Who Gives Money to the Homeless?

Blunt Money has opened up an interesting thread about giving (or not giving) to beggars. Some of the comments bring back memories:

One reader says, “My daughter and I saw [a beggar], with a sign ‘hungry need food…’ while he was smoking a cigarette and talking on his cell phone.”

Or this one: “At the airport, a stranger approached me and said he needed $18.50 to buy a return ticket to Seattle. I immediately thought to myself ‘Who comes to the airport without money to buy a ticket?'”

While on a New Jersey transit train last week, a man in a blue button-down shirt, very clean-cut, young, and tired-looking, walked the aisles. He loudly explained, “I’ve just come from Princeton [or some other Jersey town] and I’m short for my return ticket. I lost my cell phone and can’t get in touch with anybody. I can’t get money from Western Union because blah blah blah…”

He went into a long-winded explanation of Western Union’s business practices, but it was clear he was a scam artist. The fact that he lost his cell phone and couldn’t get in touch with anyone but was somehow waiting at a Western Union counter for a transfer was clearly a big hole in his story. My accompanying friend wanted to give the guy the benefit of the doubt.

Before I could answer, the woman sitting on my other side muttered, “That was the same speech he gave last week.”

Ben recalls that when he was five, he was out with his parents when a man on crutches asked him for some money. His parents refused to kick him back some of his allowance for the cause and Little Ben was incensed. Nevertheless, the family marched on to lunch, then hopped a subway home. Just before entering the turnstiles, they saw the beggar, crutches under his arm, walking up to the token booth to buy a fare, laughing at something the attendant was saying.

In New York, there are your homeless people and your professional beggars. The homeless person is the guy who accosts you in Home Depot for spare change. The professional beggar is the guy who is almost well-dressed, clean, and doesn’t smell too bad who walks around your neighborhood every day and hits up all passerby. I never, ever give to these people, but occasionally I give to homeless people who somehow strike me as really in need. How I determine this, I can’t really say. (A few years back, a survey of New Yorkers and their earnings reported professional beggars make $14 an hour. Not much worse than temping, I guess.)

Do you give money to your local professional beggar, random homeless people, or anybody at all who asks you for money? —BRIAN FAIRBANKS

Do You Give Money to Strangers? [Blunt Money]

(Photo: Getty)


Edit Your Comment

  1. Crazytree says:

    One time I was approached in the parking lot of a Best Buy by a buy dressed like a pimp complete with bowler hat and a cross-eyed prostitute.

    He told me that they needed money for bus fare, and that I should cough it up.

    I declined, then he asked me if I wanted to trick his ho.

    100% true story.

  2. skittlbrau says:

    I will never give them money.

    When I lived in Michigan, a guy came up to me at the gas station and asked for money because he was hungry. I told him he couldn’t have money, but if we went inside I would buy him some food. He took me up on the offer.

    I generally take the tack of offering to give them what they want. If they say no, then I’m moving on.

  3. rbf2000 says:

    I work in DC, in Georgetown and I see homeless people every time I go out to lunch. It’s always the same people. Most of them are nice enough, and if I had spare change I might give it to them, but I never have any change (or cash) so I don’t have to make that decision.

    They just sit their with their cups held out, occasionally they speak to you, other times they just shake the cup. They’re harmless. What really upsets me are the people trying to elicit help for the Democratic party. I can’t get by them without being hassled. At least the homeless people leave me be.

  4. RandomHookup says:

    There’s a homeless guy who scalps tickets at Fenway Park. During the winter, he seems absolutely destitute and loony, but come spring, he can handle the complex transactions needed to sell $400 tickets and is on-the-ball.

    I just wonder who is fronting him the money?

  5. bambino says:


  6. MercuryPDX says:

    A friend and I were returning to his apartment in NYC to cook for a dinner party he was throwing. We bought extra everything, because the guest list was very loose. On the corner, a guy stopped us and asked if we could spare any change for a meal. Ron handed him one of the extra loaves of Italian bread. The guy accepted it, then looked at us in disgust and threw the bread on the ground and yelled “I don’t want your #@^#@^&%@ bread! I want your damn money! I want to get booze!” We just walked away and left him ranting.

    Ever since that day in 1992 I decided to NEVER give anyone begging for money on the street ANYTHING.

    Now that I live in Portland/Vancouver, it still holds true. It really irks me that someone who’s standing at the freeway exit, trying to collect money for a “bus ticket home” still hasn’t gotten enough for the ticket throughout the course of the 10 months I’ve seen them standing there… with the same sign… in clean clothes, well groomed.

  7. Sinflux says:

    In San Francisco I saw this “homeless” guy listening to an ipod (not some generic ripoff either) whilest he was begging. Not a real good tactic for getting someone’s money.

  8. kelmeister says:

    I was in San Francisco on vacation, waiting in line to get into a club, when a very thin, very dirty woman wrapped in a blanket approached me and she explained how the new rules kicking the homeless out of the parks were killing her friends. Then she asked for some money for tampons. I gave her twenty bucks. The friend I was staying with actually yelled at me for “being so stupid” as to give the woman that much. I said to her, I have tons of money and I’m still embarrassed to buy feminine hygiene products. Who the hell begs for tampons unless she really needs them?

    Near my house there are multiple intersections where there are guys standing all day, with every direction covered, begging for money. It’s like the Veterans and their Memorial Day poppies, except every day. My mom gives them money constantly. I keep telling her, one day someone’s going to reach in and grab your purse or something, but she asks me how I can be so heartless as to ignore those less fortunate.

  9. gondaba says:

    In Boston, never.

    When you walk to work everyday, you tend to see the same ten bums or so, day in and day out. They each definitely have their own personalities, but at the end of the day I see them each doing the same thing: getting drunk off of the days loot.

    THAT is why I never give even a cent to them.

  10. hushed says:

    I had a guy approach me at a gas station in Austin, saying he needed money for gas, to get back home to Dallas.

    I was feeling charitable, but I didn’t want to give to someone undeserving.

    I asked him for his I.D. He gave me a driver’s license with an Austin I.D.

    I told him I wouldn’t give him money, because he couldn’t prove he was from Dallas.

  11. superlayne says:

    This just makes me so sad and angry at the same time. I just hope I never run into someone asking me for money, honestly. I know I wouldn’t give them jack-squat, but I would feel horrible about it later.

    This man approached my dad in a parking lot asking for money. He ignored them and we got in the truck and drove off. Oh well. The Chinese food there sucked.

  12. rubberpants says:

    I recently watched a Frontline about panhandling in New York. Very interesting.


  13. jeffj-nj says:

    A woman asked me for bus fare once. I told her I’d wait with her and give the money to the driver. Yeah, that wasn’t acceptable. She kept walking.

    I’m always willing to give homeless people and/or beggers food, but not money. Usually, they don’t want it. That’s how you know they’re lieing.

    Sometimes, though, they do want it, and are incredibly appreciative. Those times are the ones which make all the other times worth it.

  14. Seacub says:

    Never in Seattle unless they specifically say it’s for alcohol and substance abuse. Honesty is worth a few quarters in my book.

  15. DCvision says:

    I drove a convertible for many years, and that made me a prime target for panhandlers. I simply firmly (that’s the secret-be firm and direct) told them no. We support homeless shelters and food banks with yearly gifts, so I never have to go through the mental gymnastics…”is this guy telling the truth…” “they look like they are hungry…”. Living on the streets must be absolutely horrible, but there are services and places that offer help.

    Don’t get me started about girl scouts outside of supermarkets…

  16. kracer22 says:

    My gf use to work as a teller for citibank in the village (NYC) and if you guys know anything about the village, there are some eccentric characters walking around. She mentioned that usually its the plain clothed, simple looking characters that have the multi-million bank accounts, and these so called blinged-out ballers are the ones constantly complaining about some overdraft fees the banks charge them. No surprise there.

    But I digress… So she told me about this homeless guy.. (well he looks homeless anyways, with his wagon of grimey goodies) that banks with them. He would come in and make deposits 1 dollar at a time… but ironically, he had over 10K in his account!
    And on hot summer days he could be found slurping a Starbucks Frappacino.. while Citibanks employees like my gf, making just slightly over minimum wage, would salivate as they watched him pushing his cart by.

  17. Fixxxer says:

    I was once approached by a beggar/homeless person on the street (he was dirty, unshaven, etc) in Charleston, SC. I didn’t give him any money, since I very rarely carry any cash with me. When I walked back by the same corner about 30 minutes later, I saw him sitting next to a building with a notebook computer in his lap… Probably checking his email.

  18. battlerobo says:

    South Park’s last episode, “Night of the Living Homeless,” pretty much covered this topic with its usual humor…

    I’m not one to give strangers money, but one time after eating late at a Wendy’s I was approached by a guy who asked for some money. I said I’d be glad to buy him a meal instead and asked what he would like. He told me he’s diabetic so he’d settle for a salad and diet cola. I went right back inside and got him his meal.

  19. missdona says:

    Sometimes I’ll give a little to a creative professional beggar, like I gave to the “United Negro Pizza Fund.”

    Sometimes I’ll offer a cup of coffee, or food.

    One time I offered the muffin I just bought, and got a response of “Please-girl-I-don’t-want-your-muffin!”

    Another time, I saw a real homeless guy, crawled up on the street without shoes in the cold-ass dead of winter. That broke my heart. On my way back to my office I was going to get him coffee or give him money, but he was gone.

  20. missdona says:

    And there was that beggar in Philly that chased me into a bar.

    Generally, the NYC ones are pretty tame.

  21. kerry says:

    Back when I was a smoker I used to give out cigarettes pretty freely, nowadays I don’t usually give money to people on the street, unless I’m feeling particularly charitable. Once I even yelled at some “beggars,” who were clearly drunk 20-somethings trying to have a larf. They were clean and well-dressed, and I told them to fuck off. I was called a “bitch,” rightfully.
    A few weeks ago I was waiting for the bus when a very flamboyant gay man came up to me and showed me a photocopy of his driver’s license and a printout of his most recent HIV-maintenance lab result (viral load, T-cell count, etc). He also told me I was lovely and had a great haircut. He said he needed money to get back to his halfway house, and that he’s been sober for 6 years, blah blah blah. I gave him $3 (all the cash in my wallet) because he’s at least got it together enough to manage his HIV and because he complimented my hair. I’m dead serious on that one, and my boyfriend called me a sucker. Complimenting my hair will get you everywhere with me. I told my stylist last week and she completely understood.
    To his credit, Robert (or Alley Cat, as he’s sometimes called) stuck around and chatted with us for a while after I gave him money, and I got to hear some pretty good stories about the rampant meth use and drug-resistant HIV at the boys town bath house (no stories about the bath house closer to me, which is popular with the older men) and how he hates promiscuity. I nearly gave the guy my phone number, just so we could hang out. Then I realized he probably doesn’t have free phone access at the halfway house.

  22. TheDTrain says:

    I live in West Philadelphia and spend a lot of time in North Philadelphia, so I get asked for change more times in a day than I eat in a week. My generosity definately fluxuates. I purposelt limit the amount of change I carry on me many times to limit how much I actually get taken for. For the most part, I think it’s annoying, but interestingly, I’m with seacub here; if a homeless guy admits that he’s dying for a 40, I’ll throw him a quarter for a Hurricane. I don’t know why, but I appreciate the honesty

  23. Pelagius says:

    Beggars no, buskers yes.

