Father Tony

Giving Money to "Homeless" Beggars on City Streets

Filed By Father Tony | September 10, 2009 10:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: LGBT homeless


Dear Father Tony,

My partner and I got into a huge fight when we visited New York City three weeks ago. I gave money to a woman on the subway who said she was HIV+, had three kids, homeless and had nothing to eat. My partner said I was naïve and stupid. I said he was cold and lacking compassion. We still have not cleared the air about this and it almost ruined the rest of our trip. It seems like a little thing, but every time I think about us planning a return vacation, I think about that argument and I think "Never again New York". I hope you will take my side but whatever.

Generous or Dumb?


Dear GeorDy,

If my husband and I had to avoid all the places in which we have had an argument, Dayton Ohio might be the one place left for us to visit. With that in mind, and as a half-of-the-year New Yorker, I'm willing (foolishly?) to dive into a sensitive issue that even the locals argue about ferociously.

This city contains a probably constant number of beggars who work the sidewalks and the subway cars. Additionally, there are homeless who set up cardboard camps on church steps and under canopies that keep the rain off and over air vents that provide winter heat. Their handwritten tales of woe certainly seem evidenced by their lifestyle. The tambourine sound of the change in their Styrofoam cups reminds one of the plaintiff bell-ringers on the city streets before Christmas.

New York City is also workplace to folks who sing, or play musical instruments, and will pass a hat at the conclusion of their performance. The city and the transportation authority permit and assign specific places for street musicians. I think the proper response to a musical performance is to give at a level matching your pleasure in the entertainment and your financial capacity. Last week in the subway I saw a five-member mariachi band wearing wide sombreros set up and sing and pass a hat in a crowded car all in the brief time between stops. The music was sweet and their mastery of logistics made me wish they were on the board of General Motors. I gave them money.

But your argument was about beggars who claim hardship and misfortune. There are some things you do not see because you are not a resident. In my neighborhood, there is a little gray haired man who stands in the middle of the flow of traffic on the sidewalk and unfolds a sign in his hands that lists his misfortunes and health problems, lost job and homelessness. His sad eyes are cast downward. Because he holds no cup, he tends to receive paper money donations. He works the same block for months at a time. He sometimes scoots around the corner with sudden rejuvenation and whips out a cell phone. I paused once to eavesdrop and heard him berate a landscaper doing work at his home on Long Island. Pretending to be waiting for someone and after he finished the call, I drew him into a conversation about the difficulties of getting a good contractor and I got a lot of detail about his real circumstances. Now, whenever we cross paths, I stand one foot in front of his face silently glaring until he goes away.

There is also a young portly fellow who lives on the sidewalk near our building. His sign claims that he is willing to work for food. Every morning, while he is off getting fed at any of the many stations that service the homeless, the building's janitor must sweep way his garbage and hose his urine of the sidewalk. Every evening, he spends his loot on booze and drugs and starts insulting the same passersby he had smiled at earlier in the day. One evening, as I went out for the night, I saw that he had a female companion on his cardboard bed. Later, coming home from the bar, I saw him having sex on top of her. She appeared to have passed out.

A young woman in front of my Starbucks shouts out "Help the homeless" next to one of those large clear plastic water cooler jugs. She appears to be affiliated with a benevolent organization that seems to put the homeless to work albeit begging for support for their homelessness. Watch her long enough and you will see her empty the contents of the jug and head to a nearby bodega where she will purchase a pack of cigarettes that she then smokes out of sight. In New York City, those cigarettes cost ten dollars a pack. (The Starbucks manager has forced her to relocate.)

In the interest of brevity already violated, I will not continue my list of similar stories that would serve to show you that when you give money to beggars you are doing it largely to make yourself feel good but you are not really doing anything to help the beggar who is most often a skilled and antisocial actor with some serious psychological and substance-abuse problems. Enabling their bad behavior is not an act of compassion but is really only a soothing of some personal guilt you may harbor about your own good fortune.

Generosity is praiseworthy and admirable. I suggest you sit down with your partner, tell him you regret the argument and have decided to make a regular donation to God's Love We Deliver or some similar entity, instead of succumbing to beggars.

