How — Not Whether — to Help a Panhandler This is the question addressed by Amy L. Freeman in a post on Huffington Posts Impact section.
I used to hate walking past panhandlers. When I saw someone on the street asking for money, I felt awkward, overly-privileged, sympathetic, suspicious and altruistic; sometimes sequentially, sometimes kind of all at once. The way I behaved depended on which emotion dominated as I approached the person, but nothing felt really right.
She describes her encounter with “Tony” and continues
“Here’s where I fess up: I gave Tony “stuff,” rather than money, because I was afraid he would use the cash to buy booze. Ugh. I know.
Overall, Tony did seem to appreciate my efforts. So I continued on, providing him with snacks and sundries, either what I thought he’d want, or what he requested.
Frankly, I felt pretty good about myself.
Then one day I saw him walk into a liquor store. I felt angry and oddly betrayed, and I can assure you that that marked the end of my gifts to him.”
She then reflects on some powerful questions abut trying to decide who are legitimate panhandlers but comes full circle.
When being right might be wrong
“One morning three months ago, I was in our drop-in day shelter, talking to a man who was living in a nearby Metro stop. He had a hood pulled over his head, and a McDonald’s cup in his hand. I could tell by the smell that it did not contain a McShake. He saw me glance at it, knew that I knew. Head down, he said, “I know I shouldn’t be doing this. I know I am killing myself. But when I wake up in that Metro stop, I just have to kill all those awful thoughts in my head….” He trailed off and finally looked at me, tears in his eyes.
Son of a gun. It was Tony. The guy I wrote off, for drinking.
So I had been right, and I had been wrong. He was, in fact, “legit.” But he needed a home a lot more than he needed that bagel.
Before making comments on whether Amy Freeman is right when she says “being right might be wrong.” I recommend reading the full post (it is not that long) for some key pieces in this reflection.
(Graphic from the website of a retired grandma in Florida) who also reflects on panhandling