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  1. #1
    Piggybank Cop's Avatar
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    How to handle panhandlers

    How to handle panhandlers
    You may give or not give, but chances are you feel guilty and a little angry every time you're asked for money. You're hardly alone.

    By Liz Pulliam Weston
    I met my first beggar when I was 15.

    She was tiny, perhaps 5 years old, with huge brown eyes and a tangle of black curly hair. She was ostensibly selling packets of gum, wandering from table to table at an outdoor restaurant in a Mexican resort town.

    (Younger folk, raised with ubiquitous urban homelessness, may find incredible that I'd never before come face-to-face with a panhandler. But I lived in a rural area in an era before U.S. homeless populations skyrocketed.)

    I think we bought gum from the little girl -- I can't remember. What I do remember is that she wouldn't leave our table, but kept staring at us sadly with those big eyes. I also remember the emotions I felt as we tried to shoo her away: Pity. Irritation. Sadness. Suspicion. Embarrassment. And a little outrage at a world where such things could occur.

    The emotions, in short, that most of us feel when a stranger asks us for money on the street.

    Small change, big decision
    The amount of cash requested or given in these encounters is rarely very large, but few small-dollar transactions in our lives generate so much internal turmoil as being panhandled. Deciding whether and when to give is, for many, no easy task.

    Every major religion tells us to take care of the poor, and many people feel a moral obligation to help the less fortunate. But when asked for a dime, or a buck, or money for a meal, we still squirm. Are we helping, or being scammed? Are we brightening somebody's day or aiding someone's downfall? Will they accept what we offer, demand more, or threaten us if we say no? What does it say about us if we give -- and what does it say if we don't?

    Here's how one poster on the Your Money message board, LolaStressed1, put it:

    "When I was young and in Sunday school, they'd talk about Bible stories where the poor and downtrodden were ignored and no one would help them. I always thought I'd never be like that to someone in need. Then you grow up and get in the real world and suddenly you're taking the long way around the block to avoid the park where all the bums hang out."

    The sheer volume of beggars in cities discourages poster DFish from giving.

    "In most major cities there are panhandlers on every freeway exit ramp or busy street corner," DFish wrote. "If I gave money to all of them I would be broke."

    No way to win
    Some try to distinguish the "deserving" from the not through various means: how pathetic or needy the beggar looks, how convincing the story or even how witty the approach. (The "Why lie? It's for beer" signs seem to be a particularly popular gambit.)

    But bad experiences with ungrateful or aggressive panhandlers lead some to ignore requests for help, while others cite safety concerns.

    "I always, always say no," wrote BerryBlack, a Your Money poster who is importuned daily on the streets of Washington, D.C. "I'm not heartless, but I usually carry no cash anyway, and if I do have cash on hand, I'm not about to open up my bag to fish for my wallet. There's too much risk of someone grabbing it and running."

    Many worry that their generosity will backfire on the recipient and on their communities.

    "I believe that just giving them money is a form of enabling, and will do nothing more than encourage them to spend more time on the corner begging," poster Nervous1 wrote. "And it will bring more beggars in time."

    Indeed, there are those who work with the homeless who urge us not to give cash to panhandlers.

    Andy Bales, president of the Union Rescue Mission in downtown Los Angeles, said that not everyone who begs is homeless or indigent, and some panhandle primarily to get drug or alcohol money. Even beggars in the direst straits would be better off, he said, getting their needs met at a shelter rather than through individual donations on the street.

    "What they need is a hand up and encouragement to give life another try," Bales said. "They need a relationship that will help them out of a hopeless lifestyle."

    Some alternatives
    Many shelters offer free business cards, printed with their addresses, hours and services, that can be handed out instead of cash. Gift certificates to fast-food joints are another alternative when panhandlers ask for money for a meal.

    Bales acknowledged that he doesn't always have time to respond to everyone who hits him up for money, but said he always tries to be civil, since those in need often feel invisible.

    "You can always say, 'No, thank you,'" Bales said.