    There’s a man who plays trumpet outside the L’Enfant metro stop in DC, not particularly well, but with gusto. I always drop a dollar, or whatever spare change I have, in his bucket.

    A uniquely Seattle take on the “just need bus fare” ploy are the heroin junkies from Bainbridge who always seem to get stranded in the U-district without enough money for the ferry ride home. Funny, dat.

  24. Skiffer says:

    I’ll offer leftovers after leaving a restaurant instead of money – no one ever takes them…not even the one homeless woman around my office who has been “pregnant” for four years…

  25. mikyrok says:

    @gondaba: So true. So very very true.

  26. skittlbrau says:

    i like the guy that hangs out at the bodega around the corner…

    “please donate to the i’m-a-brokeass-foundation, supporting me, a brokeass”

    at least he makes people laugh.

  27. SkyeBlue says:

    One time while on a trip from Oklahoma to Louisiana I saw a family in a broken down van on the Interstate with a sign that said “Broke Down / Need Help”. 3 days later while on the trip BACK HOME we saw the same family, on the opposite side of the road holding up the same sign! I guess begging for money can be a pretty lucrative enterprise.

    I can’t quite figure out how if they were broken down how they managed to get their van to the opposite side of the Interstate?

  28. joemono says:

    My friend and I were in Cleveland last year and it was interesting seeing the different approach that beggars take there. The three times someone came up and asked for money they told us a little story about their troubles or how they ended up in the situation they were in. I was just always used to seeing a sign, or having someone just flat out ask for something.

    Also, I never really get irony (so try not to call things ironic), but is it ironic to see someone holding a “need money” sign written on the back of a jobdango ad?

  29. TakeOne says:

    When I was in college there was a beggar that would come around the student neighborhoods with the is sob story about how his car was out of gas with his wife and newborn in it. He said that he was just trying to get home, to another nearby town. Well the story worked the first time, I gave his a few bucks.

    The next week he approached me again with the same story. I called him out on it, calling him a liar. From that moment on whenever I saw him begging others, I would walk up and finish his story for him. He got so angry that he tried to fight me. I would just walk away laughing with my friends.

    The only people I give money to on the streets are the ones who are working for it. Tell me a joke, make me laugh, point out and hold a parking space. Now that’s worth a dollar.

  30. 54321 says:

    Once, leaving a Phillies home game, some drunk college-aged kids asked the panhandling homeless man near the stadium if he would pose for some pictures. He didn’t seem to mind posing w/these frat guys. I think they gave him some money when they were done.

    My Dad once told a Seattle homeless man “No, I work hard for my money!”, and the dude stating mocking and making fun of my Dad.

  31. hushed says:

    There was a woman I at an intersection that I drove by. Her sign said eight months pregnant and hungry. She had a bit stomach and looked pregnant.

    Two or three months later, at another intersection in town, I saw her again. This time, her sign read six months pregnant and hungry. It then became clear, she had a beer-gut.

  32. jeffj-nj says:

    @battlerobo: That reminds me….

    I was in Boston once, and a woman outside a McDonald’s asked me for some money so she could eat. She looked harmless enough, and asked very politely. I remember distinctly feeling bad for her, so I asked her instead if she wanted to just come inside with me. I told her I’d buy her some food.

    Now, the way I imagined this in my head was her asking for a Big Mac or something. Maybe the whole number 3. Whatever. So, I’d buy it, and she’d take it outside and eat it, while I found a table inside where I could eat my dinner. Maybe she’d still be outside when I finished. Maybe not. Honestly, I hadn’t thought that far into the future. Didn’t matter. I was wrong.

    What happened instead, is she stood up. That’s all it took for some dude down the block to start yellin’ and screamin’ and tellin’ me to get away from his girlfriend. He ran up to me and asked what I was doing, why I was talking to her, etc. I told him I didn’t realize they were together, and then I turned around and left. I didn’t get to eat at McDonald’s.

    No real loss, of course. It was just Mickey D’s. But still… wtf was that?

  33. markwm says:

    I never give. I also have a few anecdotes:
    When I was in college, I invited my kid brother to come visit and we went downtown to check out some music stores and such. A guy, about my age or maybe a year or two younger (I was 20 at the time)and every bit as healthy as I, accosted us and said we needed to give him money for food. He talked in a half asleep drawl, and when we refused, rebuffed with, “I said, help a brutha out.” We again refused, then out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a couple of the other lay-abouts that were idling on the street beginning to stir. Kid brother and I immediately crossed to the other side of the street, and beggar-man and his goon squad tried to stare us down.

    In 2001, Wife and I eloped in Vegas. The day we were leaving to come back home, she went to check us out while I waited with the luggage by the front of the casino at which we were staying. A very expressive gent about 22 or so approached. The best description I can think of would be he looked and carried the mannerisms of Adam Goldberg, the actor. Anyway, he started in about how he was going to school at Cornell and he had flown out for a big internship interview, but he didn’t have money for a hotel and if he didn’t get any sleep before the interview, he knew he wouldn’t get it.
    He’d already sold his return ticket for some other worthy cause, blah blah blah, would I just loan him the money for a hotel room and give him our address, he promised to send us the money. He said he’d even settle for just borrowing our room (I’m sure he would, so he could then run up some in-room charges, too). I told him we had just checked out and we had to catch our flight, sorry, there was no way.
    About that time my wife started to approach, and you could see the change in his face when he knew he’d be able to appeal to her emotions and get her to fork over money when I refused. He did not realize he was already talking to the softy of the relationship. When she got there, he gave her the same story, with only a few discrepancies.
    She looked at him, said, “Guess you’ll plan better next time, won’t you?” He came back with, “But I won’t get this job and I’ll be stuck here!” She, without missing a beat said, “Well, sucks for you. I’d recommend a different career, then. Probably not acting, though, because you’re not very good at it.”
    As we walked out the door, he starts yelling, “Your wife’s a bitch man! You shouldn’t have married such a bitch! What a bitch!” We also noticed some security approaching him, so we hoped he got everything he was wanting from those kind souls.

    One last one: A friend owns a construction business. He was accosted one afternoon by a guy with a sign saying, “No job. Hungry. Please give. Will work for food.” My friend asked him, “Do you mean that? Will you really work for food?” “Yessir.” “Then be here tomorrow morning at 7AM sharp, and you have a job.” The next day, my friend waited at the spot from 7AM until about 7:30 (he had other workers meeting him there to go to a site). The guy, surprisingly, never showed. He saw him a few days later working that same spot, and the guy left when he saw my friend walking up.

  34. Framling says:

    My policy is that if they want money, they have to tell me a joke. I don’t want to hear your sob story about how you need cab fare to get to the hospital to see your dying mother, I’ll just feel like a jerk when I don’t give you any money. Cheer me up, though, and now you’ve performed a service.

    Usually, the scammers figure I’m not worth it, while the sincere people will take a minute and think of one.

  35. Canadian Impostor says:

    @RandomHookup: Ticket brokers hire guys like that to sell tickets before game time.

    It’s a risky job because there’s a good chance you’ll get stabbed for carrying tons of cash and tickets, so people who aren’t borderline homeless don’t want to do it.

    It’s also risky to give someone like that cash and tickets, but you start them off small and work them up to more and more cash and tickets.

  36. mattbrown says:

    i’ve actually bought alcohol for homeless people several times, prefacing with… “i’m about to go get beer, do you want that? isn’t that what you’d be spending the money on?”, giving the person the out. In my opinion, it’s more real… as in, i’m not kidding myself, and they don’t have to feel deceitful. I figure this out when I attempted to give a homeless person some food instead of money, and he said “no thanks.” I’ve also given some homeless people food straight-up, that was accepted.

  37. It’s never an easy decision to give or not give money to the homeless. So many homeless have mental problems–I mean, what sane person, but perhaps a San Diegan, would prefer homelessness to predictable shelter–that you want to do what you can to help.

    But then there are people like the beggars in Harvard Square (RandomHookup can back me up on this) who have been professional beggars for years. There’s the woman with the notebook with the hair so filthy it sticks out sideways three feet. There’s the guy who holds the door open to the CVS and flatters every woman that walks by. Then–my favorite–there’s the shopping cart filled with crap, with a pity-inducing dog and a cat leashed to it, and IT’S STAFFED BY A ROTATING GROUP OF BEGGARS.

    Something like 90% of people who are homeless at any point in their life are homeless for a single night, they find the experience so awful. The other 10%, the chronic homeless, need more than spare change. I think in general people would be better off, every time they pass a beggar, putting a dollar in a jar and at the end of the year donate the collection to a group that can really, positively intervene.

  38. ohayorisa says:

    I knews a guy once who loved homeless people who had ‘funny’ signs. The more funny the sign, the more he’d pay them for it.

    I think the best one he bought came from a guy panhandling under a highway overpass:
    “You may live in a $200,000 house…but I live under a $2 million bridge”.

  39. nightshadowon says:

    I don’t like cup jinglers or people that say can I have this or that (usually money). If you offer food, they usually say no.

    But I did meet this nice homeless/jobless(?) man in Reston, VA. I was with my kids and we went to McDonalds. He was sitting outside with a cup of water because he couldn’t go in without buying something. It was a really hot day and I have seen him there a time or 2 before. On the way out he was still there and asked for some money so he can get something to eat. I didn’t say anything and took him inside and let him order a meal and then I added a $5 gift card that I gave to him so he could get dinner that night also. Sucks to be out in the extreme cold or heat. Was I fooled or scammed? I don’t care it felt good and it felt the right thing to do in this case.

  40. e-gadgetjunkie says:

    I will never forget this moment, it was when I decided I wanted to be just like my mom:
    I was 17 years old and we were in Boston looking at colleges. There was a man at a corner with a Starbucks cup asking for money. He told my mom he was homeless and hungry. My mother told him she wouldn’t give him money, but she would buy him food. His eyes got really big and he said “Would you buy me a cheeseburger?”
    We walked with him to a little diner and my mom bought him a cheeseburger, a bottle of water and some pieces of fruit. He told us he was a Vietnam vet but he was injured at work shortly after returning from the war, was fired and never was able to get another job. He was so grateful to my mom that he ran around the block and picked up every free newspaper he could find.
    If you’re ever in Boston and run into a homeless guy named Arthur, buy him a cheeseburger.

  41. ancientsociety says:

    Having lived for 5+ years in downtown Chicago, I can say I never give to beggars. Period. After the first few months of having people ask for “money for food”, then either my offering to buy some or giving them something I had on me, and having every single one say “no” – I’ve learned to turn a blind eye.

    Besides, beggars are begging everywhere here. On the street, in the alleys, coming into stores, on the train, in the libraries.

    It’s sad but…

  42. ladycrumpet says:

    When I lived in NY, I commuted through Penn Station. I was once getting my monthly pass at one of the ticket machines and when I turned around after getting my ticket, I was startled to find an older, middle-aged man who was right behind me. He looked like somebody’s uncle. He had glasses, he was nicely dressed, in a blue collar sort of way, and he asked me if I could spare any money so he could get a rail ticket. I felt the creepy vibes, but he didn’t look like a beggar, so I gave him a few bucks.

    About a month later I ran into him in Penn Station, this time near the one of the subway entrances, asking for money. I shook my head and walked on, feeling angry and sick about being scammed.

