Friday, August 31, 2007

Giving to panhandlers: Helping them or harming them?

(Hat tip: Czabe.)

I've had mixed feelings about those who beg. It's become difficult to figure out who is and isn't sincere in their need. Is my money helping or enabling them?

I certainly believe in helping the poor as Christ commanded, and I've taken more than one homeless person to get a meal. Of course, more than one of them has refused a meal, just wanting the money instead!

Some folks in Seattle have actually studied what panhandlers do with the money they're given. I'm not surprised by some of what they found out:

Peggy Dreisinger, director of field operations for the campaign, said she and the panhandler researchers frequently see beggars duck into alleys to buy drugs immediately after getting a couple of bucks. They also know of beggars who aren't homeless.

Some advocates for the poor say give, and they criticize any campaign or ordinance that restricts panhandling or discourages giving. But many local charities disagree, saying that handing over spare change doesn't help anyone.

"I think (giving money) is the worst thing people can do," said Bill VanderMeer, director of the Union Gospel Mission's Men's Shelter. "It enables panhandlers. That's how they make their living and manage their addiction."

Panhandling "affects the economy of our city, the desirability of people to come here, for people to return," Carr said. "We have people who need help, and we're not helping them with loose change, which leads to crack or a can of beer."

The Give Smart campaign urges Seattleites to stop dropping dollars into coffee cans. Instead, it says, direct that money to a local homeless agency.

"There's this woman panhandler we've seen who has a nice Suburban with two big kennels in the back," said Dalana Slaughter, safety supervisor to the ambassadors who patrol Seattle for the Give Smart campaign. "To me, that's not homeless."

Slaughter also knows another beggar who fakes injury. "I've seen her sit in the wheelchair, I've seen her get out of the wheelchair," Slaughter said. "Her husband sits down and then he panhandles."

Dreisinger said she knows of a beggar who makes $300 a day. She also heard one panhandler boast that begging got him $26,000 a year -- tax-free.

FTR, we have given and will give to charities that work with the homeless and poor. But as you can tell from the article, not everyone thinks withholding money from the homeless is a good idea, and while I don't agree with them, I can see why they feel that way. Maybe ours is not to judge. But where does that balance with the strong possibility of doing harm by enabling?

I also like the idea of finding other things to give the homeless, such as:
"Put a little baggie together for a panhandler," [Vander Meer] said. "Fill it with food, hygiene products, toothpaste, toothbrush. But don't put money in it."
Your comments welcome.