lucrative business being run here, but who's profiting?

All in all, if someone tells he s/he's hungry, I really prefer to give that person food, not money. Because then I know that it's actually going to the person I'm giving it to, not to someone who's getting rich over hirs back.
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:16 AM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Count me in the "So what if they spend it on drink or drugs" category. Every fucker else does, but the homeless are not allowed to? Fucking faux-puritan bullshit, big time
posted by marienbad at 3:12 AM on September 20, 2013 [7 favorites]


on my first trip to San Francisco I had a lot more contact with homeless people then i would on a day to day basis in the suburbs of Chicago. So I hardened my heart and I started saying no to everyone and turning away. Until one morning someone approached me and asked if I could help and I turned away and said no before looking. And then I looked. It was a gentleman in a suit with blood on his face that I turned away from without helping. That's not the sort of person I want to be, whether the person who needs help is wearing a suit or grimey clothes, or is misrepresenting their needs to me.
posted by garlic at 3:14 AM on September 20, 2013 [7 favorites]


Word on the street is that there are powerful gangs behind them, an entire shadowy organisation. The peddlers can be seen getting into a van at dusk, as they're being picked up at the end of their working day. Are those people really homeless? It seems that there is a lucrative business being run here, but who's profiting?

Is there any actual evidence of this happening beyond the words on the street? I'm genuinely curious. You hear shit like this all the time, but I've never seen it reported anywhere etc.

Unless the paper sellers are a network of drug dealers, it boggles the mind as to how that could be even remotely profitable compared to selling virtually anything else.
posted by smoke at 4:32 AM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Probably not - almost certainly not, sometimes. But you know - and I'm not attacking you - sometimes I don't begrudge someone with what's probably a completely shit life the chance to buy some ciggies, or a drink or I don't know whatever really, who knows what they really need at that moment.

I think this addresses the primary reason I often tend not to give, except to buskers, except food and such. For me, I just don't like being lied to. If you're asking for money for food, and you're turning down food, you are obviously not in need of food and need it for something else. That's fine. Ask me for money for something else. I have straight up given money to people who were honest enough to say, "I need cigarettes" or "I need a drink" or "I want a hot cup of coffee" and mean it. But don't lie to me. I hate being lied to.

The other thing is, if you tell me you are a veteran when you are not (and trust me, I can tell), you are not getting a dime, because I am mortally offended that you are pretending to be something you're not AND something that has a lot of hard times on their own, just to make a buck. It pushes all my buttons and straight up infuriates me.
posted by corb at 4:54 AM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is there any actual evidence of this happening beyond the words on the street? I'm genuinely curious. You hear shit like this all the time, but I've never seen it reported anywhere etc.

I can point you to some sources, but you'll have to run them through a translation engine. Some of these are about begging, not selling street newspapers; in practice, the line is very thin.
posted by Too-Ticky at 5:19 AM on September 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


A guy standing on the street with a cane late one afternoon asked me for some money for food. I suggested that, since there was a MacDonald's a block away, we go over there and have some supper on me.

He just stared at me and fidgeted. Hadn't run into that before, I guess. I repeated my offer and he continued to say nothing, so I moved on.

A couple of days later I saw him walking away at the end of his "work day", with his cane hanging from his elbow, and no obvious infirmity. Miracle, I guess.
posted by Twang at 5:21 AM on September 20, 2013


The best--no exaggeration--guy I think I've ever known in my life was one of my old grad school profs. at UNC. He kept his politics and charitable activities to himself, but he was an old-school Northeastern Republican (who spent enormous amounts of energy fighting against Jesse Helms and the Congressional Club, in case you're inclined to sneer at his politics.) He also worked at the local soup kitchen a lot, though that was one of the things he kept to himself. (This was a rarity in a place where most of us wore our bleeding hearts on our sleeves...) He was also perhaps the smartest guy I've ever met, and he thought very deeply about social and political issues (though social/political was/were not his area of academic interest). He once told me that he had concluded that giving money to panhandlers was, on the whole, clearly bad, at least in Chapel Hill. There, as in many places, every homeless person knew where to get food, and the money they were given on the street basically went to booze and drugs, which helped keep them in the cycle they were in. Which is, of course, what many people suspect all along.

Since then, I've always weighed that conclusion heavily, and, unless I'm pretty convinced that I'm helping someone out in a crisis situation, give to organizations that I know are making the problem better.

FWIW.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 5:28 AM on September 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


Is "I don't want to get robbed" not a valid excuse? Living in a large city, I do feel that my personal safety is threatened any time I have to take my wallet out in the street. If I could somehow give homeless money (other than just pocket change, which in today's credit-card economy is an increasingly rare thing to have in your pockets) without alerting potential muggers to how much money I have and the precise location of my wallet, I would.
posted by deathpanels at 5:39 AM on September 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


When I first moved to Seattle, I used to hang out at this ridiculous, little Empire bar called 'Lindas.' There was this curly haired, white kid who spent a lot of time there and eventually we became acquaintances. He was kind of annoying, but I was going through a polite phase.

One night curly sat down and joined my friend Su and I for a beer. As we were floating sweet, carbonated nothings back and forth a very down on his luck looking fellow ambled up to our table and asked if we could spare any cash.

Curly looked at him and said, "What are you gonna do for it?" The poor, beggar fellow looked a little shocked; I felt a little shocked (rudeness) and Su look struck.

"No really, what are you gonna do for it? It's a transaction, right? I give you money and you do something amusing. What are you gonna do for it?"

I pulled money out my pocket, Su pulled money out of hers, and we gave it to the dude. He thanked us and left pretty quick. We both looked at Curly and asked him what the fuck? Dude?

Curly of course had no idea what we were so annoyed about and that started turning into anger which neither Su nor I gave into. We gave him the 'privileged, white boy, motherfucker' speech and told him to scram. He honestly looked dumbfounded by our reaction to his shitty behavior.