    Not everyone agrees that directions to the nearest shelter are an appropriate response. Randy Cohen, who writes "The Ethicist" column for the New York Times Magazine, said he finds people's reluctance to give money to beggars who might misspend it "slightly priggish."

    "You're giving them a dollar," he says. "You don't get to judge their life."

    Get the latest from Liz Pulliam Weston. Sign up to receive her free weekly newsletter.
    Preferred format:
    HTMLPlain TextYour e-mail address:Learn more about newslettersStill, he admitted he's far from having the answers. Cohen said he rarely gives cash when panhandled, preferring to give money to charity and to work for political change to end poverty and homelessness. But every time he's asked for money, he says, he feels "shame and guilt I never quite know what to do."

    Some of his friends, Cohen said, try to resolve their unpleasant stew of reactions by never giving money to anyone who asks. Others always give. Some attempt to thread the needle by only giving in certain situations -- if the panhandler has a child, say -- while others refuse to give in those same situations because the beggar "is using a child in that Dickensian way," said Cohen, author of "The Good, The Bad & The Difference: How To Tell Right From Wrong in Everyday Situations." Many are consistent only in their inconsistency -- sometimes an appeal is rewarded, other times they turn away.

    One thing he and his friends have in common: "No one feels good" about the solutions chosen.

    Whatever you decide, here are some thoughts for the next time you're panhandled:

    Stay civil. If you're not going to give, a simple "No, thanks" is an appropriate response, mission operator Bales said. A snide comment or argumentative tone can provoke aggression, while ignoring a request can make the other person feel invisible -- something the homeless already experience often enough. Bales says he's asked for money many times every day, but says, "I've never had trouble when I treated the other person as a human being."

    Stay safe. That said, there's no denying that some panhandlers are just plain scary. If you feel unsafe, Bales said, the most important thing is to get away quickly. Don't feel obligated to talk to anyone or go anywhere alone with someone who approaches you on the street. If you do want to give cash, keep the money readily accessible so that you don't have to dig into your pants or purse for a wallet.

    Explore alternatives. Donations to your local shelters ensure that your money goes for feeding and clothing the homeless, rather than supporting a panhandler's vices. (Such donations are also tax-deductible if you itemize.) Some folks carry old blankets, coats and even nonperishable food in their cars to give to the homeless. If someone asks for money and you want to give something else, though, ask if the person wants the item before thrusting it into his or her hands. (And don't give anything that requires a can opener.) The same rule applies if you want to buy a meal rather than give cash. My experience has been that many panhandlers welcome a fast-food meal, but others really do want the cash; either way, my offers tend to be well-received when I make eye contact and inquire politely.

    Liz Pulliam Weston's column appears every Monday and Thursday, exclusively on MSN Money. She also answers reader questions in the Your Money message board.



    Or, I guess, you could just book 'em.

    Most just take one look at me and go the other way.



    We are the thin blue line
    between you
    and all the money in the world.

    And no you can't have any.

  2. #2
    Virginian's Avatar
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    3 hots and a cot, jail ain't bad.

  3. #3
    Andrewtx's Avatar
    Andrewtx is offline A little bit of soul
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    It didn't take me long living here to grow numb to all the people asking for money. A few things in particular that keep me from feeling guilty include:

    - The homeless dudes who leave piles of pennies behind whenever they leave their chosen spots. Guess they're too good for pennies or the liquor store won't take them.

    - The guy who came up to me a couple of weeks ago and said, "Hey man listen I needa some money 'cause I gotta buy a beer and the store's closing at 9 man."

    I actually sort of wanted to give him a dollar just for being honest.

    And then there were a couple of times when I tried to give some people leftover food from a restaurant and they turned it down. Bottom line? Beggars CAN be choosers if they pick the right city!


    Although, I do feel bad when I see people who are really, truly helpless. But that's rare.

  4. #4
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    Wink

    I guess I am too jaded, give them a bar of soap, shaving kit, a change of clothes, and the HELP WANTED section of the local paper.