Do I sound hard-hearted? I am not. Three weeks ago, after having purchased gourmet food for our regular picnic on "our bench" on Broadway, a man approached us and said that he was hungry. I gave him half my sandwich without hesitation. I watched him eat it as he walked away. I don't know if he was rich, poor, addicted or addled. He was simply hungry and asking for food. This kind of impromptu giving makes sense to me and is in line with the teachings of Jesus, but if you offer a sandwich to most of the beggars in New York City, they will give you the forgetaboutit-getoutahere look and demand your cash. Wise up, my compassionate friend. Learn to give well, and do not let these harsh realities make you cynical or any less magnanimous.


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I have had this argument with friends many times.

I find Father Tony's response offensive. Father Tony, I do respect you and read your writing often and usually with great approval. I just think you are wrong this time.

Contrary to anecdotes like the one above about the landowner who got rich off of begging, most beggars are poor and homeless, and may also struggle with abuse, addiction, and untreated health problems. 3.5 million Americans are homeless and 36,600 people in New York City alone sleep on the streets.

36 million Americans live below the poverty line and over 1.5 million New Yorkers live in poverty.

Someone who is not homeless and/or does not live below the poverty line has no right to judge the lifestyle or motivations of people who must live like this. It is insulting to poor people to insinuate that they are all liars, swindlers and criminals such as this post does. Taking a few personal anecdotes to pass judgment on a whole class of people... well there's a word for that.

What these massive numbers do say to me is that passing out money on the street doesn't really tackle the real problem, it only alleviates the passing guilt of those of us better situated. If we wanted to actually end homelessness and poverty, we would have to start doing uncomfortable things like changing our behavior in real ways and tackling systems of oppression.

I say, give money on the street if you want, or don't if you don't want to, but refrain from judging the circumstances of society's most vulnerable members.

Dear The Czech,
I don't know whom you are arguing with, but it can't possibly be me if you read my response carefully.
a) I do not dispute the stats regarding homelessness.
b) I do not claim that all the homeless are liars. I focused on a particular aggressive group who make false claims. What kind of illogical jumper cables did you use on my comments that makes you think I am insulting a whole class of people? Please reread my response.
c)At least we agree that passing money out on the street does not tackle the real problem.

Anyway, this argument rages perpetually in New York so I don't expect our readers will come to any greater concensus than do the 8 million of us who deal with this daily.

Truth be told, not EVERY homeless person is a liar. That said, its NEVER a good idea to give money to a homeless person. Give money to an organization that helps the homeless.

I try to give to local organizations--there's a great downtown cooperative here that collects money at all of the local downtown buisnesses and then distributes the money to the local soup kitchen, shelter, Salvation Army (not my favorite, but whatever, still helps) and so on. Makes it easy to give and you know where you're money's going.

They give out cards to hand to panhandlers... I always thought that was a little demeaning to do, but some people do that around here.

I go ahead and lie to panhandlers. I say "Sorry, I don't have any money, but God bless." I don't feel bad about it. I give what I can, but you know, I've got to be careful too. I've been a little too generous before which led to bad things, so I feel comfortable giving anonymously to the organization, and refusing every individual request.

Its just the best way I've found to help homeless people and not do MORE harm than good.

I know Indianapolis has a huge problem with professional panhandlers; they make no effort to hide the fact that they panhandle, often showing up at the same corner for months on end. Indianapolis is trying to create a drop-box system to make sure money gets to the right hands, and laws have been passed to keep beggars out of traffic, but the fact remains that these people continue to rake in money.

Giving to a professional organization instead of directly to a beggar has _huge_ benefits. One, it makes sure that resources are allocated to rehabilitation. Two, it holds the person in need accountable for taking control of their own life. Three, and this is most important, it makes it hard for money given to homeless people to go to illicit drug peddlers on the street. There's a metaphor about fishing that rings true, but I figure most people already have that idea down pat. :)

Thank you for your reply Father Tony.