I have no idea what world that dick grew up in, but heaven help them if I find myself drunk there with matches, a mask, and a ready supply of gasoline.
posted by artof.mulata at 5:41 AM on September 20, 2013 [6 favorites]


If I could somehow give homeless money, without alerting potential muggers to how much money I have and the precise location of my wallet, I would.

I haul out some change or small bills and put them in an outer pocket before I leave work, which is when the panners are usually around. Just on the days when I plan to give.
posted by Artful Codger at 5:44 AM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I lived in Boston for a long time in a neighborhood that had a fair number of homeless guys set up on regular corners around it. (Not in it, of course, too many rich people to put up with that, but certainly all around it where the tourists frequently came through) They were all super nice to me (a young woman usually walking alone) and wouldn't ask me for anything at all, even if they'd asked some guy walking in front of me for change. One in particular always sang a little song to my dog if I happened to be walking her past. Very nice of all of the. But I lived in that neighborhood for 5 years and they were always on the same corners with the same clothes or coin cup or bucket to sit on or jingle to sing or whatever made them unique. Quite a career they had going. This was in sharp contrast to the obviously transient homeless guys who would actually be out at night asleep under blankets in front of shop doors; there were never "regulars" there.

There was one I never really talked to, just always saw, underneath the Charles/MGH T station bridge. A guy with longish, stringy hair and a stache, with a massive knee brace on limping around with a cane, with a sign about how he was a homeless injured vet, please help. I watched many people give him a couple of bucks. Then one day as I drove under that bridge I saw him parking his car as he got out, walked happily along with no limp to the traffic island, slap on his brace and limp, put on a sad face, and hold up his sign to the oncoming traffic.

My husband told me once about a homeless guy he took to the local McDonalds and had a meal with him at like midnight one night. I was absolutely stunned. As a woman out walking by myself, I would NEVER feel comfortable doing that. It is unfortunately easiest, from a "feeling safe" standpoint, just not to engage at all.
posted by olinerd at 5:50 AM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Probably not - almost certainly not, sometimes. But you know - and I'm not attacking you - sometimes I don't begrudge someone with what's probably a completely shit life the chance to buy some ciggies, or a drink or I don't know whatever really, who knows what they really need at that moment. If I was homeless, I'd probably want to be high most of the time, too.

Yeah, smoke, I absolutely hear what you're saying. Homeless people also have autonomy and dignity and deserve a certain amount of creature comfort rather than constant paternalism. I totally believe that and agree with you. When I used to smoke cigarettes, you'd better believe I'd give one, or two, or even the rest of a pack to somebody on the street that asked for one.

I don't know, though. I'm not comfortable giving cash or even buying someone a drink. To be sure, even giving food is complicated, because if I buy a hungry person some food I've made it so they don't have to spend whatever money they may have to feed themselves, and can buy liquor or cigs or drugs if they like. So if I have an overdetermined sense of my own agency, it can become complicated. Ultimately, though, I fall back on this: I only control what I do, and not what other people do with it. I don't imagine that what can give on the street makes a huge difference in anyone's life. I'm not going to give life-changing amounts of money.

So ultimately, when I do these things, either giving money or food or cigarettes to someone on the street, or donating to my church's food and shelter ministries, or volunteering at a food reclaimation and redistribution charity, I'm mostly, ultimately, doing them for myself, fumbling through my own sense of moral obligation as best I can.

I don't think there's a Single Right Answer to the "what should I do when someone asks me for money" question, other than maybe something like "do your best to honor and respect the inherent worth and dignity of every person you meet, even, or perhaps especially, the ones that society calls worthless."

And, because of my personal religious beliefs, I don't know, I really don't know if that is good enough. I sometimes wonder, "what if that person is actually Jesus in disguise?" Obviously I would like to think that I would give everything I had to Jesus if He asked. But what if that's how He decided to ask? But on the other hand, it seems obviously wrong and stupid to say that one should just up and give everything to the first poor person that one meets in case they happen to be Jesus in disguise. So I strike some kind of a balance between these extremes, about which I'll never be entirely confident. Which is, perhaps, how it should be.
posted by gauche at 6:01 AM on September 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


If you want to help homeless people but don't feel comfortable giving them money directly, just give to a homeless shelter in your city. The amount I give annually is roughly equivalent to me giving $2-3 bucks every time I'm asked.

Plus I feel like a shelter or support organization probably has economies of scale that convert that $3 into more food or clothing than an individual homeless person can access on their own.
posted by Aizkolari at 6:02 AM on September 20, 2013


Plus I feel like a shelter or support organization probably has economies of scale that convert that $3 into more food or clothing than an individual homeless person can access on their own.

Yes. This. This is also why I tend to give money instead of buying cans for a can drive: some shelters and charities can buy goods at wholesale prices, and $100 will go a lot farther wholesale than it will retail. If they can't get bulk pricing, they can still spend that $100 buying food at retail prices if that's what they need to do, but they have the flexibility to spend it how they know they need to.

The only problem I can think of with doing it this way is that you have to do it. You can't just not buy cans to put in the bin; you have to also go write a check and put it in the mail.
posted by gauche at 6:08 AM on September 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


While in the UK I purchase a copy of the "Big Issue: every morning from the same person (Mentally Ill not homeless). I am quite fond of him and we chat regularly. In the small town in Ireland where I am currently living there are no homeless/street people. But during tourist season "travellers" Irish/Romany can be seen quite regularly selling "the Big Issue" and soliciting.. One can debate whether this is organized crime but as far as I am concerned it is organized solicitation bordering on the intrusive. I have very little patience with many of the travelling communities and it has been well established they do operate organized fraud/exploitation scams in Europe. So, I am willing to accept some of the posts regarding soliciting in mainland Europe being part of criminal enterprises. Anyone who doubts this need only visit prime tourist areas in Europe during the peak season.
posted by rmhsinc at 6:28 AM on September 20, 2013


"...you have to also go write a check and put it in the mail."