    As another commenter mentioned, donating to buskers is ok with me, but I would rather give money to legitimate charities than get scammed again.

  43. homersays says:

    I bring a good amount of homeless men and woman to HRA (social services) here in NYC. When someone on the street asks me for money (handout) I tell them I will bring them to HRA and help them apply for shelter and temporary assistance and they FLIP OUT on me.

    I work in the mental health / chemical dependence field and would love to help everyone, but they need to want to the help first.

  44. smallestmills says:

    I’ll give a dollar here, a dollar there. I figure, even if they are lying, what’s a dollar to me? So what if I’m funding a scam, it’s still only a dollar. I can tell the difference between a scammer and the homeless, but if he’s going to use my money on beer, who cares? If you’re homeless, might as well be drunk. In Detroit, all the bums have stories, and they go back generations. There’s the guy in the wheelchair outside the State, the guy in Greektown who rides the tenspeed with the beartrap pedals barefoot, and some people remember Stella, who used to shout at people. So what if they were really funding a rich/mediocre lifestyle somewhere? I only lost a dollar.

  45. Melov says:

    The other week in downtown Cincinnati, a guy carrying hospital robes (They let him take them home?) and an Indiana driver’s license approached me and asked for some money for a cab so he could get home. He apparently just got out of the hospital. I gave him like 60 cents (they guy was kind of upset about that haha) because I don’t carry cash. My girlfriend called me a sucker. She says he probably tells that story 100 times a day. I dunno, he seemed legit to me.

  46. cgmaetc says:

    I’m totally arbitrary. It really depends upon my mood and how much cash I have in my pocket.

    I once gave my last buck to a guy on the off-ramp holding a sign that read, “You can ignore me for a buck!” Good point, here’s your dollar.

    I’ve bought value meals and tacos for folks claiming they were hungry. Some thankfully devoured them. Others complained they didn’t like mustard or pickles. One guy spit at me in disdain. Thankfully, he missed.

    I’ve bought gas for folks who are stranded at the gas station, and purchased candy and ice cream for kids who looked broke. I’ve bought groceries for old ladies who are counting out change from jars and using food stamps for cat food.

    Were they scam artists? Who cares? I decided I can’t determine whether or not someones intentions are sincere, genuine, or noble. All I can do is give if I feel like it and if can afford to. And thankfully, I’ve been blessed with enough to give.

  47. lo_fro says:

    I live in Chapel Hill and the bus system here is free. And still, the handful of regular Franklin Street bums ask for change for the bus!

    The only people who fall for that are freshmen and tourists.

    I once found myself replying to such a request: “No you don’t, the buses are free!”

    I’m not heartless, I’m just realistic most of the time.

  48. Secularsage says:

    I used to give money to panhandlers, until a friend who works in homeless ministry told me that most of them are scam artists. He gave me this litmus test to see if someone has a legitimate need:

    1) Find out what they’re asking for.
    2) Offer to go and purchase that thing for them or to take them to go and get it.
    3) If they won’t accept anything but money, offer to check back up on them later or to bring help, but make it understood that you won’t be giving them any money. If they’re OK with that, do it. If they tell you not to bother, your conscience is clear.

    So, if someone says they’re hungry, buy them a sandwich. If they say they need a bus ticket, buy the ticket for them and make sure it’s non-transferable. If their car battery is dead, help them get towed. If they’re legit, they’ll accept the help. If they’re scamming, all they’ll want is money.

    My friend said if you want to help the poor, donate to local charities and shelters — NOT to the United Way, and NOT to any national organization (with the exception of the Salvation Army). He also said volunteers are in far higher demand than donations.

  49. Canadian Impostor says:

    The amount of time you feel bad about not giving beggars money is inversely proportional to how long you’ve lived in a city.

  50. My dad taught me a neat trick when I was younger. Want to tell instantly who’s “working” and who really needs the help? Look at their shoes. If they’re working, they’ll usually have relatively new and comfortable looking shoes.

    Of course, I don’t need this trick any more. My beagle, God bless him, has the uncanny ability to sniff out fake homeless people. My dog never really howls at anyone while out and about but a single fake homeless person send him off on a baying spree.

  51. clarient says:

    I won’t give money but I’ll contribute a bottle of water when I’ve got one – it’s hot out there.

  52. kingoman says:

    You can’t drive 6 blocks in Austin without passing a corner with someone asking for money. Panhandling is a job here. Makes me sad for any *real* homeless person who needs the help because nobody will believe them. Hopefully they go to the shelters and places in town where they can get legitimate help. I assume anyone on a corner is a scammer ever since I was waiting for a table outside a restaurant one day and saw a lady pack up her sign and walk a block to her Lexus and drive away.

  53. missdona says:

    There used to be an “Insult me for a $1” guy in Times Square. The last time I saw him he was “Insult me for $5”- I guess the rent went up.

  54. jeffj-nj says:

    Completely trashed one night in Newark, I offered to buy some begger a shot of tequilla. I have no idea why I did that. I guess because I already had so many of them myself. Turns out, he didn’t want it. He asked for the money instead.

    Having already sacrificed the secrecy of my willingness to spend $5 on the guy, I couldn’t at that point not give him $5, could I? So, I gave it to him.

    Really though, by the end of the night, that money was just part of an unknown total. If I had kept it, nothing would’ve changed; it isn’t like I’d be $5 richer today. If anything, I probably would’ve been $5 drunker then.

  55. Anitra says:

    There has been a crackdown on panhandlers in my (small) city – with big billboards telling you to donate to charity instead. I drive right by one or two popular spots for panhandlers; I’ve seen several different people holding up the same “vietnam vet” sign at the same corner (including one women – I didn’t think women fought in Vietnam).

    I will give money to buskers (it’s part of the big-city experience), and I will offer food to a beggar if I’ve got a few minutes to spare.

  56. infinitysnake says:

    You’d do better to just say no than to demand performances from people who already have their dignity stretched thin. There are other ways to discomfit scammers without hurting the people who really need help.

    IU give money when I can afford it, especially if someone seems to have a sincere need…’do unto others’ and all that. If I can afford it, does it really matter what they use my pittance for?

  57. alicetheowl says:

    @jeffj-nj: Most likely, them looking out for one another. There’s been a lot of violence toward the homeless lately, and such crime tends to get underreported. People look at the homeless as subhuman, and so they feel it’s all right to mistreat and abuse them.

    So perhaps the “boyfriend” was afraid you wanted to take her away to hurt her.

    I know mental illness plays a big part in homelessness, and the problem’s getting worse as more and more states cut mental illness funding and hospitals. I used to work for a dual diagnosis house (the residents had schizophrenia and a history of substance abuse and homelessness), and no, many of them couldn’t help themselves, and would be out on the street if not for the home where I worked. Many of them also panhandled, despite three square meals, a roof over their heads, and all the allowance Social Security will give a person. Many of them used this cash (since it couldn’t be tracked) to buy the booze we forbade.

    I so rarely carry cash these days (I pay for everything with the debit card) that I couldn’t give the panhandlers money, even if I wanted to. I tell them, quite honestly, that I have no money on me.

    The last time I had any cash on me, I was in downtown Atlanta, and was walking everywhere. With all the 20’s I had, I daren’t open my wallet to flash that around (it was all my spending money for my vacation), and my legs were tired from all that walking.

    So when a beggar came up to me to ask for money for MARTA, it took everything I had not to laugh in his face.

    I have a lot of sympathy for those down on their luck, but, after the 20th person accosted me for money in Atlanta, I wasn’t feeling charitable. I’d much rather donate to a shelter or organization that helped the homeless; it goes a lot farther. I recommend any of you with guilt pangs do the same.

  58. infinitysnake says:

    Hmm, ‘reply to’ seems to be busted.

  59. cnc1019 says:

    Best one I ever saw was in Austin. The Austin American Statesman did it’s annual piece about homelessness in the city and on the front page was a picture of a local homeless person. The next day he has a new sign and a copy of the paper. The sign said, “Give me money, I’m famous”.

  60. battlerobo says:

    Oh man, I forgot to add in this…

    I just got back from my trip to the Philippines. On Mothers’ Day, we went to mass at a nice, quaint church somewhere in Pangasinan. After mass, while I was walking back towards the exit, these two really young children are tugging on people’s shirts with their hands out, apparently begging for some change. I mean, these are really cute kids and and they really look like they could use a bath and a fresh set of clothes… but the reality of it is that kind of thing is way more common in the Philippines than in the U.S. I’ve never, EVER seen young kids begging on the street here in the states… So needless to say, I was shocked to see these two in the church, with their big wide eyes and sad faces, begging.

    I had no pesos on hand, so I had to break their little hearts with a “Sorry.” If I ever see a kid on the street like that here, I really have no idea what I should do… give em money and go on my way? Or should I call some authority types?

  61. jeffj-nj says:

    @alicetheowl: Ya know, you’re probably right. Oh well. Had he been as friendly as approachable as she had been, though, instead of flipping out at me, who knows… there’s mighta been a free meal in it for both of them.


    I like to think of myself as a pretty generous person, but even still, I don’t know how I would’ve felt droppin’ twenty bucks at McDonalds’s, “alone”.

  62. @Pelagius:
    Wow, there are a lot of people from D.C. on here.

    Other good buskers:
    – The blues guitarist that has taken up residence in Court House metro (not the white dude who tries to sound like tom waits, the big black dude who sings like he means it)
    – The acapella doo-wop group that wears matching suits on weekends
    – The guy that plays some kind of asian violin-like instrument with lots of emotion on his face

    Do you see the dude with the frisbee??? I always give him money, but mostly because he’s a little crazy and never asks.

    Which brings me back to my point: I give money if they don’t ask, or ask in the subtlest means possible.

    If their approach is that of practiced pitifulness and learned helplessness, I tend not to give. If they are ashamed, too tired, or too messed up to ask, I tend to help out more. If they have a joke or a schtick or a good (not pitiful) story, they ALWAYS get cash.

    If I get scammed: what the hell do I care? It’s a dollar, or the change I didn’t want in my pocket anyway. Charity is supposed to be its own reward.

  63. tcp100 says:

    nightshadowon: RE: the homeless guy in Reston, VA.. That’s actually right on the Herndon border, and I know who you’re talking about. Unfortunately, he is homeless AND a professional – because he’s more or less crazy. He can be OK at times, but once in a while he flips out and starts screaming at people. Most likely schizophrenic.

    I saw him down at the Shell on McLearen in Oak Hill (the guy walks up and down the entire Fairfax County Parkway and parallel roads, all the way from Rt 50 to Baron Cameron) screaming at patrons about “alloy knives”.

    Word has it he’s a gulf war vet that went nuts. Not sure on the validity of that, though.

  64. Also: A good trick if you’re near home is just to ask how long they’ll be around and if they’d like some food. I’ve made brownbag lunches a few times when circumstances were right (i.e. I had the time, they turned out not to be scammers)

  65. cgmaetc says:

    Homeless folks with pets aways crack me up, tho’. I have always wondered… if you are so darn hungry, who don’t you eat the dog? ;-)

    And ditto on the “will work for food” folks. My dad always gives them his business card with instructions to be there at 9am the next day. In 30 years, NONE have showed up.