Here is why it seems that you are making general statements about indigent people to me:

"your argument was about beggars who claim hardship and misfortune. There are some things you do not see because you are not a resident."

This is sounds like a dismissal of the notion that beggars lead a life of hardship.

You follow with 3 anecdotal examples to prove... something. What are your anecdotes meant to prove? As a reader they looked like they were meant to prove that beggars are liars, swindlers and criminals as opposed to oppressed and marginalized people with a legitimate claim to social help.

I'm glad we agree on the stats and on the fact that ALL homeless people aren't this that or the other thing. I'm just trying to explain my reaction.

@Austen
What's going on with the statement that we need to "hold the person in need accountable for taking control of their own life." ? Why place the blame on the poor? I'm sure we already know this, but no one wants to be indigent. People who are healthy stay poor because of marginalization, criminalization, and discrimination. People who suffer from mental health, physical health, and addiction problems cannot be held accountable for their actions... only society can be held accountable for our treatment of them.

I don't understand this infantilizing of the poor, as though somehow those of us who aren't poor know what's best for them.

Giving money to an org means giving it to people who already have money who decide *for* the poor what's best for them. I leave it to individuals who want to give to decide if that's any better than giving $$ on the street.

I agree. I get leery when people start to get into "He's just going to spend it on drugs and booze." So he doesn't deserve to eat then? I'd rather the panhandler not go get drugs and booze with the money, but I don't want to see them starve to death either. Hence, one of the things that makes me somewhat nervous about giving to the organizations--I know that they have the right to refuse service, and sometimes do for various reasons. I give because I don't want to give directly to people coming up to me on the street. However, part of me would rather just be able to carry around sandwiches and extra clothes everywhere I go, because I'd much rather make sure that this human being in particular is helped, regardless of whether or not they have control of all of their demons.

About Fr. Tony's anecdotes--I don't think he meant to say that all New York homeless are actually filthy rich sociopaths. I think he wanted to offer some different viewpoints. I've experienced similar scenarios, and I have to admit that there are some people out there who like to take advantage of the kindness of strangers. However, I think that clearly Fr. Tony understands--as I'm sure we all do--that the vast majority of these folks are in a bad place and need help, and what he's saying is, perhaps the help they need is not DIRECT CASH. You can't eat cash. You can't wear cash (unless you're a Versace model). You can't be sheltered by cash. The real root of poverty is not lack of money, its lack of access to these basic things we all need.

Cash money is one of the ways we access these necessities, but are there other ways? There's taking it, but then once you take the food, you're still going to be homeless and unemployed, and now you might have caused financial harm to the person you've stolen from, and now SHE might be the next one to be going hungry. There are direct cash gifts, but as has been pointed out earlier, these could be misused or misdirected to the wrong people.

So the only option is directly sharing. But how do I carry around tents, clothes and food for everyone all day long? How do I afford this for very long--I'm an uninsured student with mounds of debt, I can barely feed myself sometimes.

I don't have any answers. I hope someone does some day. In the mean time, I try to do what I can, and try to be smart about it, and if I see my attempt at helping out is not having the intended effects (feeding/clothing/sheltering everyone without discrimination or misuse of funds) then I adjust my methods. Best I can do.

I do have to say that when I first read Fr. Tony's response to the letter writer it gave me the impression that he was casting all homeless beggars as liars, criminals and drug addicts. I don't pretend to know all the answers but I do what I can when I have extra money. I think it's important to trust our gut and give when we can regardless of what the appearance of the homeless might suggest. Yes, most, if not all of homeless people have some sort of undiagnosed problem whether it is psychological, drug addiction or alcoholism but does that mean we shouldn't help them out? I think not. Didn't Jesus hang out with beggars, hookers and the sick? The point I'm trying to make is that we practice compassion in all situation without judging those people.