    Capt. D. Larimore
    NTISF Gang Unit

  5. #5
    gozling's Avatar
    gozling is offline the gene pool could use a little chlorine
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    this is all warm fuzzy and stuff.. but really...
    but the majority drive to a corner, get out the wheelchair, sit for a few hours... get back in their car... to their home with cable and drink
    sometimes i will help out one of the locals that i know is homeless.. but really it doesnt make much of a difference.. they are lifers and after really talking to them.. they want to be there
    the weather is nice so its not like they have to get out of the cold... and the showers are free at the beach.
    maybe i have just hardened my shell too much
    but that being said.. i gave a dollar to a guy who really needed to get on the bus lol
    http://www.allpoetry.com/Grunts%20Girl

    We dallied under
    Vine maples and sapling alders
    Searched for lady slippers
    But instead
    Found blackberry riots and
    Desiccated branches

    An old skid road
    Brought ghost ferns and
    Hollows filled with
    Skunk cabbage
    While waves wrapped
    Intricate lacings of weeds
    'Round mule spinners

    His cyanotic eyes
    Were hard enough to make
    The sun turn tail and
    Tender enough to attract me
    To his world of illusion

  6. #6
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    Don't you just hate it when someone's balls are hidden so well, they can't seem to find it themselves ~ RSA

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    FOLLOW RSA ON TWITTER (IF YOU'RE GOING TO FOLLOW ME, PLEASE SEND ME A MESSAGE ON HERE WITH YOUR O/R USERNAME AND TWEET USERNAME SO I'LL KNOW WHO I'M ACCEPTING OTHERWISE YOU WILL NOT BE ACCEPTED!)
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  7. #7
    gozling's Avatar
    gozling is offline the gene pool could use a little chlorine
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    Quote Originally Posted by njpd

    ROFLMAO.. ok so that made my thong come out my gnoze
    .... i hate it when the glitter gets all spazzed....

    see its little moments like this that make me need to go play in the tub..
    *sniffle* you do care
    http://www.allpoetry.com/Grunts%20Girl

    We dallied under
    Vine maples and sapling alders
    Searched for lady slippers
    But instead
    Found blackberry riots and
    Desiccated branches

    An old skid road
    Brought ghost ferns and
    Hollows filled with
    Skunk cabbage
    While waves wrapped
    Intricate lacings of weeds
    'Round mule spinners

    His cyanotic eyes
    Were hard enough to make
    The sun turn tail and
    Tender enough to attract me
    To his world of illusion

  8. #8
    Resident Smart Ass's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by gozling
    ROFLMAO.. ok so that made my thong come out my gnoze
    .... i hate it when the glitter gets all spazzed....

    see its little moments like this that make me need to go play in the tub..
    *sniffle* you do care
    Don't you just hate it when someone's balls are hidden so well, they can't seem to find it themselves ~ RSA

    You can't avoid gossip & rude words from
    people. You can't please everybody. But remember, they wouldn't bother if you meant nothing.


    FOLLOW RSA ON TWITTER (IF YOU'RE GOING TO FOLLOW ME, PLEASE SEND ME A MESSAGE ON HERE WITH YOUR O/R USERNAME AND TWEET USERNAME SO I'LL KNOW WHO I'M ACCEPTING OTHERWISE YOU WILL NOT BE ACCEPTED!)
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    A PINT OF SWEAT SAVES A GALLON OF BLOOD ~ PATTON



  9. #9
    dlefdal's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by gozling
    ROFLMAO.. ok so that made my thong come out my gnoze
    .... i hate it when the glitter gets all spazzed....

    see its little moments like this that make me need to go play in the tub..
    *sniffle* you do care

    I'll be right over.
    When you find yourself in a hole............QUIT DIGGING!!!!!!!!!

    OK guys time to come clean. I am not only a police officer but I am also a big time movie star. I am using my real photo as my avatar now. Please NO autographs!!!!

