Part II of II – It’s Your Choice, But Be Kind!
In part I of this article, I acknowledged that, as a rule, I don’t give money to strangers because I don’t know if the money will help or hurt them. Will the money be used for food and shelter? Or something destructive, such as alcohol and drugs? At the end of the first part of this article, I shared that, after witnessing a very humble and grateful homeless person, I wished that one time I had reached into my pocket to help him. It wasn’t stated in part I, but my conclusion is that you should help in some way. That basic belief is the very essence of Volunteer Network OC, which exists to help you help others.
People do not give to panhandlers for many reasons. Panhandlers may make them feel uncomfortable or fear for their safety. Some people reason that panhandlers are just lazy and irresponsible. Or, they think all panhandlers are drug addicts or alcoholics.
Some people even disapprove of others who give to panhandlers. They say a street handout is just an easy way to satisfy a person’s conscience without actually helping. They may also believe that supporting panhandlers encourages other homeless people to live in their community, which may result in higher crime rates and risk of exposure to diseases and other health issues.
A local church may tell you to give and not be concerned with how the money is used. Cities and local charities who serve the homeless will tell you not to give; the money is better used to support charities that not only provide food, clothing, shelter and other basic necessities, but also provide guidance and counseling to help the homeless person get off the streets.
Whether you give or not, the choice is yours. But, first consider the issue through the eyes of the person asking for help.
Panhandlers are asking for money for a reason. Regardless of the person’s past, their basic needs are not being met in the present. Some former panhandlers have shared that it was a degrading experience, but they believed it to be their last option. The process may have started with the loss of a job, then their home. From there, they may have sought government assistance where they were treated like second-class citizens. Not finding a bed at the shelter, they may have been hassled by police while sleeping on the street. Then finally they got the courage to ask others for a little change. It is not easy.
A day in the life of a panhandler is also not easy. Panhandlers are generally ignored. People ignore them for a myriad of reasons; it could be they have nothing to give, or they just gave to someone else, or they disapprove of them. Whatever the reason, panhandlers are ignored many times every day and many times every hour of every day. And they are not only ignored, they are sworn at, told to get a job or to go away, told they are lazy bums, and told they are trash. If not ignored or yelled at, they often are looked at in disgust.
So how can you help panhandlers? First, be kind. Look them in the eye and say, hello. If you can’t give, respond to their request with something like “sorry,” “not this time,” “I wish I could help,” or “I just gave to the last guy.” Please let them know they are not invisible.
If you would like to do more, consider carrying small denomination gift cards to a store or fast food restaurant, or bags with water and food or toiletries. People on the streets always need socks – wrap a gift card in a pair of socks. It makes it easier to carry and give out. These are kind gestures to let them know you care.
In addition to the above, we believe the best way to help is to learn about the issues and get involved. Information can be found by visiting our website at http://www.volunteernetworkoc.org and by following us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. You can get involved by downloading our mobile app and registering to volunteer. Our mobile app is available for both Apple and android phones. To download our app, click below:
Once registered, you can view volunteer opportunities and sign up for an event in less than a minute. It is Volunteering Made Easy!