    BUT what I HATE are the candy kids. I live in a affluent African American neighborhood, and the the candy kids LOVE to come and give us “Cosby Negroes” the “Good Times” guilt trip. “Would you buy some candy and keep us out of gangs and off drugs?” “Help our basketball team get new uniforms so I can go to college” And they hang out in front of the banks, grocery stores, and best buy. What kills me is they are usually out in the middle of the day, when they SHOULD BE IN SCHOOL. You want to go to college child, … go to CLASS. It’s pretty well-known that it’s a scam –one group was rotating the kids around town in VANS– but sometimes they get me with their Red Vines and sob stories.

  66. @battlerobo: I’ve been asked, “Got any more” like in that episode twice: once was a woman looking to get money even after I gave her food and the other was a guy who said he needed 12.50 to get his hotel room back.

    I gave the lady a dollar to make her go away and the guy four because that’s all I could give him. I had to insist several times I didn’t have any more money but at least he thanked me before he walked off.

    There’s a woman I see often (though not lately) who begs for money but sometimes begs for food. I’ve seen her with a cellphone and heard her tell a bus driver that she has a place to stay and a doctor she sees regularly for health issues so I don’t know if she’s a professional or if she’s just getting some kind of assistance.

    There was the guy who hit on me and asked for money for his rent in practically the same breath.

    Then there was the crazy guy who after telling me he was a Katrina victim and diabetic decided he was possesed by an angel. He tried to prove this by saying things about me he couldn’t know (and were completely wrong) and gripping my hand like he was trying to break it.

    I generally don’t give money because I don’t have any on me or only have bus fare on me.

  67. Skyoodpov says:

    I never give money to people who just ask for it without doing anything to earn it. There is plenty that homeless people can do though. I had a homeless guy come up to me in Philly one time, who tells a couple of jokes, and he finishes with
    “Whats the greatest nation in the world?”
    “Donation.” and holds out a cup.
    I told him “Urination” beat it out by a hair, and gave him a buck.

    I also like to try and get people to prove their sob stories. No one has yet.

  68. tvh2k says:

    When I

  69. Pelagius says:

    @krylonultraflat: Government employees. Underworked and overpaid.

  70. tvh2k says:

    When I pass a homeless person on the street who is digging through garbage for food scrapings I’ll often give some change or food if I had any on me. The guys on the subway with elaborate stories get nothing.

  71. ancientsociety says:

    The beggars in my ‘hood used to hang out on our corner 24/7, mostly because there were two small liquor stores there and across the street. It got so bad that the community just recently had to vote them dry this spring. Once their liquor licenses were gone, so were the beggars/addicts/hoes.

    My wife was once walking home from the train, listening to her walkman. One guy jumped out from the “crowd”, waved his hands, and yelled “Hey. You with the headphones! I’m talking to you, give me $20!” Of course she just walked on.

  72. ADM says:

    [sorry if this is a duplicate]

    this is so far down in the thread, probably no one will see it, but here’s a great page titled “how to respond to a homeless person”. it’s from one of the outreach/service organizations in NYC.


    this topic has been on my mind a lot lately. pretty much i will give to anyone who asks, unless *maybe* they have the glassy eyes/leathery skin of a crackhead, or of course it’s the old “i need $20 to get home” scam, which i’ve run into lots of times in NYC and Boston.

    as someone said above, even if you give a scammer a dollar or two, what’s it to you? the guy obviously needs some money, so you may as well help him out.

    as far as panhandlers go, you can tell from looking at them 95% of the time (at least) that they need money for one thing or another. if a dollar or two or five will help them out, then fine.

    the consensus here is that street people will often refuse food. that is true in my experience, but it also happens fairly often that they will accept it. this is usually the people who are established on a corner and who sitting down, because they live there and are tired. the guys outside the subways stations, generally speaking, are looking for money, not food, in my experience.

    i’ve been giving food to a young homeless woman in SoHo every day for the last couple weeks (on Spring, near Greene — you may have seen her). she has always been grateful. she has been on the street there for at least two years, but i never paid her any mind until a couple months ago, when i realized i was ignoring her for no reason.

    when i asked her if she needed anything besides food, she said “socks.” i brought her some (new) socks, some clean t-shirts, and a fleece blanket. she told me she didn’t need the blanket. but imagine she will in the winter, where i have seen her out in 10 degree weather.

    what i really want to do, though, is help her get off the streets. i have taken some tentative steps in that direction, but the bureacracy is pretty heavy and i am just trying to keep my expectations realistic. that link i pasted above is a great resource for people who are really concerned.

    in general, though, i think giving money to people who ask for it is a good thing, even if they don’t “need” it by your perspective. however you look at it, 99.99% of the time, they need that 2 or 3 dollars more than you do.

  73. ADM says:

    this is so far down in the thread, probably no one will see it, but here’s a great page titled “how to respond to a homeless person”. it’s from one of the outreach/service organizations in NYC.


    this topic has been on my mind a lot lately. pretty much i will give to anyone who asks, unless *maybe* they have the glassy eyes/leathery skin of a crackhead, or of course it’s the old “i need $20 to get home” scam, which i’ve run into lots of times in NYC and Boston.

    as someone said above, even if you give a scammer a dollar or two, what’s it to you? the guy obviously needs some money, so you may as well help him out.

    as far as panhandlers go, you can tell from looking at them 95% of the time (at least) that they need money for one thing or another. if a dollar or two or five will help them out, then fine.

    the consensus here is that street people will often refuse food. that is true in my experience, but it also happens fairly often that they will accept it. this is usually the people who are established on a corner and who sitting down, because they live there and are tired. the guys outside the subways stations, generally speaking, are looking for money, not food, in my experience.

    i’ve been giving food to a young homeless woman in SoHo every day for the last couple weeks (on Spring, near Greene — you may have seen her). she has always been grateful. she has been on the street there for at least two years, but i never paid her any mind until a couple months ago, when i realized i was ignoring her for no reason.

    when i asked her if she needed anything besides food, she said “socks.” i brought her some (new) socks, some clean t-shirts, and a fleece blanket. she told me she didn’t need the blanket. but imagine she will in the winter, where i have seen her out in 10 degree weather.

    what i really want to do, though, is help her get off the streets. i have taken some tentative steps in that direction, but the bureacracy is pretty heavy and i am just trying to keep my expectations realistic. that link i pasted above is a great resource for people who are really concerned.

    in general, though, i think giving money to people who ask for it is a good thing, even if they don’t “need” it by your perspective. however you look at it, 99.99% of the time, they need that 2 or 3 dollars more than you do.

  74. MameDennis says:

    Once, when I was waiting at the bus stop by the supermarket, I was accosted by a woman who was trying very hard to sell me her bus ticket. The story was that she had to get a jitney* home because she couldn’t handle carrying her daughter on the bus what with the steel plate in her hip.

    OK, number one, she had the worst case of meth mouth I had ever seen. I would nevereverever give money to a meth addict, partically because of enabling and all that, but mostly because those bastids have made it a real pain to buy my much-needed Sudafed.

    Number two? A huge reason they still sell bus tickets in my city is so shelters/rehab programs/etc. can give their clients bus fare with a reasonable expectation that it will be used for bus fare.

    My favorite part: She didn’t have a kid with her. (And no, this wasn’t anywhere near a daycare center.)

    I do have to give her credit, she was VERY polite. An excruciatingly bad liar, but a polite one!

    *A jitney is basically an unlicensed cab.

  75. enm4r says:

    Like some here, I don’t give money, but I’m willing to give food. Here in Chicago I see enough bums, and if I have a Powerbar, poptart, soda, something like that Im usually willing to part with it if the bum is particularly hopeless looking.

    I appreciate honest bums too, I offered to give this guy some gatorade and food once (setting up a charity stand for Chicago Marathon) and he was like “how’m I supposed to mix that with rum? And I cain’t trade no food for crack.” So he didn’t take anything, but hey, at least he knows his priorities.

  76. 3ZKL says:

    a friend of mine who worked at starbucks once had a homeless guy attempt to return a cup of coffee someone had bought for them because he ‘didnt like the way it tasted’.

    if ive been out drinking, there are usually a few soggy dollars in my pocket that i dont mind giving to the late night bums hanging around outside the bars in chapel hill. as long as they are friendly and thankful, it doesnt really bother me. during the day, most of the panhandlers around are scam artists or heavy substance abusers.

    like a few others have said — chemical dependency & mental illness are both huge factors in being homeless. i might not be helping in the best possible way, but its better than doing nothing at all. especially if im out having a good time, i have no problem giving up a little bit of scratch i would have just pissed away anyway.

  77. romulus says:

    Sometimes. It’s hard to say when. Usually when I’m in a good mood and happen to have some spare change (which I don’t often).

    I do remember one time a decent looking man outside a Boston subway station asked for 50 cents. I figured he needed it for a subway token. As it turned out, I wasn’t going inside like everyone else was, but waiting for someone. The guy was still there the whole time… continually asking for 50 cents. To be fair, though, he never made any false statements, he just simply asked for money, and I’m the one that made up his story of need.

    Anyway, unlike a lot of the other posters here, I remember not to generalize, stereotype, and let a few bad apples damn the whole bunch. I also know that shelters and other aid groups (like the transitional housing organization I used to volunteer for) are perennially underfunded/staffed/equipped and can’t meet the growing poverty and homelessness problems.

    Aside from that, I’ve slowly started a pet project to take pictures of beggars’ (or street musicians’) signs, and I always offer a dollar in exchange for letting me take their picture. (If I have one, that and my camera. :) )

  78. John Stracke says:

    I live outside Boston; I mostly see homeless people around North Station. The strung-out guys standing in front of 7-11 (sometimes right in front of the door, making it hard to get in or out) I ignore. But there’s one guy who’s often sitting on the main approach to North Station—on a chair positioned not to be in anybody’s way, saying “Good evening, ladies; good evening, gentlemen”, over and over. He’s cheerful, he’s got a rich, pleasant voice, and he says thank you. If I go to the 7-11, and if I see him on my way, I usually get him an apple. But not cash.

    The first time I lived someplace with beggars around was when I was at the University of Chicago. One woman came up to me crying her eyes out saying she’d gone for a prenatal checkup and needed bus fare to get home; I gave her the change in my pocket, she stopped crying and walked away without saying thank you. I later noticed her around the neighborhood, talking to the other beggars, not looking pregnant. But there was another guy, a longtime homeless, who once approached me as I came out of Harold’s with my half chicken white; it was deep winter, and he looked really bad. I gave him a chicken leg. I felt stupid about the woman, not about the man.

  79. nidolke says:

    I don’t give them money, but that’s because I usually don’t have any, and I’m a broke ass college student with rent to pay. If I made more money though, like when I’m a big kid out in the real world with a big person’s job, I’d love to give a genuine homeless person some cash. I’d also love to give waitresses some hefty tips. But alas, I’m still poor. One day though…

  80. jeffj-nj says:

    It just occurs to me that I was one of those people with a ridiculous story once. I needed $9 to get my car out of a garage, and I had lost my wallet earlier that night. I had no cash, no credit cards, no ATM cards. Nothing. I needed $9, it was the middle of the night, and my only bet was to walk around asking for it. I got it, eventually, but it sucked. I knew the people I was asking didn’t believe me, because I knew what I would’ve thought had the situtation been reversed.

    Truth be told, it didn’t take long to collect the money. I think being well dressed and just all around pretty clean helped. A lot. A whole lot.

    It still sucked.