I am speaking as a drug addict/alcohol with over a year of sobriety. I came to LA in May of 2006 to pursue my dream of becoming an actor. Later that summer, due to some bad decisions on my part and the fact that I was newly sober, I became homeless and had to live at a homeless shelter called People Assisting the Homeless (PATH). It was singularly one of the most painful moments of my life. To know that at 32 years old, an Asian immigrant who made straight As through High School and most of college and yet I ended up in a homeless shelter at my age. I used to judged that most homeless people were lazy and that they were a whole bunch of liars, thiefs, criminals, etc. I do admit that some of them have not hit their bottom, either spiritually, emotionally or psychologically and they will continue to do so until it is their time to wake up. We can't forget that we're all spiritual beings having a human experience and we're on this journey of being awaken to our true self.

I digress. So, while living at PATH, I allow myself to love these people who I was living with and decided to forego of my judgments of them all. What I've learned about myself and these other homeless people was that they're not that different from me. Most of them had some sort of problem that they are suffering from. For me it was drug addiction and alcoholism and for some of them it was emotional and psychological issues, abuse, rape, or just plain bad luck or a series of circumstances that led them to become homeless. I never thought in my wildest imagination that it would be my path to go through homelessness so I can find a deeper connection to humanity and to have compassion for all sentient beings. I must tell you that every waking moment of my life while there at PATH was like hell. I got lucky because of God's grace and I now am a productive member of society. A lot of the amazing people that I know and am surrounded by in my circle of recovering alcoholics and drug addicts who are now productive and contributing members of society, some of us have even taken up leadership roles within the overall LGBT civil rights movement, were once people who society cast as the throw-aways because of the fact that we haven't come to terms with and have not yet successfully overcome our demons. However, nothing stays the same, not for any of us. So, I guess what I'm trying to say is that before we walk a mile in someone's shoes, we should try to practice compassion in anyway we can and give when our heart tells us it's the right time. I don't pretend to know all the ills of society or how discrimination, oppression, marginalization and class has affected a certain outcome for any number of people. All I know is they are people who are hurting and the Buddha once said that (and I'm paraphrasing) living is "joyful participation in the sorrows of the world." That to me means to give and to love. It doesn't say judge people.

Nakhone, in this one post there's at least 5 points of similarity in our backgrounds. Damn good students who became homeless and were also drug/alcohol addicted...the list goes on.

My policy on all of this is if I have, I give them what they ask me. If it's food, I'll take the time to take them to McDonalds's or, when I'm in downtown Chicago, Ronny's Steak House. If it's a cigarette and if I have it, no problem. On extremely rare occasions they out-and out said they wanted a drink of wine or something and I bought the wine (at least they were honest!)

But most of the time, I don't have it.

But the situation when I run into someone who I remember from my homeless time (and this was over 15 years ago) is interesting. I find myself usually at each extreme; I can be extremely judgmental and scornful but I have also bought cheap fleabag hotel rooms for the night for some...

Chitown Kev. Wow, who would have guessed we have those things in common. Are you glad for the experience cause it is something I treasure today for teaching so much about life, about myself and about other people. Like you, I find myself going from one extreme to the next whether it being scornful and judgmental or giving the last several dollars I have on hand (I don't have much expendable income most of the time). However, I always try to remember where I've been and when I catch myself I give what they asked for, either money or cigarettes or what not. Sometimes, I walk by a homeless person and I walk up to them to give them $5 or whatnot (and I always feel funny doing it because I don't want to come across as being contemptuous) and some of the people I approach don't want money. I make it a habit to always take my left over food and give it to them as I pass them by. I know the problem is ginormous and I can only do a little bit of my part but I guess every little thing helps. I have never bought anyone alcohol though and I don't think I ever will even if they ask me. Anyhow, I'd be interested in hearing more about your story.

Dear Nakhone Keodara and Chitown Kev,

You both speak with authority, so attention must be paid to your views on this subject.

What do you make of the fact that most New Yorkers who begin to see this stuff constantly and in detail, stop responding to beggars?

Also, when I was a smoker, I always gave a cigarette to any one on the street who asked for one. There is nothing as strong as the righteousness of the ex-smoker or the recovered addict/alcoholic when it comes to their own weaknesses!

