Almost every day when I drive home from work I see the same man standing on the corner of a major intersection.  When the light turns red he rushes over to the stopped cars and asks for spare change.  Some people give him something, most don’t even roll down their window.  It doesn’t help that there is a liquor store on that same corner so you know what people are assuming.

Panhandling is more prevalent in the downtown core than the ‘burbs where I live and work.  Our city council in their infinite wisdom has tried to ban panhandling and street artists.  When that didn’t work, they tried to institute a mandatory license.  They must think it’s a pretty lucrative pastime if they want part of the action.  Needless to say, neither one of these ludicrous initiatives panned out (pardon the pun).

Street artists – musicians, mimes, jugglers, artists, etc. – can be a vibrant part of downtown activities and are enjoyable to watch.  But what about the guy just sitting on the sidewalk with his hand out?

What do you do when you see a person on the street asking for money?

Does it matter if:

  • They are male or female?
  • Young or old?
  • Healthy looking, or week and feeble looking?
  • They have a young child with them?
  • They have a dog?
  • Look reasonably clean, or dirty and scruffy?
  • It’s cold, snowing or raining?

There are stories of panhandlers who do it as a job.  In fact, some time ago a reporter in Toronto staked out a corner and spent several days begging.  The article in Readers Digest claimed that he earned more each day than he did at his regular job!

There’s also the question of how the money will be used.  Is it for food?  Or will it be spent on booze or drugs?  Does it matter?

It’s easy to ignore them when we are hurrying to get out of the cold or running to catch a bus while focusing on our phone conversation or iPod tunes.

Rather than tossing spare change into a cap, many people would rather give their money to the many charitable organizations that help the homeless by providing shelter, clothing, food and work skills.  This is probably a better solution for the long term but homelessness is a problem that never seems to be alleviated.

As for my corner guy, now that the weather is getting colder I wonder if he will abandon his post?  Does he get enough money to buy himself some fast food?  Will he now head downtown to spend the night in the homeless shelter?  I don’t know his situation but I hope things work out for him.  I feel guilty seeing him day after day.

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23 Comments

  1. changeonabudget on October 25, 2011 at 12:16 am

    Man I need to learn to write faster since all my good post ideas are getting written by others first!! I grew up in a small town so my experience with homeless was so sheltered at first.

    Then I found out the grandpa I had only met when I was little was homeless due to mental illness and my parents didn’t know where he was. When I moved downtown Toronto in the summers during University, I almost went broke giving money away to pan handlers because I always saw them as someone’s lost relative.

    I don’t give money away anymore because I feel my money makes more of a difference at charitable organizations, but I will stop and chat if I have a few minutes. I sometimes carry gift certificates to Tim’s or McDonalds as well.

  2. Orks on October 25, 2011 at 2:22 am

    I never give money to them. I live in Victoria and they are honestly a plague here. Large problems with heroin and other drugs are rampant in the street community and I have no wish to support this.

    I donate very little money though, so probably not the greatest citizen. When I do I tend to donate to countries that have less organizations that can help people in need.

  3. Fred on October 25, 2011 at 3:49 am

    You can qualify me as on of the “people that would rather give their money to the many charitable organizations”.

    The problem I have with panhandling is that they are in the downtown core and activating pedestrian traffic lights on purpose to stop the traffic and get a chance to walk down the row of parked cars. After a hard day’s work, the last thing I want is my commute being an added an extra 10 minutes because of the traffic jam that is caused (in part only, but…) the panhandler putting their hands out.

    Very frustrating indeed!

    • Boomer on October 25, 2011 at 7:07 pm

      @Fred: I agree that that kind of behaviour can be frustrating when people are deliberately holding you up. I also dislike getting my windshield wiped with a dirty rag and expected to pay for the “wash”.

  4. David Leonhardt on October 25, 2011 at 7:30 am

    Back when I lived in the big city, I used to give panhandlers apples and Sunday mornings sometimes we would bring them homemade muffins.

    • Boomer on October 25, 2011 at 7:11 pm

      @David Leonhardt: I often wonder if actual food items or coupons are appreciated, or if the panhandlers just want money. If someone’s hungry or buys a coffee to warm up it would help a lot.

  5. PKamp3 on October 25, 2011 at 10:18 am

    We used to throw cans and bottles on the front lawn and they’d be gone in the morning (I went to USC in Los Angeles). I always respected the crew that would come out at 4:00 or 5:00 AM to pick them up, so if we had a bag already, I would just hand it over.

    I actually did give out money to the ‘funny sign’ panhandlers occasionally. I also liked to give extra food I couldn’t finish. It does cut out the middleman when you give money/goods directly.

    • Boomer on October 25, 2011 at 7:14 pm

      @PKamp3″: I left three good – but not needed anymore- sleeping bags rolled up beside a downtown dumpster some time ago. They were gone in less than an hour. I hope they were put to good use.