  81. mathewf says:

    Last year a guy at a Connecticut highway rest stop started in on a sob story about how he’d just run out of gas and needed money just to get to a gas station. The kicker is that the rest area shares its off ramp with a regular exit where there are several gas stations. I told him no.

    Years ago when I lived in DC there was a car half on the curb and a woman inside looking very sad. I guy approached me and said their car had broken down and they needed money to get it fixed. I told them no. Months later I saw the same couple approaching other people with a new scenario and sob story.

  82. billy says:

    What I can’t stand (among other things) are “punk” kids asking for money. These, generally, are 20-something kids who appear to be healthy and appear to be able to buy tatoos, jewlry and expensive boots.

    It’s OK to want an “alternative lifestyle,” but it takes a lot of nerve to ask me to pay for it. If I had my choice, I wouldn’t have to go to a job every day, either.

  83. markio says:

    A friend and I were driving around Indianapolis looking for a particular club. We were not from there, and ended up getting lost. We pulled into a Wendy’s to pull out a map, and a skinny black lady tapped on the driver’s window. I cracked the window a bit and she asked for some money. I told her I would give her some if she could point me to the club. She gave us some pretty long directions, and we wrote them down. I gave her a couple bucks, thinking I probably just got some made up directions. As we pulled off and started following her directions, we were really starting to think we made a mistake when we were driving down really obscure roads and such, but we turned a corner, and voila, there it was.

  84. rooatbar says:

    Nope. I’m a public defender, so I figure I do my bit for the poor. I will give food occasionally though. Seems like to me, in general, that it’s better to give money to organizations and charities that you know and trust who help the indigent and the homeless.

  85. techknight says:

    The very last time I gave money to someone on the street was in 1996 on Yonge St. in Toronto.

    A man was asking for change, so I thought “well, why not” and handed over what I had jingling in my pocket.

    He took a look at the assorted coins, said “no pennies”, and handed back a few coppery cents!

  86. Sam Glover says:

    Look at their shoes. Anyone living on the street will put more wear and tear on their shoes in a week than most people will in years. Not everyone begging is a scammer.

    Although I’ve been known to reward a particularly creative scam story before. Not because I was fooled, but because I was impressed.

  87. AcidReign says:

    …..I won’t say I’ve NEVER given a bum anything, but they have to pretty convincing for me to care. My most recent experience was INSIDE a local Office Max. Shabbily dressed, skinny-as-all-getout old dude spoke to me, and tried to convince me had worked for me in the past, and now had cancer and two months to live. He looked like it, too. Academy Award-level acting, I thought. I was almost sucked in, but the ever-paranoid gene prevented me from spilling the info he was pumping for to back up his story. When I asked him where it was, that I was his boss, he flunked. I didn’t give him anything, but I didn’t rat him out to the OfficeMax folk, either.

  88. What is kind of interesting is that there are some genuinely homeless people out there that are much better dressed looking than you would think, particularly in DC and Baltimore b/c there’s a surplus of clothing donations in those areas.

    So it’s not in every case that a better dressed homeless person is scamming you.

  89. markwm says:

    @smallestmills: Hey, man… spare a dollar? I’ll give you my address, just mail it to me.

    (Now, if I can just get 999,999 more people to agree…)

  90. SirKeats says:

    I never give money… but I do give food – so if someone has a sign in front of a grocery store or fast food joint I happen to be visiting, I’ll pick them up something before I leave and hand it off.

  91. remthewanderer says:

    Downtown NYC:

    In or around the PATH station at the WTC there is this old woman I see all the time. I consistently see people handing her $10s and $20s. This woman probably makes more money than I do.

    I have a feeling that she is just board so she stands around with her hand out.

    There is also a con man that rides the NJ transit lines. He is not a beggar, he is a con man because I have ran into him in two different places.

    Once at the Hamilton NJ station which is the begging of the main line between trenton and NYC. His story was that he came up on AMTRAK from Philly and did not have the 15 bucks for a ticket to NYC.

    The next time I saw the same guy in Penn station Newark. His story was that his car broke down and he got it towed to a gas station near the station. He first asked me where the nearest church was. Then he asked for money. Recognizing him I told him that I would be glad to give him a ride to the nearest church but that I did not have any money.

    He made up a lame excuse and walked back into the station. I will NEVER give my hard earned money to ANY “homeless” person!

  92. TechnoDestructo says:

    Generally, I won’t. If I’m in a city I don’t know and they can give me directions, well, that’s worth a couple bucks. Bums will often take more time to give detailed directions (if they’re lucid enough).

    But most of the time, no.

    There’s the bums in South Korea near the military bases who are in the same spot every day with the same bullshit stories. One of my coworkers told me he told one of them “fuck you, you drive a nicer car than I do!” I’m not sure what to make of the blind (or “blind”) guys on the subways (a friend of mine claims to have caught one of them looking at some motion he made), or the guys crawling along the ground wearing rubber tubes over their legs or lack thereof pushing music boxes. (Usually though crowded markets where it’s hard enough to move standing upright)

    Then there were the ones in Seattle. The old VERY drunk indian sitting on the sidewalk with a cup moaning “nickel…nickel…nickel….” Or the guy who came up to my uncle (who is frequently homeless, and is kind of an advocate for the PRODUCTIVE homeless, the day-labor types) and said “Hey, can you give me 5 bucks? Come on, give me some money. I want my money. GIVE ME MY MONEY. I WANT MY FUCKING MONEY. GIVE ME MY FUCKING MONEY! YOU’RE OUTTA SHAPE! I’ll KICK YOU IN THE NUTS SO HARD YOU WON’T FUCK FOR TWO DAYS! GIVE ME MY FUCKING MONEY!”

    Nah, but the helpful beggars, they’re okay in my book. Hell, cities ought to set them up with little information booths.

  93. jenchicago says:

    Re. the request for money for cab fare/bus fare/plane ticket to get home/get to a job interview/to rush to the hospital…

    A police officer gave me a great tip a few years ago. When approached with this request, respond, “My brother/sister/father/husband/wife/boyfriend is a cop, and I’m sure she/he would be happy to drive you where you need to go. He’s just inside the house/lives just a block from here. I’ll go get him/call him right now.” Guaranteed, the cop said, the scammer will turn and run.

  94. JOHNb says:

    I’m sure this is so far down the page that barely anyone will read it, but so many people have used the “well, it’s only a buck, so what difference does it make to me?” that I had to respond.

    It DOES matter if you give to a scammer. It’s called reinforcing negative behaviour. The simple truth is that if no one gave money to panhandlers, no one would be motivated to BE a panhandler. It’s that simple. If someone approaches me and expresses a need beyond cash, I will generally do my best to help them fulfill that need, whether it’s for food, beer, gas or anything else. But living in Detroit, I’d guess that over 80% of the time when I’m approached with a story from someone wanting money as soon as I offer to take care of their problem (ie. “You say you’re out of gas? Hang on for a minute while I pump my gas and I’ll put an extra gallon in the gas can I keep in my trunk and give you a lift to your car”) they get upset, walk away, or even threaten to get violent and DEMAND the money.

    Sure there are people with legitimate needs. But money is only a means to purchase things to meet those needs. If you feel bad about the less fortunate instead of tossing some money at a panhandler and rewarding them for being (or just looking) pathetic try contributing some actual time, effort and honest concern. Find out what the real problem is and do what you can. Money creates more problems than it solves.

    On a side note, I’m regularly amazed at how brazen the panhandlers are at the big corner near my house. There is a regular rotation of 10-15 of them who all share this busy intersection, and there are usually 2 or 3 on the different corners during all daylight hours, year round. What amazes me is that they seem to collectively share and swap their signs/props/stories and outfits depending on what works best. The best is the communal wheelchair. I’ve seen at lest seven different people sitting in this same wheelchair with the same sad-looking “Disabled, Hunggy, Need Food.” [sic] sign. And sometimes in the morning I’ll catch one of them running through traffic while -carrying- the wheelchair across the street so they can get to the busier side of the road, where they promptly sit down and prop up the sign. It sickens me to see anyone reward them for such flagrant dishonesty.

  95. Youthier says:

    We don’t have many homeless in my small town (although, probably more than most people think) but we get the welfare scammers everytime I go to Meijer. The other day, a guy wanted to buy our groceries with his food stamp debit card thing and for us to give him cash for something with his car and kid… I told him I had no cash.

  96. slapstick says:

    I am a total soft touch. I am especially likely to give to older guys professing to be Vietnam vets, because my dad is one. When I didn’t have money at a gas station, I bought the guy some snacks. I’m not rich by any means, but I can afford a dollar here or there.

    I don’t give to the elaborate “I need gas money to get home” etc. stories, but where I live it’s pretty easy to tell a bum from a scammer.

  97. kaikhor says:

    The other day a homeless guy hit my husband and I up at Jack in the Box. We were going to give him dinner, but he just wanted money. So we gave him what we had, which was four cents (we use our debit card for everything). Felt bad for only having 4 cents, but he didn’t want the dinner…

  98. KopyKat says:

    Sometimes I give, usually I don’t. If I happen to have some change in my pocket that is easy to get at quickly, I’ll hand it over. I always respond when asked for money, though, usually just eye contact and a polite “no, sorry.” I’ve had a number of people thank me for at least acknowledging them.

    I ride the bus to work, so I always have bus passes on hand. If somebody says they need money for the bus, I give them one of my passes.

    No matter how annoying or manipulative beggars are, they are still human beings, and most of them are in that position because of some pretty awful circumstances.

  99. MeOhMy says:

    I really dig The Big Issue program in the UK.

    Basically they license and train homeless people to sell a very well-made weekly publication and provide the vendors with support, councelling, and even a bank to help them save/manage their money. They get their first 10 mags for free to get them off the ground and then they have to buy wholesale so they need to manage their money.

    It was inspired by a NYC publication called Street News but The Big Issue seems to be a much more organized endeavor.

  100. RandomHookup says:


    Of course women served in Vietnam. A couple even died there. The numbers weren’t big (I’ve seen 10k in country). Check out http://www.vietnamwomensmemorial.org for more info.

    And now back to more homeless bashing.

  101. trixare4kids says:

    Wow, post has certainly generated a lot of comments. It’s very interesting to read all the stories.

    I’ve actually begged once in my life. I was legit and it wast tough. Long ago and far away I was a very poor young adult. I remember having to beg for some change at the BART ticket machine so I could get home. I could tell people didn’t believe me and an hour later I still didn’t have enough to get home. Finally a nice man said he’d give it to me if he could buy the ticket for me and watch me go through the gate. I about jumped up and down for joy!

    My foolproof method of dealing with people asking for spare change. I simply look them in the eye and smile while saying, “No. But good luck.” You are acknowledging them as a human being, giving a polite, but firm “no” and then wishing them well. Works perfectly.

    I used to give change but after a few experiences akin to what other commentators have reported, I don’t any longer. I do offer food to those that claim to be hungry, but no one has ever taken me up on the offer. I did pay bus fare to San Francisco for some kid a few months ago. But he really DID need to get there. Having me pay the bus driver was fine by him.

    I’m sure this happens in every city – in Oakland, there are guys who hang around within a block or two of gas stations – they carry an empty gas can and say they just need a couple dollars for gas to get to work. I see people handing money over left and right. I see this one guy in particular ALL The time.