Or you can drop it off at the front desk. Or donate all kinds of new stuff. Most places are set up for that and will even hand you the taxes form so you can write it off.

Where I work we'll take all kinds of stuff: dishware, boxes of cleaning supplies, personal hygiene products, still wrapped boxes of tampons or pads, cosmetics. I've been told we can never have enough disposable razors for women.

And do buy your local homeless paper. Buy it from the person you pass most often on whatever your route is. It's an awesome relationship you'll build contributing directly to someone's livelihood and those papers have a very unique perspective on your city's events.
posted by artof.mulata at 6:31 AM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


We have (government and non-government) options for homeless and poor people, to which I contribute through taxation and donation.

We don't have those in the US, but I'd cheerfully pay more taxes if we did!


We actually do have them, they're not great options, but to pretend they don't exist is false.

In Philly we have One Step Away, where a homeless person buys a bunch of newspapers (written largely by other homeless people) for 25 cents, and sells them for a dollar on the street. I give to them frequently, and it seems to be working out for everyone involved.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:41 AM on September 20, 2013 [6 favorites]


I find the approach which says, cut the crap and give them the money, very attractive. But I cannot cut the crap.

I'm deeply uncomfortable with the transaction of giving money to beggars. Perhaps because of my upbringing I find begging more or less the last nadir of human humiliation. You should work at something, even if it's useless, pretend to sell postcards, yes, even sing and dance, before you frankly beg. I can respect a non-violent thief far more easily than a beggar: the thief still has pride, he's making himself an agent in his own life. There's more hope for him, I feel - wrongly, but it's what my guts tell me.

With that is the conviction that whatever they say the beggar is hating, despising, and probably deceiving me. Yet I also hope they are, because if I were begging, the very last defence of my ego would be resentment against the donor. To passively accept money with mere gratitude - wouldn't that be the penultimate surrender? At least convince yourself that you're just taking from the smug and undeserving and there's nothing to be ashamed of in lying to them.

And shouldn't they resent me? Here I am acting out my rich person's drama and yet in fact I'm administering the coup de grace to their pride. And for what? A miserable sum of money, little more than an expression of contempt. Is it enough? How could anything be enough? The price of a sandwich is enough for you, beggar: what insufferable arrogance! I could easily afford more; why shouldn't I give until I too am reduced to complete poverty? The honesty of not giving at all is better than giving a meaningless amount.

I should give to good relief organisations instead. But will I? No. And look at them: paternalistic, interfering, with agendas, half of them religious, self-righteous. Do I want my tiny contribution to buttress that sort of noxious person or organisation? I could do careful research into which are most acceptable and try to direct the money into acceptable hands. Will I? No.

I say no to the beggar and pass on, feeling intensely ashamed, But I know that if I gave them money I should feel burning shame and utterly foolish; I would be ruminating about it painfully for hours afterwards. Cut the crap? If only.
posted by Segundus at 7:02 AM on September 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


I hadn't seen homeless people until adulthood when I first travelled to America. Homelessness is a solved problem, and in wealthy nations it exists only where society has decided to not take care of its own.

I am super curious about where exactly you're from. I would assume Western Europe, by my experience in cities like Paris and London was that there are plenty of beggars and people who appear to be homeless there. And there's an anecdote upthread about homeless people in the Netherlands. Scandinavia?
posted by naoko at 7:03 AM on September 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is a great article which does a nice job of describing many of the conflicting emotions we all face when confronted by a panhandler.
posted by caddis at 7:13 AM on September 20, 2013



In San Francisco in the eighties, right after deinstitutionalization (they emptied out the mental hospitals based on patients rights advocacy and the desire to save the state money) the streets were chock-a-block with homeless panhandlers.

We had pizza at work and tons of leftovers. I offered to take them with me and give them to people on my way to the train station. So I got hit up by a homeless guy, "Can you help me out with something to eat?" I handed him a pizza. He said, "Hey! It's cold!" A couple blocks later the guy gave me back the pizza and said, "Nah!"

And there are the stories of the panhandlers who are living in the suburbs and who are clearing $50,000, tax-free.

I'm rarely panhandled in the subrubs of Atlanta, but when I am approached, I usually decline to donate.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:18 AM on September 20, 2013


I assume people refuse food from strangers because there are too many folks out there who would think it was great fun to adulterate it with things ranging from gross to toxic. Probably not going to happen with something like a sealed granola bar, but anything not factory-sealed coming from an individual? Yeah, pretty sketchy.
posted by rmd1023 at 7:31 AM on September 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


And there are the stories of the panhandlers who are living in the suburbs and who are clearing $50,000, tax-free.

Because that happens a lot.
posted by rmd1023 at 7:35 AM on September 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


"I should give to good relief organisations instead. But will I? No. And look at them: paternalistic, interfering, with agendas, half of them religious, self-righteous. Do I want my tiny contribution to buttress that sort of noxious person or organisation? I could do careful research into which are most acceptable and try to direct the money into acceptable hands. Will I? No."

Whew, really struck a nerve there, huh?
posted by artof.mulata at 7:39 AM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


naoko: "I am super curious about where exactly you're from. I would assume Western Europe, by my experience in cities like Paris and London was that there are plenty of beggars and people who appear to be homeless there."

I grew up and spend several weeks a year wandering around London, and I guess it's all relative, last time I was in London a couple of months back, perhaps I saw one or two beggars, normally sitting outside an ATM-- you'll see several Big Issue sales people around tube stations etc-- that's generally been my experience, I'm not sure if that's because we have a better care system, or that the police just push them off out of sight.