There is another issue at play in New York City: the huge amount of decent food that gets thrown away. One block from where I live is a large supermarket on Broadway. The dumpsters in its delivery dock regularly feed a number of people who make other regular stops where they know they will find decent free food. More than once, I have watched them pull perfectly good produce, fruit, beverages and baked goods out of that dumpster (sometimes wondering why I was going around the corner and into the store to pay for it!) I'm sure there are liability and licensing issues that keep the supermarket from setting up a table for the giving away of that food but it really is shameful. We are not talking a small amount. It is easily enough to feed a couple of dozen people daily. Food does not turn to poison based on the expiration date.

I do have to say that when I first read Fr. Tony's response to the letter writer it gave me the impression that he was casting all homeless beggars as liars, criminals and drug addicts. I don't pretend to know all the answers but I do what I can when I have extra money. I think it's important to trust our gut and give when we can regardless of what the appearance of the homeless might suggest. Yes, most, if not all of homeless people have some sort of undiagnosed problem whether it is psychological, drug addiction or alcoholism but does that mean we shouldn't help them out? I think not. Didn't Jesus hang out with beggars, hookers and the sick? The point I'm trying to make is that we practice compassion in all situation without judging those people.

I am speaking as a drug addict/alcohol with over a year of sobriety. I came to LA in May of 2006 to pursue my dream of becoming an actor. Later that summer, due to some bad decisions on my part and the fact that I was newly sober, I became homeless and had to live at a homeless shelter called People Assisting the Homeless (PATH). It was singularly one of the most painful moments of my life. To know that at 32 years old, an Asian immigrant who made straight As through High School and most of college and yet I ended up in a homeless shelter at my age. I used to judged that most homeless people were lazy and that they were a whole bunch of liars, thiefs, criminals, etc. I do admit that some of them have not hit their bottom, either spiritually, emotionally or psychologically and they will continue to do so until it is their time to wake up. We can't forget that we're all spiritual beings having a human experience and we're on this journey of being awaken to our true self.

I digress. So, while living at PATH, I allow myself to love these people who I was living with and decided to forego of my judgments of them all. What I've learned about myself and these other homeless people was that they're not that different from me. Most of them had some sort of problem that they are suffering from. For me it was drug addiction and alcoholism and for some of them it was emotional and psychological issues, abuse, rape, or just plain bad luck or a series of circumstances that led them to become homeless. I never thought in my wildest imagination that it would be my path to go through homelessness so I can find a deeper connection to humanity and to have compassion for all sentient beings. I must tell you that every waking moment of my life while there at PATH was like hell. I got lucky because of God's grace and I now am a productive member of society. A lot of the amazing people that I know and am surrounded by in my circle of recovering alcoholics and drug addicts who are now productive and contributing members of society, some of us have even taken up leadership roles within the overall LGBT civil rights movement, were once people who society cast as the throw-aways because of the fact that we haven't come to terms with and have not yet successfully overcome our demons. However, nothing stays the same, not for any of us. So, I guess what I'm trying to say is that before we walk a mile in someone's shoes, we should try to practice compassion in anyway we can and give when our heart tells us it's the right time. I don't pretend to know all the ills of society or how discrimination, oppression, marginalization and class has affected a certain outcome for any number of people. All I know is they are people who are hurting and the Buddha once said that (and I'm paraphrasing) living is "joyful participation in the sorrows of the world." That to me means to give and to love. It doesn't say judge people.

Oh, if I might add, I am now living in my own apartment, working two jobs while volunteering my time for different causes on my free-time.

I was eating alone one evening and went to nearby Pizza Buffet place. It is pretty cheap, but they had recently raised their prices. A family (father, mother and two little boys) was at the door, and the Dad was counting his money. He told his wife, you all can eat, but I won't. I saw enough to realize he didn't have quite enough to cover everyone.

The kids were, of course, oblivious, and the mother passed on eating also. So after everyone sat down, I went back up to the register and quietly told the manager that I thought the price increase had caught the guy off-guard, and that I'd pay for the mother and father's meal, and I wanted him to just tell them it was on the house. He was astonished, and said, "I'd never have realized that, but I think you are right, so I'll pay for one and you pay for one."