    This has happened to me twice: Guy comes to the door and claims to live down the street. Says his car is in the shop and he needs $30-40 to get it out. His wife, he claims, will be home in 2 hours but the shop closes in 1 hour. Could I lend them the money for just a couple hours? They live just down the street in such and such a house, etc etc.. Mind you, this was two different guys a few months apart. My answer both times was to slam the door after saying “Get the hell off my property and off this block before I call the police.”

  102. laurenl842 says:

    This might be a double. I was having freezing problems.

    There is a homeless couple that lives under the overpass on my fiance’s way to work. The woman is very obviously disabled and the man is always doting on her. They’ve been there for a good year or so.

    Recently my fiance noticed that they somehow ended up with a puppy. He saw them sharing a meal at Subway while the puppy was dying outside on the hot concrete. Said the pup was adorable and as sweet as can be, but it was clear that it wasn’t getting the care it needed.

    Anyway, he’s pissed that this dog is homeless and wants to buy it from these people. We might regret it since we have no clue whether or not this thing has health problems. But, we’ve been thinking about getting a dog and he can’t get this one out of his head.

    So, if we get that dog, we’ll be giving money to the homeless. Who knows if they’ll even sell. They might be attached to it.

  103. gwilson says:

    I rarely give money to the homeless. There are programs in place to help them. Mostly when I’ve been out drinking with my friends we’ll have a guy ask us for money and we’ll give him a buck or two if he does something good to earn it. Great stories work well, had a guy sing for us while we walked down the street, had a guy climb a tree. There’s this one guy at GM Place in Vancouver that does one-armed pushups for the crowd before hockey games. Anyhow yeah, you get real used to saying no and not feeling bad when you see the same people day after day saying/doing the same thing.

    I ran into this guy once when I was younger and dumber that looked fairly well fed and looked like he might actually be a labourer. Talked to him for about a half hour about his situation and he knew the area I grew up in. Gave him $20 and then felt like shit about it since I figured I got scammed. In retrospect I guess it turned out alright, I never saw the guy again and it seemed like he felt ashamed to be asking for money.

  104. kerry says:

    @rubinow: There are legitimately homeless gutter punks in the world, they have “nice” shoes because they were probably stolen, and they have tattoos because they have tattoo artist friends. You can usually tell a real gutter punk by the smell, since they don’t really shower much. A lot of them live in squats most of the year, but sometimes get stranded for a night or two in transition. One thing – if you give them money they will spend it on drugs or alcohol, and they will probably tell you so if you ask. I used to hang out with a lot of gutter punks, I know that they really are homeless, even though it’s by choice more than anything. I knew one who had a trust fund, but blew his monthly allotment on drugs and couldn’t afford a place to live.

  105. Chicago7 says:

    I used to get them ALL. The guy who needs $5 to get to the last station on the train to see his doctor.

    The guy who just got out of jail and needs $10 to get home.

    The guy with a gas can who just needs $5 for gas.

    Now I just wear my iPod with sound isolating earphones and ignore them all.

    90% of them are scams.

  106. Chicago7 says:

    Oh, and when somebody says “Spare change?”, I say “Oh, nuts. I left in my spare car.”

  107. jwarner132 says:

    When I worked at the gas station in Worcester, MA I used to see all sorts of bums on a daily basis. They’d stand out on the street corner with their signs and tell their sob stories and make a ton of money. At the end of the day, they’d come into my store, buy their cigarettes and lottery tickets, and then go to the houses across the street to buy their drugs.

    I remember this one bum named T.J. who was the friendliest bum you’ll ever meet. His charisma worked well for him; he wasn’t the sign-holding type. He’d cycle through the different scams and make a pretty penny doing it. One of his favorite scams was holding a gas can and doing the whole “I need a couple bucks worth of gas to get home” trick. People would put $5 on a pump for him, and then as soon as they were gone he’d ask for the change on that pump. I had to give it to him.

    Another one of his scams was asking people for money to buy medicine for his sick son. He did actually have a son, but the son was in the custody of his ex-wife. Anyways, one time a guy actually offered to go with T.J. to the Walgreens across the street and buy a him a bunch of medicine. T.J. agreed, and after the generous man left, he tried to return all the medicine for cash. After the Walgreens employee told him he could only put the money back on the credit card it was bought with, he came back to my store to whine. He ended up giving me a couple boxes of children’s Tylenol and stuff for free though.

    I guess the moral of this story is that you can still get scammed when you give a bum something that isn’t money, like gas or medicine.

  108. zolielo says:

    I sometime give to people on the street but for the last year I have been doing a lifehacker challenge with a few people. Under than system I figured out that it would be best to give a lump sum at the start of the year to an organization devoted to the betterment of the down and out. I figured what I can honestly give in terms of money per year and have given it.

    If the case of a particular person seems to hug at my heart I might give them a few coins. But what seems to work better is tell them the truth that I am on a strict budget and to go to the organization that I had given to for help and name drop me.

    I have followed up with the organization and they have told me that a few have indeed come in for aid. In a twist the organization has asked me for more money but I have countered with offering my time to which they refused.

  109. VA_White says:

    I grew up in Europe. They have some serious beggars there. But my favorite beggar story is half begging/half robbing.

    In Italy (and other places) there are groups of children, usually between five and eight years old, who will approach tourists in groups. They are professionals. One will have a dirty cardboard sign with something scrawled on it.

    Their MO is to have sign holder shove the sign in your face while the other kids surround you and yell stuff like, “We hungry! Change, lady? Help us!” Then sign holder gets more aggressive and pushes the sign right in your face, making you back up and putting you on the defensive. Then the group, still yelling, robs you blind.

    These kids bank on the fact that American tourists have money (we do!) and that we will be too soft-hearted to shove children out of the way. Well, they tangled with the wrong chick.

    I was in Rome with my parents, right down the street from the coliseum. It was August and scorching hot so I went to a stand to buy water for our group. I had my hands full of four bottles of water and I was trying to put my change away when the kids crossed the street and headed towards me.

    The man at the newsstand starting yelling at them in Italian and they got even closer to me. Sign kid puts his sign up and I yell at him to get back. He doesn’t and his group of cronies is starting to surround me. I dropped my bottles of water on the ground and start spinning around, waving my arms and screaming like a lunatic. I feel one of the kids start to touch my bag and I kicked her square in the chest. She went flying out into the street. When they realize I am not going to let them take my shit, they start yelling at me while they are backing off. “Hey lady! It’s ok! It’s ok!” Yeah, right. Little assholes.

    The guy from the newsstand came over to help me pick up the water bottles and he told me those kids harass and pickpocket his customers all the time but he’s never seen anyone fight back before.

    I tell this story to my friends in the states and they are universally appalled that I basically beat up a bunch of seven year old beggars. Whatever. They weren’t there.

  110. MercuryPDX says:

    @rubinow: Portland street kids… VERY annoying.

    @jcmbowman: FTW! I could not agree more.

    @Troy F.: We have “Street News” sellers here in Portland too. Have you ever read a copy? I think they’d do much better selling a local paper.

  111. cabinaero says:

    @battlerobo: Do not give the children money. They’re being exploited and run by the Filipino version of the wise-guy. (I’d say point it out to the police, but that’s pretty much useless in the Philippines.) Feel lucky that you were in Pangasinan and not in Metro Manila or Cebu — it’s much, much worse as they’re are more foreign marks. Fortunately I’m somewhat protected from the hordes as I’m usually with at least one or two locals (my fiancee is Filipino the only reason we draw attention is because we’re both under 30)

    I hate to say it but, after living in the Philippines as an expat, there is simply no way a domestic beggar could ever get anyting out of me.

  112. Since I don’t drive and use public transportation to commute, I get hit up every day to and from work.

    I Never give.

    In fact, here in Denver, the encourage you not to give money, but ratther, put change in these parking meters that have been modified to be donation stops for the homeless.

    There’s a ‘homeless’guy on my way home who wears a walkman, has a foldable stool, and is always on his cell phone.

    People still give him money!!

  113. bambino says:

    111 comments holy shit is this a record?

  114. zolielo says:

    At least a few times comments have gone over 100.

  115. I’ll give food. When I lived in NC I used to buy a 2nd thing of fries when I stopped at McDonald’s to give to a couple particular homeless dudes on my drive home. I’ll also give change to buskers.

    When I worked in Chicago there was an obviously mentally ill woman living under one of the river bridges near my building who would sit up on the bridge during the morning and evening commutes. On good days she chatted with commuters she knew from walking by every day; on bad days she shrieked obscenities. But she liked to read, so everyone in my building would bring her paperbacks they were done with and that made her quite happy.

    I work with community organizations that attack problems of homelessness, though, rather than giving money directly to individuals.

  116. kromelizard says:

    The only thing that disgusts me more than filthy hobos are the people who use charitable giving to play self-righteous power games with them.

  117. SOhp101 says:

    NEVER. 0%. If they say they’re hungry, I’ll take em to a fast food restaurant and buy them something. Otherwise, nada.

  118. @jwarner132: For some reason you reminded me of a guy in Chicago who would stand at Union Station during the evening commute and hold the (non-automatic, very heavy) door open at one of the entrances while holding a cup in one hand and saying, “Have a good night,” to everyone who passed. He used to get quarters, especially since a lot of folks had just changed a $1 getting the evening edition of the paper for the ride home on the way into the station.

    I felt like him holding the door and wishing folks a good night was worth a quarter here and there, because he really speeded up the flow of foot traffic into the building!

  119. ADM says:

    a lot of these comments have been about scammers and con artists, which are in many cases different from indigent homeless people who really do need every penny. so in everyone’s efforts to “not get scammed”, i hope they are remembering that many people out there really are in deep need.

    just a quick note for the “i give to charities instead” crowd:

    that is very commendable, but i still think it’s worth it to give directly to people on the street, especially since (for a variety of reasons) some people on the street are not getting real access to the services that these organizations provide. example: last week, i gave 3 t-shirts to a woman i pass every day on my way to work. today, i walked by her, and she was wearing one of my shirts. if she got what she needed from the orgs, she wouldn’t have needed my shirt. my point, in part, is that given her apparent mental illness, the need to leave her belongings behind, the time away from “her spot”, etc., it’s hard for her to get it together to go to a drop-in and get services. so i figure if i can bring what she needs directly to her, it’s more effective.

    there are lots of great orgs out there helping people, but they can’t reach everyone. but, hopefully, we can fill in some of the gaps.

  120. Jesse in Japan says:

    When I was 16, I went on a trip with my dad to Chicago. We went to a restaurant and ordered Chicago style pizza without really understanding just how much mass and volume it would have. We managed to eat 2/3 of it and took the rest to go in a doggy bag.

    It must have been about 8 or 9 o’clock at night. We went to Chinatown and it was nearly deserted. Just outside of Chinatown we were approached by an extremely thin African-American woman who did not have a left arm. She asked us if we could help her and I unhesitatingly offered her the leftover pizza. She accepted it gratefully, almost on the point of tears and said, “God bless you.”

    That was one of the more heartwarming encounters with beggars.

    I would occasionally see people in my home town on the streets begging for money and I would, depending on my mood, give them a dollar or so. I don’t care if they just spend it on booze. It’s not like I don’t drink, and I’m sure it eases the pain of their existence somewhat.

  121. T-chick says:

    I live near Santa Monica in LA, which is notorious for homeless of all types, so I’ve had all kinds of encounters. The best was in downtown LA.