When I visited San Francisco in March, the number of homeless was a big shock to me, there are hundreds of homeless people you see everyday, and a sad percentage with obvious mental health problems, it was a constant level of sadness that followed me around as I explored the city. Out of all my experiences there, exploring every corner, still the first thought that comes into my head when someone asks me about SF is me telling them about how many homeless there are.
posted by Static Vagabond at 7:40 AM on September 20, 2013


I have an atheist friend who would routinely give a buck or two to folks who came up asking for change. I asked him about it once, outside at a bar, if he cared whether the panhandler would use it for booze or drugs.

"Be like Jesus, man," was all he said.
posted by thecaddy at 7:44 AM on September 20, 2013 [13 favorites]


>I assume people refuse food from strangers because there are too many folks out there who would think it was great fun to adulterate it with things ranging from gross to toxic. Probably not going to happen with something like a sealed granola bar, but anything not factory-sealed coming from an individual? Yeah, pretty sketchy.

Being homeless or transient, getting something like food poisoning could be lethal.
posted by hot_monster at 7:47 AM on September 20, 2013 [4 favorites]




I have a few thought and experiences to share. (I live in europe in an unspecified country)

I've worked for one year and a half for a french association who would help drug addicts. I am not a complete expert, but I know that world. I am also too much familiar with alcohol addition.
Those are two categories I will never, ever, ever give any money, because doing so it will only enable them and that is just wrong. It's not that I don't emphatize with them, my heart is destroyed every time I see a poor soul who is lost in addiction, I know what is doing to them, and what did (or is still doing) to their families. Unfortunately the only person who can help them is themselves.

I traveled in Morocco and Tunisia, an incredbile amount of people would propose a "touring visit of the city" for 20 minutes and then ask for 10 euros (I'ts what i make in one hour of work btw). My impression was that for them I was simply an european guy = rich = walking money bag.

I don't give money to charities, because I distrust them all, I know I'm awfully biased, but I can't help myself looking at those organizations and pondering that this is just another instituion who just will grow bigger and bigger, and it will start attracting the wrong kind of people (who looks just for power and money), and also have their own internal agendas. Similarly I don't trust all those ONG's in africa, they started sprouting like mushrooms.

I don't give money to beggars, because I have seen people who have stationed at the same red light for more than TEN years, and I cannot believe that in all that time not one single job opportunity came out, also i don't give money to (I have no idea how to refer to them correctly so I'll call them) gipsies, because they made a job out of asking money, and I think it's a little too easy just wandering around asking for money.

And anytime I don't give money to somebody I need to rationalize it remembering myself the things I just wrote and make my empathic side to shut up. I feel guilty, but I also don't like to support bad habits. However, I would give anytime food or water or clothes to whoever would ask, because I think that this is help, money is just money, it's not help, unfortunately I do not get asked food often

Ok, I'll just write a little more, what I really fucking hate of this situation is the way societies leave all this marginalized people to be helped by goodwill of single people or by humanitarian associations, as if the moment you fall of normality (whatever that is) you can just hope that someone will help you.

I know that as first post is not the best one, I am coming out as a mighty asshole, but I have reread all this multiple times and I stick to it.

Please help me.
posted by yann at 8:15 AM on September 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


I would probably be pretty concerned if I was in a large metro area anywhere in the world and there was a 100% absence of homeless people. There have been too many (perhaps apocryphal) stories about cities hosting international sporting events that deal with their homeless people by force to make their Potemkin Olympic Villages look pretty for the tourists.

Back to the article, there's an interesting link at the bottom of the page about homeless people will cell phones.
posted by elizardbits at 8:16 AM on September 20, 2013


(I have no idea how to refer to them correctly so I'll call them) gipsies

If you are referring to people of Romani descent, the correct way to refer to them is either Roma or Romani. There are some Spanish nationals of Andaluz Romani descent that have been reclaiming the term gitano but to my knowledge they are the only ones currently doing so.
posted by elizardbits at 8:22 AM on September 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


For all the people here (those who have posted and not) who are in the "I don't give because I don't know they're going to spend it on food", ask yourselves, have you never had a hard time making the choice between what is best for you and what feels good right now?

Have you never been hungover and eaten sugary and salty food all day to get through it, instead of the protein-rich health food fest that your body probably needs?

Have you never been in a bad place mentally and spent your money on booze/fags/some sort of shopping spree to try and feel better, instead of therapy?

I've worn expensive and stupid shoes even though I knew it would mean spending more on a bus or cab ride later when they hurt my feet. I've spent money on clothes that make me feel thinner instead of a better bike that I might actually ride to work a bit more. Hell, I could go on but I don't want you guys to lose all respect for me.

The point is, I make stupid and fairly irresponsible choices for myself all the time, the only difference between me and that guy who might buy himself a drink because it will make his shitty day warm and fuzzy for a bit is that I can afford to make the wrong choices now and then.
posted by greenish at 8:57 AM on September 20, 2013 [11 favorites]


I sometimes wonder, "what if that person is actually Jesus in disguise?" Obviously I would like to think that I would give everything I had to Jesus if He asked. But what if that's how He decided to ask? But on the other hand, it seems obviously wrong and stupid to say that one should just up and give everything to the first poor person that one meets in case they happen to be Jesus in disguise.

This issue is explored in some detail in a 90's Stewart Lee sketch.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 8:59 AM on September 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Money is fungible. I do not judge. If I give to someone, it is their decision what to spend it on. Sometimes I will give food. I am never offended if they don't want it because of what it is. I sometimes give a beer if I have a six-pack in hand. Either I am committed to helping him in some way or not. I do not want to be the person deciding what is in the best interests of someone I do not know and cannot really relate to. Sometimes I don't give. No good reason, maybe I had a bad day at the office or maybe I just heard some bad talk radio and I am not feeling the generous call. If you want to help and they want the help, hey you have a match. Great.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:12 AM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I follow beyonce's tumblr account because I love her and obsessively stare at all the perfect things she does, but it does occasionally get disorienting.

