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)