    The opinions given in my posts DO NOT reflect the opinions, views, policies, and/or procedures of my employing agency. They are MY PERSONAL OPINIONS and I accept sole responsibility as such

  10. #10
    Ducky's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by gozling
    but the majority drive to a corner, get out the wheelchair, sit for a few hours... get back in their car... to their home with cable and drink
    We've got a guy here who does just that. Sits on the sidewalk right beside the traffic with a long sob story on a sign about how he and his wife are both disabled, and he's a vet and one of them can't get their SSI check and the one check they do have doesn't cover all the bills... Yes, it really says all that. Thing is, he used his motorized wheelchair to go around behind a building, loaded it on the back of a car WAY nicer than what I drive, hopped in the car, and he and his wife drove off. If the house matches the car, it's no wonder they can't keep up with the bills, I couldn't either.
    \\
    ` ` ` ` < ` )___/\
    `` ` ` ` (3--(____)
    "...but to forget your duck, of course, means you're really screwed." - Gary Larson
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MtN1YnoL46Q


  11. #11
    dlefdal's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ducky
    We've got a guy here who does just that. Sits on the sidewalk right beside the traffic with a long sob story on a sign about how he and his wife are both disabled, and he's a vet and one of them can't get their SSI check and the one check they do have doesn't cover all the bills... Yes, it really says all that. Thing is, he used his motorized wheelchair to go around behind a building, loaded it on the back of a car WAY nicer than what I drive, hopped in the car, and he and his wife drove off. If the house matches the car, it's no wonder they can't keep up with the bills, I couldn't either.
    So..........how much do you and Mr. Ducky make in a single setting?

    When you find yourself in a hole............QUIT DIGGING!!!!!!!!!

    OK guys time to come clean. I am not only a police officer but I am also a big time movie star. I am using my real photo as my avatar now. Please NO autographs!!!!

    The opinions given in my posts DO NOT reflect the opinions, views, policies, and/or procedures of my employing agency. They are MY PERSONAL OPINIONS and I accept sole responsibility as such

  12. #12
    Ducky's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dlefdal
    So..........how much do you and Mr. Ducky make in a single setting?

    We don't panhandle. You can get MUCH more as a stripping duo.
    \\
    ` ` ` ` < ` )___/\
    `` ` ` ` (3--(____)
    "...but to forget your duck, of course, means you're really screwed." - Gary Larson
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MtN1YnoL46Q


  13. #13
    Resident Smart Ass's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ducky
    We don't panhandle. You can get MUCH more as a stripping duo.
    Mr.Ducky?
    Don't you just hate it when someone's balls are hidden so well, they can't seem to find it themselves ~ RSA

    You can't avoid gossip & rude words from
    people. You can't please everybody. But remember, they wouldn't bother if you meant nothing.


    FOLLOW RSA ON TWITTER (IF YOU'RE GOING TO FOLLOW ME, PLEASE SEND ME A MESSAGE ON HERE WITH YOUR O/R USERNAME AND TWEET USERNAME SO I'LL KNOW WHO I'M ACCEPTING OTHERWISE YOU WILL NOT BE ACCEPTED!)
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    A PINT OF SWEAT SAVES A GALLON OF BLOOD ~ PATTON



  14. #14
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    I had a partner who collected the job applications off the counter of the fast food places we frequented. He kept them in the glove compartment and handed them out to the panhandlers who were dumb enough to approach us at the intersections.
    Why no, that's not a pregnant anaconda in my pants...why do you ask?

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by njpd
    Mr.Ducky?

    Ohhhh MY GAwddddeddddddd!!! LAUGHLAUGHLAUGHLL;AUGHLAUGHLAU GH

    *CHOKES coffee out my nose*!! Oh geeze, NO No NOOOO, Thats NOT me!! Oh my god please not that face!! Anything but the hassleman!!

    Oh please help me I think I"m going to have a stroke here...

    I mean Jay there was bad enough but then Ducky showed me that pic..
    Help me someone, Please!!!

  16. #16
    Ducky's Avatar
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    Baby, it's the stuffed codpiece that's got me laughing. I haven't had anything that small in years.
    \\
    ` ` ` ` < ` )___/\
    `` ` ` ` (3--(____)
    "...but to forget your duck, of course, means you're really screwed." - Gary Larson
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MtN1YnoL46Q


 

 

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