Later, while in the grocery store in the same shopping center, as I was leaving, they were coming in. Now, because they had some money left over, they were renting a $1.00 movie from the movie vending machine.

The excitement on the face of those kids was worth every penny of that little bit of money I spent.

Now I don't tell that story to try to make myself out to be some great philanthropist...merely to say, as Father Tony was saying, there are appropriate ways to actually help people. Sometimes in quiet little ways like this, and sometimes by contributing to or working for organizations that provide coordinated assistance. I never expected, in giving that night, to receive the personal joy I got, but those are the moments of grace when you just somehow know the right thing.

I have lived in Manhattan for 22 years. In the beginning I would give a dollar here or there, until I wised up.

Now instead of giving money I always say I will give them food. Yet, in all my years, not one of them wants the food. WHY? Because they want to buy booze or drugs, probably the very reason that they are homeless. So Mr. Czech, you want to give money to someone to buy drugs go ahead. I won't.

GeorDy, your partner was right. Give the money to a charity that helps the homeless.

Paige Listerud | September 10, 2009 4:28 PM

Whatever you decide to do when giving, understand that once that money is in someone else's hands, what they choose to do with it is their business.

One long-time advocate for the homeless said that more important than giving money was to acknowledge the homeless person--look directly into their faces and ask them how they are doing. Do they have a place to spend the night? Did they have something to eat today? Talking to them and acknowledging them as human beings was far more important than any money you could give.

As for supporting charities vs. giving to individual homeless, again, that is your decision. But if I could put on my socialist hat here for a second, a renowned minister once said that unless we had adequate government-organized social programs to house and feed people, our philanthropy, in whatever form, could only be considered "quaint." It cannot and will not alleviate problems of millions of homeless in this country.

@Paige: I hear you on all that!

@Will: I don't give money on the street, nor to organizations that offer direct services, if it matters. I changed my spending habits, work at a job that doesn't encourage exploitation anywhere in the world (which means a significantly smaller paycheck), volunteer my time with the community, and vote with the poor. I don't honestly recommend giving money on the street or to a direct service agency (as many of them are simply a bandaid which keeps the disadvantaged from actually trying to revolt and change the system). I do try and foment unrest among the poor whenever possible! ;)

Mr. Czech, right on. Confort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. We could do with a little more revolution around here.

I was recently on a 2 week vacation on the West Coast, part of the time spent in Seattle to see the (very pricey) Ring Cycle, and saw a street beggar who looked like he was strung out on drugs and with dirty raggedy clothing. He held a sign that said " I need $100 for a hotel and a hooker". I felt sorry for him, a bit guilty for taking such an expensive vacation during the recession , and decided to make a contribution to a soup kitchen/homeless resource center in my hometown (S.O.M.E., so others might eat), to which I contribute a few times a year. This article is reminding me to do that. A disproportionate amount of money received by panhandlers goes for drugs, cigarettes, and booze. Most people on the street become "street wise" rather quickly about where they can get a meal, etc. I think that the organized groups dealing with that are the best to support.

RE: Salvation Army: Although they do some decent work with the homeless, they are very anti-gay, and have gone to Court in order to discriminate against their Gay employees. Since there are many other alternatives to which one may contribute, to help the homeless, I choose to support other groups.

If you are going to donate to a group, avoid the Salvation Army. Not only do they discriminate against homosexuals, but they also attempt to manipulate dying elderly people, those who suffer from mental illnesses, to changing their Wills and in turn giving more money to the 'Salvos'.

It bothers me when people get all judgmental and won't give money to homeless people. Sure, some are frauds, but they will answer to God for that.

Sure there are places to eat for homeless people, but why should they not at least occasionally be able to decide what they eat, a burger and fries instead of beef stew and vegetables. A candy bar and a pack of cigarettes or $5 cash in the pocket might be just what the person needs to feel better and may be what they need to get back on track, because it gives them back a piece of personal dignity. Maybe they need some minutes for their cell phone, bus fare, or rain poncho. Just because homeless people have cells does not mean they have an expensive plan or are frauds. Sometimes family members will provide a homeless relative with a phone. A Tracfone is $14 and minute cards as little as $20.

