Doc’s Blog: Panhandler Profiteering vs. Our Desire to Help.
You've wanted to. So have I. We see them sitting on the corner with their battered cardboard signs and disheveled appearance and our hearts break. Our instinct to help and be the hero in that moment can be overwhelming. A $5 or $10 or $20...it could really make a difference!
I was standing outside a hotel in Memphis a few years ago when an older gentleman approached me. His hair was a mess, his clothes were tattered, and he smelled like he'd been without a shower for a long time. If I'm being honest, I saw him walking toward me and I thought, "Oh, God. Here we go. I don't want to deal with this". His story was compelling. He needed to catch a bus to Mississippi to be with family that he hadn't seen in a long time. He was only a few dollars short. "Anything would help", he said. So, I did. The $10 I had was going to be spent on something trivial, so why not? I gave it to him and he walked away. Right after he left, a female Memphis Police Officer walked up to me and said, "Please don't do that". She told me this same man canvasses the street everyday telling either the same or different story. But the results are the same. He gets the money and spends it on his addictions or on things other than he's saying. The look of sincerity on her face and the urgency in her voice bore down into me. Her point was really driven home the next day when, standing in same spot in front of the hotel, I saw that same man across the street. He should have been on a bus.
Last week in Cheyenne, local police discovered a panhandler who was bragging on Facebook about the load of money he got.
Picture: Cheyenne Police Department
Here's the message the Cheyenne Police Department posted a week ago Sunday with the above picture:
"Yesterday, July 22, we arrested a transient for public intoxication. This is a person we frequently deal with, but we want to illustrate that there are better ways to help the transient population than to give them money for panhandling. This person collected $234.94 in just a few hours of asking for money. Rather than feeding someone's alcohol addiction, you can donate directly to local charities such as the Comea Shelter where your money will assist the homeless in a much more effective way."
After they posted this, they received about 8,000 responses. Some good, some bad. The point they were trying to make is that while we may want to help, feeding the addiction may be the result. Contributing to a charity that works directly with panhandler's or transients would be the better option.
Also, local law enforcement are witnesses to this everyday. While we pass in our cars or brush by them on a street corner, our experience with them is brief. Law enforcement see the cycle of receiving money, buying things that lead to trouble, the trouble landing them in custody, and then to be released, and repeat. It must be frustrating for them as well.
What do you think? Will you give when the need is right there in front of you or donate to organizations that deal with this everyday?