She is on tour, so she posts quite a few pictures of all her dedicated fans across the globe all bey-ed out for her concerts. Then she posts pictures of her on vacations around the globe on her yacht with her fellow half billionaire husband while they drink fancy wine and eat fancy things and jump into bodies of water that I really quite honestly will never have access to in my whole life.

Thought 1: Damn, get it, how are you shaped that way in a bathing suit, you deserve a break, what a nice life I am so happy you have it, hurray

Thought 2: How in the everliving fuck could you possibly have that much money and tour and see so many other people and know that the amount of money you have could change MILLIONS of lives and still stay sane and also keep the money??

And then I remember that she donates plenty of time & money to charity, that I technically probably also have life changing amounts of money, and it is all so complicated. Calculus indeed.
posted by skrozidile at 9:27 AM on September 20, 2013 [6 favorites]


My daily routine no longer involves driving or walking by homeless people, but I used to be pretty free with giving out a buck or two if I had it. These days I prefer to give to food banks, shelters, etc. (which this thread has reminded me to do again) because of the greater chance it'll get used to provide real help and some sort of stability for people. It amazes me that there are people who basically distrust all charities. I wonder if they also distrust all governments, all businesses, all teachers, all people outside their family, etc. Charities are made of people so of course there is probably some fraud and poor use of money but there are charity rating organizations out there that do a great job helping you make good choices for giving, and it's easy enough to stay away from proselytizing or paternalistic groups if you want. I also hope that if people don't like charities they vote consistently to improve and and expand government programs that help the needy instead.

I kind of agree about the refusing food thing though ... if the food is good and obviously safe, really hungry people should eat it absent a medical condition. I mean, when I was in college and later in my twenties I lived off 20 cent ramen soup and cans of raw tuna. When I was lucky enough to go to France via ferry from my study abroad in the UK I basically ate a baguette and water every day as a combined breakfast/lunch. After walking around for a few hours I get hungry as s*** - enough that I would eat stuff I don't usually like or that is stale/plain/etc. It boggles my mind that someone who is supposedly starving would be like "oh this pizza is cold". My kid loves cold pizza and she lives in a fancy house in the burbs!
posted by freecellwizard at 9:28 AM on September 20, 2013


The point is, I make stupid and fairly irresponsible choices for myself all the time, the only difference between me and that guy who might buy himself a drink because it will make his shitty day warm and fuzzy for a bit is that I can afford to make the wrong choices now and then.

Since you pretty much quote me at the top, I feel like I should respond to this.

I'm not saying that other people shouldn't give cash if they don't want to. I'm also not saying that homeless people are somehow more blameworthy than I am if they choose to pursue some kind of a creature comfort that isn't precisely the best thing for them. I firmly believe that we should, individually and as a society, have space for people to make sub-optimal choices without ruining their lives or becoming outcasts.

I also don't believe that I'm obligated to say yes to whatever anybody asks me. I'm allowed to set a boundary over the kind and the extent of the help I will give. I get that this is in tension with another value, which is that in general I should help someone if asked, as well as to respect their dignity as a person who may very well do things I don't like with my freely-offered help.

I will say all day long that Americans should do more about poverty as a systemic political and economic issue, and about helping, as directly as possible, the individual poor people in our communities. When I say "Americans" I mean: I can do more. I should do more.

But it makes me uncomfortable to give cash directly to a stranger. I have a line there. I'd sooner give a beer. I'd much sooner give a cigarette. I think that giving cash to organizations that feed is probably better, in terms of overall utility and getting people who need food reliably fed, than giving a few bucks to a guy on the street, but that's probably a rationalization and the reality is that's just what I'm more comfortable doing.
posted by gauche at 9:33 AM on September 20, 2013


When I visited San Francisco in March, the number of homeless was a big shock to me, there are hundreds of homeless people you see everyday, and a sad percentage with obvious mental health problems, it was a constant level of sadness that followed me around as I explored the city.

Not to defend the homeless situation, because honestly how the US treats its poor is a disgrace. but San Francisco has a fairly mild climate, relatively decent aid services and liberal social policies compared to other cities in the US, and is a city that other cities from nearby areas and states actually send their homeless population to. (Really, they will harass their local homeless population and then offer them a free bus ticket to SF. The city is actually looking at suing some of cities that are flagrant about it.)

So yeah, SF has a huge homeless population and it's a real problem. Add to that that the areas where a lot of the tourists stay are actually just a block or two from some pretty sketchy neighborhoods (and the Upper Haight is well, the Upper Haight) and it's probably pretty shocking for people who visit.
posted by aspo at 9:47 AM on September 20, 2013


I don't want this to turn into a religion derail, but I stumbled across an interesting passage in Proverbs once.

Proverbs 31:6-9

6 Let beer be for those who are perishing,
wine for those who are in anguish!
7 Let them drink and forget their poverty
and remember their misery no more.

8 Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
for the rights of all who are destitute.
9 Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy.

The next time someone says "I don't want to give money to a bum, he might spend it on booze!", just ask them why they refuse to obey the Bible.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 9:50 AM on September 20, 2013 [6 favorites]


gauche, the sad thing is that a lot of people I have heard say "I'd sooner buy them food/a beer/a cigarette" unfortunately don't.

I mean, fair play if a person feels more comfortable giving whatever rather than cash, but that only works if they do. I'm not saying this about you (and my comment wasn't directed specifically at you, there's a lot of similar views here) because maybe you do go to the extra trouble, but society generally - there's a slew of people who just never put their money $OtherDonation where their mouth is.