  6. K on October 25, 2011 at 11:57 am

    I have never given money to panhandlers. Over the summer I dated a guy who was also in university, and every time we passed someone who asked us to spare change, he would reply with “Sorry buddy, I’m a starvin’ student!” So now I usually say that.

    Like most of the people here, I’d rather give my money to a homeless shelter instead of one homeless person directly.

  7. krantcents on October 25, 2011 at 11:57 am

    When I had a restaurant, I saw the negative side of homeless people affecting businesses. When I see a panhandler, it reminds me of those instances. I prefer to donate to organized charities instead of individuals because many will use the money for the wrong things.

  8. Mikhaila on October 25, 2011 at 12:08 pm

    I don’t like giving money to individuals, but I will give money to organizations that assist them with finding stable housing, addictions treatment, mental health counseling, etc. I believe those services are important and need support so people can access them and not slip through the cracks.

    Also, as a personal safety rule, I never take out my wallet while I’m on the street if anyone asks me for change (to get on the bus, for a phone call, whatever) because I don’t want to have it stolen.

  9. Kristina on October 25, 2011 at 1:42 pm

    I usually say ‘sorry not today’, but every once and a while I build up enough change in my pocket, and give it out to panhandlers until it’s gone. I have also given my monthly bus pass, when they’ve asked for change for a bus, and granola bars when they say they are hungry.

  10. Ashley @ Everything Finance on October 25, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    I’ve never given money to a panhandler. The ones that almost get me are the ones that come up to you while you are pumping gas with some sob story about needing money for gas to go see their kids or something.

    • Boomer on October 25, 2011 at 7:19 pm

      @Ashley: That’s such an old, often used story I’m surprised people still actually fall for it. It’s common outside big box stores and strip malls. I’d rather give my change to a panhandler than someone with a fake story. It does make me wonder though if some time it could be true.

      • MagzieM on October 28, 2011 at 7:35 pm

        We don’t give money in these cases, but we do fill their car up.

  11. Vince Thorne on October 25, 2011 at 7:33 pm

    I usually spare a buck or two when the feeling gets to me. I know it is not helping much. The harsh fact is that noone can help them more than they themselves followed by the government. But I believe that giving is always good.

  12. Jean on October 26, 2011 at 8:10 am

    If I see someone with a severe disability or of very old age, both cases where finding work would be difficult, I give them some money. But if it’s someone that is just shirking having to work, I don’t give them a second look.

    -Jean

  13. Jen S on October 26, 2011 at 5:42 pm

    Nope. Not unless I feel like I’m in any sort of danger. I have told a couple that I donate to local charities, and that they should visit those charities.

  14. Caroline Hanna on October 26, 2011 at 10:38 pm

    Really great topic! I ask myself this question all the time… Like you… I always feel “guilty” like I am not doing my part if I don’t give them something…but to be honest, I see so many homeless people who are drunk or on drugs in Vancouver that I don’t want to continue the cycle. So I prefer to give my money to charities that help the needy.
    carehanna.blogspot.com

  15. My money, my life on October 28, 2011 at 12:15 pm

    I only give money to older people, or people who seem to be physically weak and have no other means of income. I rarely give money to the younger, more able-bodied people that seem to sprout out of nowhere on Queen west in downtown Torontoduring the summer time, but will offer food instead. You’d be surprised how many times offers of perfectly good food (NOT leftovers) get turned down.

  16. Obsessive Compulsive Daniela on October 28, 2011 at 7:58 pm

    I offered a granola bar to a guy who asked for money once, and he turned it down.

    I guess he could have been allergic, or he just didn’t like granola bars, but I kind of felt like saying, dude, you are homeless. Can you really be that picky?

    But maybe I just think like that because I am not homeless. or maybe he was just a picky bastard.

  17. John @ Economics and Investing Blog on October 29, 2011 at 4:22 am

    I do not. I will give charity to organizations that I believe will help people help themselves. I believe in charity. I am sad when people I know think they deserve the great financial life they have (even with struggles and others deserve to suffer – lazy…). It is true some people risk failing and falling into financial trouble due to foolish behavior. But it is also very easy to do.

    And if, like me, you had a great family and pretty easy path, you should appreciate that many have had to make it through very difficult circumstances. It isn’t as easy for them to have graduated, gone to college….

  18. Anonymous on October 29, 2011 at 7:12 am

    If you give money to a panhandler, are you really helping them? There is always a job out there somewhere. If they are panhandling, then they are not looking for work as panhandling is done during daytime ours.

    I knew a guy who was homeless for a month. He was a beggar and was not proud of it. This is what he did to stop begging. He would leave the homeless shelter at 4:15 am and walk to a placement agency where you would sign your name on a list and wait for calls to come it. The doors opened at 5:30. If you worked that day you could get paid that day also. He basically made enough money to start renting a room in a rooming house. Now he has a fulltime job and a part time job, has his own apartment and a vehicle.

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