Not all homeless people are drunks or drug addicts. Many have families that depend on them to bring in money or get a tiny disability check that does not cover the bills. Thanks to the Republicans, a person has a great deal of trouble living on a check.

Just give as Jesus gave or don't if you can't or don't want to. A lot of the homeless "ministries" have stringent rules or mistreat homeless people, especially those who are mentally ill and some, like the Salvation Army, charge for a bed. Many are run by conservative religious groups that make the residents listen to a message before they are allowed to eat and some are way too crowded for mentally ill people to cope with. Don't judge. It is not your place. And 6 months from now you could be on the street.

Dear twinkie1cat,
Please tell me you were joking when you advocate giving the homeless a pack of cigarettes because that

"might be just what the person needs to feel better and may be what they need to get back on track, because it gives them back a piece of personal dignity."

I can't even begin to address that.

I do agree with you about looking closely at homeless "ministries" before supporting them.

(Also, I'd like to mention that when I left the Catholic Church, I was on the verge of homelessness. I was lucky to have friends. We were all poor but we managed to get by. I was the perfect example of someone with a graduate degree, no drug/alcohol abuse problem, and going through an unplanned reversal of circumstance. That is not the group of people I was writing about. I'm always amused at how some people jump up and start railing against things that the contributor didn't actually say in his/her post. So many axes to grind. A long line to the grindstone.

I also agree that the trick is learning how to give as would Jesus who in multiplying the loaves and fishes didn't control who got what!

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | September 11, 2009 4:21 AM

Good advice Tony. Even in Bloomington Indiana in 1974 I had a fellow who told me he was hungry. I took home with me (as I had nothing to steal) and offered him half of my "hamburger helper" which he would not eat, excused himself and left.

I was reminded of this 20 years later in Chicago when I watched one fellow at Christmas time in our Hispanic neighborhood collect $20.00 in fifteen minutes outside a store. If he could keep up half that pace he was out earning most people in Chicago with no overhead.

Yes, there is hardship, there are people who have had crummy breaks, there are substance abuse issues, there is a lack of self respect, but I conclude that there are people who wish to throw away their lives rather than living them.

Father Tony,

I was born and raised in NYC and I do not give money to panhandlers. I do however buy a hot dog, a drink or the like on occasion when I am motivated (as you were) at the moment. More often I donate to the cause through managed programs and volunteer at times. As a great example here in NYC funding and donations are scarce for out GLBT center and the Ali Forney center, the latter which supports homeless youths.

I think both you and your partner have valid points (either point could be right depending on the panhandler). I also believe there are ways to help that remove polar perspectives and cut to the core of your motivation, which I view as helping the needy. An unfortunate fact I see even with my friends who are well off: they give in the moment, but not necessarily to causes not in their face.

We've all encountered pro beggars. I think the correct reponse is "Sorry, I can't help you," and then move on, rather than deliver a lecture or angry glare. But I would not write off all beggars as liars or losers. How big a deal is it to give 50 cents or a buck to someone? Is it really that much of a sacrifice? Those of us coming from a religious background know that giving alms to the poor is one of our responsibilities. If you prefer to funnel your donations thru an agency, that's fine -- provided you have researched the organization. As a reporter, I have encountered a number of do-gooder groups that use donations mainly to benefit themselves, rather than clients. During grad school, I lived for a year in India, where begging was much more prevalent and institutionalized. You eventually have to acquire the horrible skill of "non-seeing" the emaciated and sometimes intentionally maimed kids swarming around you. Yet, when you're safely out of sight of the big begging gangs, you often stop and give a lone kid a couple of rupees to shine your shoes or do an errand. These days, I occasionally help my storefront church take food and used clothing directly into the parks for giving to poor people, some of whom are employed families who have been evicted. City officials in Florida have tried to shut down such projects as public nuisances, but judges have upheld the right of association. We also send money to an interfaith coalition that runs soup kitchens and helps people get cleaned up and dressed nicely for job-searching. There's no right or wrong answer that applies to every situation; just pay attention to what that inner voice is trying to tell you.

honestly, i'd rather give than not. a quarter of fifty cents is not going to kill me and my not giving is not going to cure them... i have lots of stories too and actually worked with homeless, disabled and abused people. criminalizing poverty does not make it go away.