For example, a colleague the other day didn't put money in a pot going round for a charity we were raising for. He said, I don't give money, I'd give my time or skills but I don't give money as I don't know where it's going. But he doesn't give his time and skills for free - he doesn't look for the opportunity (what, does he want the people in need of them to headhunt him or something?!). And people often don't buy food for homeless people, because you know they're in a rush/there isn't a shop right there/what if they buy them a burger and they're vegan etc etc. The thing is, giving cash is just easier for most people - you can just do it, right then and there.

I'm not a paragon, I've said my fair share of "sorry"s. I've bought a meal for people I reckon might have had enough of their chosen intoxicant already that day. But I can't bear it when people use the "you don't know how they'll spend it" line as an excuse to not give a few coins to someone who needs them about a million times more than them.
posted by greenish at 9:52 AM on September 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


"There are some Spanish nationals of Andaluz Romani descent that have been reclaiming the term gitano but to my knowledge they are the only ones currently doing so.

Huh. I've known a couple people with the last name Gitano; I had no idea it was a slur against Spanish Roma.
posted by klangklangston at 11:13 AM on September 20, 2013


Random thoughts:

Just throwing this out there for Americans who may be interested: I think it was on MeFi that I saw somebody recommend The American Institute of Philanthropy's evaluations of charities. Their Wikipedia page includes some criticisms of their methods, but personally I am happy to be able to look up their ratings and, if I have time, cross-reference with other ratings orgs like Charity Navigator. (Not Givewell though, not after their fiasco here.)

A good friend told me that on one trip to India, a beggar asked him for money. Friend said, "No, sorry," the way he'd gotten into the habit of doing there. As Friend headed into his tourist destination, the beggar threw out his arms and cried out, with grief and despair, "FOR GOD'S SAKE, MAN, I'M A HUMAN BEING!" Friend said that if he could do it over again, he'd have given that guy something. When I went to India last year, I took a bunch of $1 bills to hand out.

In Boston several years ago, I was walking home about two minutes away from my place when a woman asked me for money to buy food. She was probably in her 60s, said she used to be a paralegal but hadn't been able to find work for 6 months. I offered to buy her some food. We went to a 7-11 where she picked out a sandwich and a chilled bottle of Starbucks flavoured coffee. She was profusely grateful. I wished her well and we parted ways.

From that time on, I seemed to run into this woman on my street with increasing frequency. She didn't live on that (residential) street or even that neighborhood, so running into her a couple of times a week was weird. She still couldn't find any work, none at all. I asked if she'd tried McDonalds. One of my friends was working there, wasn't thrilled about the job but it was a regular paycheck. This woman said she wouldn't work there. Kept talking about how she applied for all these paralegal jobs and getting no bites. She never directly asked me for money again, or to buy food for her, but she strongly hinted at it in every encounter. I felt guilty about deciding I wouldn't offer again and talked it over with friends and family but the McDonald's conversation, plus the feeling of being mildly stalked, clinched it. I changed my route home to spend the least amount of time possible on my street. That cut down on but didn't eliminate our encounters. About two years later, for other reasons, we moved to the other coast, but I still think about her and wonder what happened to her and feel relieved that I don't have to run into her any more. I probably could have handled that situation better but oh well.

Since then, I've shifted almost entirely to making eye contact and "Sorry, no," and donating to food banks, homeless shelters etc. Reading this thread is making me think that I might offer to buy somebody food again, but only if I'm nowhere near my neighbourhood. Thanks y'all for your thoughtful comments.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 11:23 AM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Re: "lying" about money for food. Some of you have said you'd give money if they've just honest about what they're using it for. But the is Very Liberal metafilter. Anyone begging for money has to choose the most optimal way to elicit sympathy among a wide demographic. Mrs. Church every Sunday may not feel the same. Heck most people won't.

I think many people are also forgetting that food or booze are not the only choices. There is such a staggering array of goods someone might need. Maybe chapstick, maybe socks. But begging for a new comb probably isn't going to have to same emotional impact. Asking for food is part of the song and dance our society has pushed them into doing. The only real exception I see is be "can I bum a cigarette?" from someone already smoking.

Yes, I prefer to non-committal "can you spare some change." but you gotta go with what works. (though in honesty, I think I would be a interesting experiment to try different variants to see what worked best. Anyone know of any studies along these lines?)

And there are the stories of the panhandlers who are living in the suburbs and who are clearing $50,000, tax-free.

Yes, those stories do exist.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 11:24 AM on September 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm not sure why considering the end result of your charity is a bad thing.

I do give money to the local food bank, because I am confident their overhead is low and a large percentage of the money goes to actually buying food and/or supplies.
Similarly, I've given to the relief nursery, because they help children and again, have low overhead.

I do not give money to the children's fund at the hospital, because I've seen their offices and spending for events, and I'm not at all convinced my money would be spent wisely.

Given the prevalence of quik-marts in and around the hot spots for begging in my area, the vast majority of money directly to beggars is going to be spent on booze and/or incredibly marked up convenience food, neither of which seems like an optimal use of resources.
posted by madajb at 12:04 PM on September 20, 2013


Maybe chapstick, maybe socks. But begging for a new comb probably isn't going to have to same emotional impact.

In my area, at least, all of things are available from the food bank and/or one of the homeless support centers.
Often they were purchased wholesale or donated, which avoids the retail markup and allows a donated dollar to stretch further.
posted by madajb at 12:07 PM on September 20, 2013


Being homeless or transient, getting something like food poisoning could be lethal.

Some people have dental problems, too- the miserable kind where chewing is a painful nightmare. They might not be able to chew whatever you happen to be holding. Sometimes I'll offer to get something from the store (since that's usually where I'm headed) and drop it off on the way back. Usually people ask for a drink (soda or a bottle of water, not alcohol).

Anyway, my policy for giving on the street developed from two sources. The first was a post on an Overheard in New York type-site that was specific to my college town, which had a small and pretty downtown bar area that was frequented by Greeks and homeless people. The post was a retelling of the C.S. Lewis quote upthread, except between two sorority sisters.