    I was helping out on an indy film that was being shot in a residence hotel on 5th and Main – ground zero for skid row. I was hauling out the snacks and packing them into my truck when a woman came up and asked me if she could have some of that food. I had bought a bunch of granola bars that nobody on the shoot wanted to eat, so I gave her most of them.

    A minute later this guy comes up, says I just gave his girlfriend those granola bars and asks if he could have some too. I say, well, go share with her then, she’s got lots now.

    He then goes off on a lengthy rant about how white people like me have all the money, and a poor black man like him can’t get a break, and so on.

    Soon as he pauses for breath, I point at the pickup truck behind me – old, filthy, rusted – and say “Um. That’s my ride.”

    All of a sudden, he’s waving around a giant wad of cash. I don’t know if he was offering me a handout or a… job… but I had to give him a pass.

  122. @ADM: “just a quick note for the “i give to charities instead” crowd:”

    There is a different between “giving” to charities and “working with” charities. I don’t just hand my money over; I’m actively involved in developing programs that reach unserved or underserved homeless, welfare recipients, and working poor in my community.

    I do think it also makes a pretty big difference the size of the community; when you live in a city of 120,000 and work with the indigent, you get to know most of them at least by sight. We KNOW when someone transient has come into town; we know when someone local has gotten out of jail and is on the street. It’s just not that big a city.

  123. MonkeySwitch says:

    In Birmingham, we have one homeless guy, named Jim that just wanders around town. He never bathes and you can always smell whenever he’s in your block. He just walks around town and talks out loud to himself. He will never approach you, and if you try to give him money or shoes or a coat or anything, he refuses to take it. He is just very mentally ill and doesn’t want any help.

    Thinking about Jim makes me really sad, and when I see people like the fan belt guy… for three years now he has been walking around Birmingham’s south side looking for fifteen bucks to get a new fan belt. He walked up to my friend once and before he got a word out, she started yelling, “You’re fanbelt guy! You’re fanbelt guy!!!!” He went a way real fast.

    Then there’s Detroit. He’ll sing to you and tell you that he’s just, “tryin’ to get my drink on!” and that’s always worth the change in my pocket. He’ll also keep the other bums from breaking into your car!

  124. zolielo says:

    Re-reading the posts in this thread I cannot help but think that many of the mentally ill homeless would be better served in government hospitals as it was in the past. The costs are great but…

  125. AcidReign says:

    …..@MonkeySwitch: Last time I was in southside, Five Points South, visiting the Original Pancake House, the “fanbelt guy” approached us. After I ignored his pitch, he casually let his auto-mechanic-like blue jacket open, and flashed his .44 magnum Smith and Wesson. I had my kids with me, and it scared the piss out of me. I stepped in front of my kids, and growled at him. Luckily, he didn’t call my bluff. I had only a Buck knife on me. I’ll drive to Vestavia and eat at one of the Waffle Houses before I let my kids get exposed to that shit again…

  126. PatrickIs2Smart says:

    The best sign I saw in NYC was a man holding a sign that said, “Tell me off for five bucks.”

    And then there was this one time where my friend had a five dollar bill and we encountered a homeless man. My friend was like, “Well, do you have change for a five?” The homeless man gave my friend the five ones, he gave him the five, and then we walked away. It was kinda funny… homeless people are great at making change!

  127. Wyrenth says:

    I’ve an Indianapolis story to tell as well. Being in the middle of a move to this city and lacking a license and vehicle, I had been taking the bus downtown to get a feel for public transport and to explore the city.

    Lo, I run into a sad-looking little woman in her 40’s or 50’s who went on about some story about how her house had burned down, she had a place to stay, but she had all these kids she had to feed, her food stamps hadn’t been approved yet, etc, and needed food.

    I considered this a moment, then shrugged and told her to lead the way to nearest store that had groceries. I’m familiar with how much of a pain it is to get (and KEEP) gov’t assistance like food stamps (there’s even an article on Consumerist that touches on it–how the poor get punished for saving money).

    So, we talked a bit while picking up some basic needs like milk, cereal, bread, lunch meat, cheese, toilet paper, bath soap, and laundry detergent. All in all, I threw $50 at this venture that, being technically homeless myself at the time, I couldn’t really afford. But I was in a good mood.

    She was nice and polite and thankful, and even gave me a hug after. I gave her fare for bus as well, to get her where she needed to go, and checked in on her from time to time as I wandered about.

    I don’t know if her story was true. I didn’t really care, and I told her as much. I just felt like doing a random act of kindness. ;)

  128. Papa Midnight says:

    What I don’t understand is why they try to make it religious with “God bless” at the end of it. Is it to try to make the person guilty enough to give them money? To be honest, I never give them money. Ever.

  129. LatherRinseRepeat says:

    Back in college, an acquaintance of mine was voluntarily homeless due to problems at home or something. But anyways, he used to tell me that he made about $100 – $200 a day, standing at the freeway offramps, holding a “will work for food” sign. In addition to the money, he would also get actual food, gift certificates at fast food restaurants, and clothes. It’s really no surprise that most homeless people remain homeless. It’s profitable!

    And then there are the scammers that just want to get an easy buck. As others have mentioned, you see these people asking for change on the corner. And then later you see them, talking on their cell phone while drinking a latte at Starbucks or driving away in a new car.

  130. LAGirl says:

    if someone says they need money for food, i always offer to buy them something to eat. i rarely get turned down.

    makes me sick to my stomach, that in this rich country of ours, with all the food we have, all the food that goes to waste, that people go hungry. it’s criminal.

    “Hunger Facts: Domestic

    Hunger persists in the U.S.

    35.1 million people-including 12.4 million children-live in households that experience hunger or the risk of hunger. This represents more than one in ten households in the United States (11.0 percent).

    3.9 percent of U.S. households experience hunger. Some people in these households frequently skip meals or eat too little, sometimes going without food for a whole day. 10.8 million people, including 606 thousand children, live in these homes.

    7.1 percent of U.S. households are at risk of hunger. Members of these households have lower quality diets or must resort to seeking emergency food because they cannot always afford the food they need. 24.4 million people, including 11.8 million children, live in these homes.

    Research shows that preschool and school-aged children who experience severe hunger have higher levels of chronic illness, anxiety and depression, and behavior problems than children with no hunger.”


  131. crankymediaguy says:

    I agree that it’s silly to give money to an obviously fake “homeless” person. I have to wonder, however, how many of you who refuse to give anything to ANY beggar consider yourself religious.

    While I am not a believer, I went to Catholic school for 12 years so I am familiar with the Beatitudes. You know the whole “feed the hungry, clothe the naked” stuff.

    I guess I’m saying I agree with the people who say, “Hey, if they scammed me, it was only a buck.” If you really believe we’re all God’s children and all that stuff, why not err on the side of trusting and helping your fellow man? Or is your religion only for Sunday?

  132. dantsea says:

    I live in San Francisco. If I had a soft spot for every genuine hard luck story I heard every day, I’d also be broke and homeless. I give to charities that directly serve the population, notably St. Anthony’s and Glide.

    And for those other times, it’s not the prospect of losing a buck that factors into my hard feelings for the scammers. It’s the alleged “art of the con” which is basically some jackass sizing me up and thinking that I look stupid enough to fall for his tale of woe.

  133. KenyG says:

    I once asked for money. In 1982, I was in the Army and leaving Korea and coming home. The service was flying me to St. Louis, but I needed to buy a ticket from there to home. I had money, but was like $15 short. I was in uniform and I saw a group of other service guys in the Osan airport and approached them and told them my story, one of them gave me $20. I offered to take down his address and send him the money back, but he said “hey, what goes around comes around” – so I bought my ticket, and then sought him ought and tried to give him the $5 back. He told me to keep it and buy myself a drink on the plane. I was 19 and his generosity made a big impression on me.

    I’ve returned the favor many times in many ways over the years. But – you got to be in uniform.

  134. SharkJumper says:


    I have to wonder, however, how many of you who refuse to give anything to ANY beggar consider yourself religious.

    Why would you wonder that? I’ve read all the comments in an interesting thread, and you’re the first to bring it up. Apparently to use it as a vehicle to bash religious folk. Judging by the number of comments here, being approached by beggars is a pretty universal experience. You’re the first here to turn it into a contest between believers and non-believers. So, while believers are often accused of acting “holier-than-thou,” you are demonstrating it publicly. Honestly, it says a lot more about your bitterness about religious people than any religious people in the thread.

    Now, I hate to feed the trolls (and if anyone is still reading this thread, I’ll probably get flamed off of the boards), but I’m happy to share from the perspective of one who “considers himself religious.” I guess I can at least tell you how a church handles similar experiences.

    I’m a deacon at the small church I attend which happens to be on a moderately busy street in our town. Our church has a food pantry, a benevolence fund, a program to pay people’s utility bills when the occasional need arises, and we work with local organizations like shelters and donation centers. Because of this, I happily give to my church. Because the church is on a busy street, many people stop by when they see cars in the parking lot. As the deacons are in charge of the benevolence fund, the members of the church generally know to bring the person to us.

    Now, the church has a policy that we never keep cash at the church. It’s not terribly safe. So, after a person presents their story (most of them are the “I need money to get home” story). The first thing we tell them is that the church doesn’t keep cash on hand, but I’d be happy to see to the needs they’ve expressed (by buying them food, buying them gas, etc). Most roll their eyes and walk away.

    Once a man drove up and needed money to get across state to his family. The pastor and I offered to fill up his gas tank. That wouldn’t do, since the trip was more than one tank of gas. Well, we’d call ahead to a church on the trip to be expecting him so they could fill up his tank again. Well, that wouldn’t do because his van really needed a change of oil and some extra cans of oil because it burned it so fast. Well, we would take him to the station and have it changed and buy some oil. Well, that wouldn’t do because his tires were all worn out and needed replacing.

    (Now another thing to keep in mind is that the deacons almost never dip into the benevolence fund, we just use our own money to help the people who drop in, leaving the fund for more serious needs). So, by the time we had talked to this man for several minutes, I was offering to personally pay hundreds of dollars to get his van fixed and get him on his way. He drove off in disgust yelling, “If you won’t help me, I’ll find someone else who will!”

    And that is the typical response. I have had a few take me up on the tank of gas or the food from the pantry, but not many.

    Now, you’re right that the the Bible has “You know the whole ‘feed the hungry, clothe the naked’ stuff.” Though you’d be hard-pressed to find it in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12 and Luke 6:17-26), which is part of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-8). The only mention of giving in the Sermon of the Mount basically says to do it in secret, without fanfare. Now, you may be thinking of Matthew 25:31-46, generally referred to as “the sheep and the goats” passage.

    However, nowhere in the Bible does it say that “religious people” should be less savvy about our money than non-religious or somehow check our brains at the door because someone claims to be “hungry and naked.” In fact, we are told to be “good stewards” of our money because it in fact belongs to God and is only loaned out to us. Those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.

    Look, what most people refuse to understand about “religious people” is that they are people. We make all the mistakes, have all the weaknesses, stumble in the same places, as “regular” people. Our path for improving ourselves happens to be different from yours. But don’t take what could really be a thread about how to be intelligently generous for everyone – not just religious or non-religious – and turn it into your own vendetta against religion.

  135. @crankymediaguy: “While I am not a believer, I went to Catholic school for 12 years so I am familiar with the Beatitudes. You know the whole “feed the hungry, clothe the naked” stuff.”