Dear GeorDy, god bless your good soul. don't change regadless of what the cold hearted tell you.

it takes a lot more than sharing half a sandwich to solve the ills that face us as a people and turning a cold back on poverty is just so much more a way to make one feel self righteous than giving someone a small coin. that sense of self justification comes out clearly when one has to explain how one is really actually usually generous. cold hearted ruthless judgemental is not how jesus looked at the sinner.

after 30 years of ronald reaganism bushism and newt gringrinchism it is time we stop blaming the victims and stop blaming altogether, stop yelling you lie, and start being humans again.

there would be no beggars on the streets if poor people did not have to beg and yes some wackos misfits sickos and mentally deranged and some con artists get in there too. but there would not be anyone begging if we as a people took care of each other, and really took the declaration of independence seriously.

I've waited until this thread dropped down a bit before commenting since this is a personal comment.

A few points:

1) Many homeless have mental health problems. This doesn't make them bad people. When I had my first mania attack, I lost my home and ended up homeless for two months.

2) Not all shelters are friendly - especially to LGBT people. I was gang raped within 3 hours of setting foot inside the shelter. I left and never went back; I slept next to a river for the next two months; I considered it a master bath to dream about.

3) Not all charities are friendly - especially to LGBT people. The Salvation Army refused to give me food unless I repented and turned from my sinful ways. They'd rather I starved than be gay.

4) It's not as easy as "Just find a job." I was in my early 20's, crazier than batshit, had no place to list as a home, no phone to call for an interview, etc.

5) Just because the person doesn't spend the money on what you think it should be spent on, doesn't mean they're a bad person or a crook. It's not your money anymore; if you were generous enough to give it up, then let go of the strings. There were times that buying a pack of smokes did come before that can of food. Being able to smoke made me feel human again - while eating cold food from a can can be rather disheartening.

I give money when I can, offer to buy meals if I'm suspicious, and often just question the person, "What do you need?" If I have the money/resource to give away, what does it matter what happens to it?

And I'd like to echo Paige's comment about looking someone in the eye and simply asking how they're doing - with the caveat that you actually care and not just mumble the words. 98% of people would walk past me, of the 2% who would stop about 80% wouldn't look at me. Nothing makes you feel worse than someone who thinks they're entitled to glory for treating someone else like shit; giving someone 50 cents or a dollar doesn't make you a hero.

It makes you human. Compassionate. Empathetic. Kind.

Discernment is the key. By passing by the "beggars" and not giving them money, you never know who really needs it which is true. Once it leaves my hand, I am not accountable but did what I felt was for me to do. But if we do not have good discernment and sometimes information about the person, you will not know that they really need help. I once was approached by a young man while pumping gas who asked if I had 50 cents. I asked him "what are you going to do with 50 cents?" he said It would help to go towards what I have to buy a sandwich at McDonald" which was across the street. I said to him, meet me at McDonalds. Once we arrived, I told him to order what he wanted. In a shy expression he ordered a sandwich, I said "order what you want" he then ordered fries and a drink. We talked. I found out that he was 16 years old, had 5 brothers and sisters. He had just moved with his family from one part of town to another. The day before he and his brother was beat up by other boys in the neighborhood because they were new to the neigborhood I guess. (Not a good neigborhood right?) He did not want to go home and was in fear for his brother. His mother was in the hospital having a baby. I look at things like this ( which I have seen many) and say... if not by grace so be I. This young man said to me, it is a reason that I came to you. Because, he was on the other side of the service station and was prompted to come to my side of the station. He said to me after about 45 minutes of our conversating...I beleive that I will see you again... and I beleive that I will be able at that time to say that "Things are better for me now." The life we save may be our own.