The second was a column in the Catholic newspaper my parents got when I was a kid (and still get, and I still sometimes read it when I'm at their house). It was called, like, Ask Father Bob or actually I think it was straight up called Ask The Priest (Ask A Priest?). It was usually some little question like, "Why do we celebrate St. So-and-So?" or "What are traditional religious gifts for a wedding?" or similar, and then three paragraphs of basic Catholic stuff. But one week the question was, do I have to give to the panhandlers? And it was clear from the question that the asker expected the answer to be no, especially since they were careful to specify that they gave to the homeless shelter. And I still remember that the answer was incredibly firm and said, basically, "You have to give. Jesus did not say to give things just to the people who ask you in exactly the way you are comfortable with. In fact, he specifically addressed this and said that if someone asks you rudely, you give more."

I don't follow that rule to the letter- sometimes I don't have change, sometimes I have already earmarked the dollar for a soda for myself, sometimes I don't want to interact with other human beings- but I try to let it inform my actions.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 12:26 PM on September 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yes, I prefer to non-committal "can you spare some change." but you gotta go with what works

Maybe - and maybe in the long run, it works out for them.

But it doesn't work on me.
posted by corb at 12:37 PM on September 20, 2013


"If I ever get real rich, I hope I'm not real mean to poor people, like I am now." - Jack Handy
posted by Sprocket at 12:51 PM on September 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


Sure, giving a man a fish doesn't fix the structural issues as to why he doesn't know how to fish himself, but he's hungry now. And I have all these small fry in my pockets that I won't miss anyway.
posted by garlic at 1:06 PM on September 20, 2013


"what if that person is actually Jesus in disguise?"


Mathew 25:31-41


For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’

Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,[a] you did it to me.’



I really really don't get a lot of Christians. It's right there in God's English.

"God helps those who help themselves" is not biblical. "Putting on your oxygen mask first" isn't biblical.

Giving when you are asked is biblical. And being judged according to your acts is biblical. And treating the very worst off well is biblical.

I'm not Christian, nor do I claim to live by Jesus' purported teachings. But those who are and do have some explaining to do.
posted by jclarkin at 1:19 PM on September 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


But to be fair, I'm not tarring all Christians with this brush. Just a lot of them, so please discount my rant if you feel it unfair.
posted by jclarkin at 1:20 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


You know, i think several people here(i was going to pull some quotes, but whatever, this is a pretty general reply) don't realize that shelters are fucked up in a lot of ways, and that many homeless people avoid them for good reason.

In nearly all of them your shit will get stolen, violence happens(and there's often a very bullshit highschool zero tolerance type of "you got punched in the face/stabbed/sexually assaulted? well you probably did something to initiate it since you were both involved in the altercation, so you're both out as "trouble makers""), and all manner of other bullshit that just makes it not worth it to a lot of people. Not to mention the fact that they're nearly always full, or have onerous rules like "you must stay here every night after the night you sign up, except for the nights we're not open. you're not allowed to stay here during the day but if you aren't back by 6pm security won't let you in" so if you miss one night, banned. If you are back at 6:15 because the bus driver refused to believe all the pennies you put in instead of a quarter added up to the right fare? banned.

And really, i can't overstate the violence/theft issues. They just aren't safe places if you're mentally ill, small, a lot of times a woman(even if it's a womens shelter), or just otherwise vulnerable.

My mom was stuck in one for months in a particularly shitty part of my late childhood/teenageness, and it's one of those "we don't talk about that" periods of her life like my grandpa was with WW2 in the pacific. No one else i've known who was homeless for any period of time would go anywhere near that shit.

This kinda plays in to that whole "structured, in a bad way" thing that was brought up above. If you're completely against helping anyone who won't use the broken "support system" that's in place because you're convinced they have a nefarious reason not to, then you're just not helping the people who decline to be victimized in the ways that system allows or even encourages in a tacit way.

So yea, i always feel really weird about people who want to help or even do, but refuse to help the massive number of people who don't engage in that system, or even *can't*. Seattle has a huge tent city that the city government keeps trying to bury and break up in really gross ways and a lot of the arguments i hear just sound an awful lot like what the rich asshole city council members who don't want to look at or think about homeless people say.

In San Francisco in the eighties, right after deinstitutionalization (they emptied out the mental hospitals based on patients rights advocacy and the desire to save the state money) the streets were chock-a-block with homeless panhandlers.

I can't be arsed to find a source right now, but this exact same thing happened in seattle. I heard about it, maybe saw it in a newspaper/the stranger, and then suddenly... thousands of homeless mentally ill people EVERYWHERE. They get bad enough/cause a disturbance? thrown in the psych ward at harbowview for a week or two and then released to have no real help or care and just wander the streets.

It's really fucked up, and all the "fuck the homeless" rich people in and outside the city government never seem to be willing to make the connection. They just don't want to spend any money, but also don't want to have to see or deal with homeless people.

ugh.
posted by emptythought at 2:18 PM on September 20, 2013 [9 favorites]




A guy stopped me on the street and I gave him some money. He then asked if I had an apartment - no. Not bringing in guys off the street to sleep on my couch. If that makes me a selfish person, well, I can live with that.
posted by thelonius at 10:23 PM on September 20, 2013


I try to give freely to those who are in need, begging or otherwise, and never give to people with the elaborate backstory...

... with one exception: A black lady on a busy street approached me with an air of desperate humiliation, asking for money for a bus ticket, because she found herself without cash or money cards to get cash. Her tone immediately struck me as sincere, and I found myself pulling my wallet out before she even finished her sentence. Gave her a fiver.

Then spent a good bit trying to figure out why she hit my chords, when she was essentially using the same story as 100 liars before her. I'm convinced it was because she wasn't lying: the subconscious tells were there to say "I'm uncomfortable but needy."