    You’re thinking of the corporeal acts of mercy. Maybe the nuns need to take you back for a do-over. :)

  136. jferman says:

    A few years ago, my girlfriend and I were dining at a Taco Bell when we were approached by a guy who handed us a card with the manual alphabet on one side and on the other side a claim that he’s deaf, etc. etc. and a little bit about sign language. Clearly, his expectation was that I would give him money. When I responded to him in a friendly fashion using fluent American Sign Language, asking him his name, etc., he quickly left the restaurant.

    At first, I thought he was ashamed, but in retrospect, I doubt he was deaf at all. Even if he was, instead of giving him money I would tell him about how Vocational Rehabilitation clinics offer services and support for deaf people.

  137. andrewsmash says:

    Here in Portland we

  138. andrewsmash says:

    Here in Portland, we have this particularly annoying subset of useless returd. I call them the “hipster homeless” – young adults with good teeth, nice skin, etc who dress in ratty clothes and think it would be fun to be homeless downtown for a summer (Portland summers are amazing). Worst thing is when these obnoxious little turds form flash mobs and wander the residential neighborhoods. I am sure that some of them think they are being very punk for casting off the shackles of capitalism, but seriously, if you are asking for change and you aren’t missing a limb, get the fuck out. Nothing is more annoying than seeing someone who is physically more attractive than me begging my broke ass for change. Damn street rats.

  139. MeOhMy says:

    @MercuryPDX: Honestly, I never even heard of Street News prior to seeing it mentioned on The Big Issue’s site. I found a web page and it’s pretty awful. While the idea of the entire enterprise being written, managed and sold by the homeless people, I can see why The Big Issue uses primarily professional writers.

  140. Little Miss Moneybags says:

    @missdona: I know that guy! The United Negro Pizza Fund guy. He and my boyfriend actually became pretty good friends, and he would always tip an imaginary hat to me when I passed him.

    In general, I don’t give to anyone begging, though I’ll occasionally give food. I worked at Starbucks for a while and we had a regular circuit of junkies who came in asking for ice or to use the restroom. About two years later, I saw one of them on the train and he was really in a bad way–he’d been beaten badly. I gave him five dollars and a woman next to me began to lecture me, that you could never know what they might use it for. I told her, “I KNOW him and it’s none of your damn business.” I guess it seemed weird to her that a young professional woman would know a junkie, but I did, and I didn’t care what he used the money for. He used to help me carry the icky trash bags out of Starbucks.

    I also never give to buskers on a train. In the station is one thing, but subjecting a captive audience to whatever you’re playing is just irritating. And I really hate the people who get on with the same story all the time, like no one’s going to notice.

  141. Maia-Bittner says:

    However, homeless people with iPods are not necessarily con artists. We assume one has a certain amount of wealth in order to buy an iPod because personally, we would make sure we had food and shelter and other necessities before buying an expensive electronic gadget. However, the reason most people are homeless is because they have poor money management skills and choose to buy things like iPods and Starbucks when they can’t afford to, which is why they don’t have money for rent. Just a thought to consider.

  142. voodoodle says:

    if they’re old.

  143. SadSam says:

    My general policy is to not give money to random people on the street. I’m sure I have given money at some point or another b/c I’m tenderhearted. I do, however, have a very strong policy about giving regularly (monthly – electronic pay) to 3-4 favorite charities and one of my favorite charities targets homeless children. I give to the best charities I can (the ones that use the most money for the actual charity) and I know enough about the local charities that I can always direct someone down on their luck to a place that will give them a pg&j and a shower – sometimes I give them bus fare to get to the catholic charity that provides PB&js and showers.

  144. ZugTheMegasaurus says:

    In the winter, especially when it’s particularly cold or when it’s snowing, I make a point to go out and take stuff to the homeless people (it’s a pretty steady population around here, so I recognize most of them).

    So during the summer, I’ll go to fabric stores to find the massively-discounted fleece, cut it into pieces, and then give it out in the winter as blankets/scarves. Or I’ll wait for one of those fast food promotions where you get the little coupons for a hamburger or fries or something and just go hand those out.

    The homeless guys here are actually really polite; I’ve never had one turn me down for a cup of coffee or a bagel or something.

  145. ircu says:

    I go to Drexel in Philadelphia, and time to time I see a bum outside our local 7-11 store. Usually he’s just opening the door for people, asking for change, and introducing himself as ‘Golden Gloves.’ However, on occasion, he’s been known to try to sell life insurance – that is, if you give him change, he will swear to back you up in any fight, ever, for the rest of your life.

    How you’re supposed to get a hold of him, though, I’m not sure. Perhaps a cry of “Golden Gloves!!” …

  146. kimsama says:

    @battlerobo: Never ever give money to little kids who are begging. I see this all the time in Vietnam. It seems heartless, I know, but believe it or not, their parents are keeping them on the street because they are cute and most people who wouldn’t give to an adult would give to a little kid who’s begging. The big problem is that, if the kids are “profitable” to the parents (if they pull in enough cash), they’ll be kept on the street as beggars. That means no school, no career prospects other than to keep begging forever (or to become a sex worker or deal in some other illegal trade, because once they aren’t cute little kids anymore, they have nowhere to turn but to other illicit ways to make money).

    The best bet is to politely say no (don’t offer anything else, it will go home to their “manager-parents”), and to donate to local street children programs (that can make a difference by educating street children and giving them a way off the streets and out of poverty).

  147. Brazell says:

    I find most pandering happens around train stops. In DC a few weeks back, I had a couple of guys approach me first, asking if I knew where to buy passes for the metro, so I told them at the machines next to the metro stops…. and then, I guess, I passed the “mark” test for helping them and they asked me for money so that they could get a pass.

  148. crankymediaguy says:

    I’d like to respond to the criticism of my previous post.

    My logic was: A large majority of the American public (something on the order of 90% or so) describes themselves as religious. While the demographics for Consumerist readers probably aren’t exactly the same as those for the nation as a whole, it seems reasonable to assume many, if not most, Consumerist-ians consider themselves religious as well.

    All of the “Major Religions of the World” have some requirement for their adherents to assist those less fortunate than themselves. When I saw multiple postings from people saying “I never give to beggars under any circumstances,” I figured it was reasonable to assume that at least some of those people also belonged to one of those religions, most likely Christianity. My posting, as was clear, was addressed specifically to those people. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to wonder how those specific people reconcile those seeming contradictions. Please note that I said right at the beginning of the post that I thought it was reasonable to ignore those beggars who are obvious frauds (although some of the “professional beggar” postings I read seem to come straight from snopes.com or a list of urban legends, but that’s another issue for another day).

    As for me as a non-believer allegedly playing the “moral superiority card,” uh, I wouldn’t say that it’s the NON-believers of America who most typically play that particular hand. The current Presidential candidates don’t mention their alleged faith in God every two minutes for no reason; the notion that non-belief = immorality or amorality (and that membership in an organized religion is automatically evidence of goodness) is deeply entrenched in the American consciousness, despite a lack of evidence.

  149. mmcnary says:

    During my first visit to San Francisco, I saw a panhandler sitting down at Fisherman’s Wharf with a sign that read ‘Why Lie? Need money for Beer’ I bought him a six-pack.

    It had to be at least 7 years later I was in SF, and I swear there was the same guy with the same sign.

    What can I say, I bought him another six-pack…

  150. palaste says:

    I have to share one experience. At Christmas time about five years ago, I was eating at a restaurant when a homeless man walked in. He went up to me and said he wanted to buy a bottle of booze but all he had was a lunch voucher. So I gave him cash, he gave me the lunch voucher, and he left. I paid my lunch with the voucher, presumably he bought booze with the cash. Like the most of you, I like it when the homeless are honest about what they want.

  151. yetiwisdom says:

    I was approached by a guy near a movie theater in Fort Lauderdale for “bus money” to get his daughter and he gas money to get home. I obliged.

    Two weeks later, I was approached in the same spot by the same guy, same shtick, and I reminded him fiercely that I has already “donated”.

    I don’t generally give and this experience helped ground my belief that many beggars are really scammers in disguise.

  152. DeeJayQueue says:

    @Skyoodpov: I run into that guy all the time on South Street. I usually give him a couple bucks if I’ve got anything on me.

    When I was going to art school, once I started driving into town instead of taking the train I’d bring my doumbek with me and busk in Suburban Station near City Hall, or sometimes in the square itself for a while before someone would ask me to leave. I never put anything out to make money, mostly I was there to play for the passive audience. Occasionally I’d end up with a couple dollars, which I would take and find a guy who was genuinely hungry nearby and get him a sandwich or a pretzel and a drink from the cart.

    I also don’t give to people who don’t do anything for the money. If you play something or tell a joke or do a magic trick then I’ll give you a dollar or whatever. Yesterday in DC there was a guy sitting on a milk crate in the middle of the sidewalk in Dupont circle jingling a cup of change, and he got all irate when we walked past him. He said something like “hey up there” in a snarky tone, and I looked at him and said “I wish someone would pay ME to jingle a cup all day.” and kept walking.

    I’ve seen the bus ticket scams, the gas money scams, the metro fare scams, just about all of them in different variations. I don’t want to hear about it.

    Once I came across a guy begging for money to buy his dog some food, so I went into the CVS and bought a small bag of food and a bowl, and a bottle of water with one of those dog funnel cap things. The guy was grateful that I cared about his dog. He said “I can find food easily, but I don’t want him to get sick because he’s my only friend.” That sorta melted my heart.

  153. Deusfaux says:

    Beggars? Never.

    Buskers? MAYBE. Earning my dollar is much better than begging for it.

  154. synergy says:

    My family isn’t from the U.S. and have little sympathy for beggars. Basically they always say they should be hustling for work so they can buy food instead of just standing around asking for handouts. I’m with baa. I’d only buy someone some food instead of just giving them money. Then I know my money is keeping someone from starving instead of being used for drugs/alcohol.

  155. mylifegonenuts says:

    Sometimes I give and sometimes I don’t, mostly don’t because I don’t have it. I would like to carry an envelope of dollar bills in my car just for that purpose. Don’t like the story telling beggars but if I can help like putting gas in their gas can I will. I feel like it is better for me to take a chance giving to the wrong person than to pass by someone in need.
    But here is the other thing. This month I am so so broke that if I don’t get some money I am going to be homeless too and for real! I am behind on two car payments, this months rent, the utilities, owe a cash advance I can’t pay, the list goes on and I really don’t know what I am going to do. I swear I have considered standing on one of our city’s finer corners! Now do I do this dressed in my everyday clothing, telling the truth that I work one full time job and one part time job plus an extra side job at my full time job, that my decent, year old low-end cost car is parked over there and I just need help, before I jump off the overpass from the stress and worry? Or should I put on some torn up worn dirty looking clothing, mess up my hair, eat some garlic, and hold a sign that says homeless?
    I have learned from this comments that I need to hide my one tattoo that I got like 5 years ago.
    So what do you think will it work? Would you give to me? I am 45 year old white women and not in the best shape or the most attractive….so yeah can’t work the corner any other way>>>I would have to pay them. But man I have run out of options…just may give it a try.

  156. billy says:

    @kerry: “I know that they really are homeless, even though it’s by choice more than anything.”
    That’s my point exactly. But even if gutter punks weren’t decked out, it is their choice to live the way they do.