Since I'll never know, I can believe that regardless of what the truth is. But I do believe it.

The other end of the spectrum: in Ireland I walked through an alleyway to come upon two teenage girls working an empty block. One at the corner notified the other of the mark's approach, and pretended to be an unrelated passerby. The other immediately changed her emotional clothing, and told a sob story to the mark. Very informative view of the play from the wings.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:06 AM on September 21, 2013


I typically don't carry cash, and if I haven't successfully ignored someone on the street, i'll usually say I don't have cash

well, one person/family was saying that their family was near to an ATM and they just needed $dollars to pay for rent or whatever. Since I had to walk by the store that has the ATM inside, there wasn't a real way for me to get out of that one...so I ended up withdrawing like a hundred dollars or whatever.

These days, I make sure to always be looking at my phone as I walk the few blocks from my office's building to the parking lot.
posted by subversiveasset at 10:34 AM on September 21, 2013


If I actually believed that someone asking for money was really going to use it to get back home so they could find a job, or buy nutritious food (not having eaten for days), or buy antibiotics for their sick kid or whatever, I'd feel morally obliged to give them a lot more than the buck or two they would typically receive. I give people money because their lives are horrible and a little cash may make them feel better, not because they have a plan to fix their lives.

I wish they did, though.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:52 AM on September 22, 2013 [3 favorites]



This thread really intrigued me. I began managing a food pantry 2 months ago.
I quickly learned that I had very little trust in my clients.
My volunteers, there's about 12 of them, most of them are also clients and are eligible to receive food and have been there longer than I have, reinforce this, they tell me that I can't trust the other clients, that what the client says or does in order to skirt an exception to the rules - come and get food on a day that we're not open, pick up food for their daughter or mother without receiving a signed note and phone call from the other person, etc - because 'clients will walk all over you and steal you blind.'

Most of the time so far, I've given the clients the benefit of the doubt, because I wanted to believe that I can trust humans and especially the poor whose lives is more difficult than mine...

The job has already left me little jaded and hardened to the poverty that I see everyday. I've had 4-5 people already take advantage of me/the food pantry. A volunteer had stolen at least 4-5 grocery bags of food and 4-5 gallons of juice (all that I know of, could have been more). I've heard stories from my previous boss of people who would sell the groceries or try to come through the line more than once to receive food.

Without an infinite supply of food and knowing that by enforcing the rules, I can ensure the people who deserve the food receive as opposed to someone who is lying to get it, and to ensure that I don't have dozens of people at my door asking for food at all times of the day in a chaotic fashion, I am resigned to enforce those rules.
posted by fizzix at 8:24 AM on September 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


It amazes me that there are people who basically distrust all charities

Why does this amaze you? Many charities are lifestyle jobs for the higher ups and staffed by exploited idealists. Nothing will make you more jaded, faster than looking at administrative and fundraising costs vs. program costs.
posted by rr at 9:30 AM on September 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


what I really fucking hate of this situation is the way societies leave all this marginalized people to be helped by goodwill of single people or by humanitarian associations, as if the moment you fall of normality (whatever that is) you can just hope that someone will help you.

Reading Orwell: The Transformation over the weekend, I thought the following reference to 'the down and out' worth quoting in the context of this conversation:

"[Down and Out in Paris and London] is oddly static in its concept of the life it describes, as if nothing in it will ever significantly change despite the patronizing and inadequate character of private charity, the boredom and ugliness of public assistance, all those devices that society invents to cover up its wounds rather than to cure them."
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 8:29 PM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I live in downtown SF and I make it a point to never give anything to panhandlers. It does nothing to improve their overall situation and only encourages them to continue begging on the street. If they're particularly pushy or mention god, I'll tell them to go fuck themselves, and I've been threatened by them on several occasions for that.
posted by mike3k at 8:58 PM on September 22, 2013


Working in the system may be one of the quickest ways to become less sympathetic. Not volunteering a couple of hours, but actually working in circumstances where you're getting evidence based facts instead of someone's narrative. I think a lot about one story.

After doing something that nearly ruined the lives of several close family members, something stomach turning, he was given a special kind of community based 'light rap' sentence that would allow him to continue to work and support several young children. Instead of doing this he stopped working, ditched his kids, and began collecting money on the street. At night he slept at a 'girlfriend's' house who was feeding him, and who can probably be added to a long list of people he took advantage of, although she was an addict herself. I got to know the family members that he had hurt and even though he stopped using at some point he continued to be an astonishing, abusive jerk. I've met him and he feels very sorry, but only for himself. The family he damaged? Full of people working low-paying jobs who carried on with their lives and still struggle quietly. Who really had the hard life here? This has drastically changed where I've directed my 'charity'.

Like SF, my current city has a disproportionate number of disenfranchised people. I find a large number of the panhandlers in my neighborhood are aggressive and rude. I'm not Jesus and they can p*ss right off.

In contrast, I've spent several years living in areas of Africa, without much money myself, where people are genuinely struggling. I tried to (a) offer what extra I had to them, be it a seat in the car or winter jackets and (b) support the hustle, being whatever micro-business someone had going, be it candy from a stall or beads from a kid. It always felt like a better transaction to me to give and receive. I can also say I don't recall ever having anyone say no to something like a sandwich or a blanket, even if they didn't actually ask for it.
posted by skermunkil at 2:42 PM on September 23, 2013


most European countries have decided or are in the process of deciding that, contrary to all evidence, what we need is an American style society and break down our safety nets

I think what you mean is the rich people who run those countries have decided they are tired of not being able to afford yachts as plush as their American counterparts and that they don't give a shit about the future.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 8:32 AM on September 24, 2013


« Older This Place Is Not A Place Of Honor   |   The wow factor. Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post