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December 29, 2008


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I was approached OFTEN while living in Baltimore.

I feel as the usage of the deaf cards is a sympathy play as the mere fact that one is deaf does not make them less able-bodied.

So I continue to give to charities which help both the hearing-impaired and otherwise (all?).


There are guys who do this on the NYC subway. I think it is one step up from panhandling.

I've gotten snookered by people claiming to be in dire need, so I don't give to panhandlers anymore. This particular situation arose when I was filling up my tank at a gas station. A girl came to me and told me she was out of gas and had to make it about an hour south to help her family. I gave her $10 to buy gas, but all she did was to put $2 worth of gas in her tank. Then she went in and bought a pack of cigarettes and took off. Needless to say, I was a bit steamed. Once bitten twice shy.

Seven years ago I was in a coffee shop when I was approached by someone with a similar tatic. Rather than buying a book on sign language, I was given a free sticker and was expected to donate money in return (for a deaf individual). At the time, I had just finished reading a book about persuasion, and how if you give a gift to someone, that person feels compelled to give something back. With that in mind, I declined the offer and the guy looked at me as if I had just killed his mother.

I left work for the subway one evening and was approached by a man who said he lost his wallet and needed subway fare and money to pay his car parking in the suburbs. He was dressed like an office worker. I gladly gave him $10 and would hope someone would do that for me if I lost my wallet one day.

I felt great about it until I saw him the next day approaching people outside the subway station.....

I don't mean to sound cold but there are more than enough foundations, organizations and charities that will help the "less fortunate". And they know it! Unfortunately for them, those businesses(yes, they are businesses) will give to the needy, not the "wanty". If they NEED food and shelter or even a job or education, the orgs will help. If they WANT booze, smokes and drugs, they are out of luck! And so they come begging off of people that do not "use" the system, like you, in hopes of getting what they really WANT. IMHO, if that person really wants YOU to learn how to use sign language, then he/she should get cleaned up, find a sign language teaching job and then be out there handing out invitations to the class. But alas, that's not what they want:(

I guess the real test is did he react when you said "No"? Or did he just read your lips and take off?

Mind you this occurred a very long time ago. When my mother was a young girl (in the 50s) she answered the door to find a man holding a sign saying "Deaf mute, please help!" When her grandmother asked who was at the door, my mother replied,
"It's a deaf mutt?" The man started laughing hysterically and ran away.

First, I believe in helping poor, down-and-out, addicts, etc. I also believe we, as a country (The United States) have the wealth to provide food and shelter to those without.

However, charity is not the same as being an "enabler." The Salvation Army is my favorite national charity because they work at the causes of homelessness and panhandling (there are many other worthy groups that do this as well). Their staff is trained in working with the cons that often accompany panhandling.

I will buy food for a panhandler. If they approach me with the line that they have not eaten, I usually offer to buy them something to eat.

Although I certainly can't disagree with the wisdom of directing your charitable money towards known organizations (if nothing else, they are more efficient), I find the whole fixation on the "oh no, what if that poor person spends my money on something THEY DON'T REALLY NEED!" concept that tends to arise in these conversations to be more than a little unpleasant and uncharitable.

Yes, if you give money to someone on the street, they might not be needy at all. Or they might be needy and yet not spend the money in the way that you would deem wisest. It won't be the worst thing that ever happened to you, or the worst way your money was ever spent. If you are a Christian, I suspect God will look far more kindly on alms given with a cheerful heart, even they end up spent in a way that is less than desirable, than he will on those three expensive coffees a week. If you're a humanist, you know how important it is to recognize your common humanity with the wretched of the earth.

While I am uncomfortable about having to think about the "need versus want" behind every solicitation, I find that it has now become almost necessary. Why? Because of the volume of requests that I get. A couple bucks here and there really add up. Beyond the daily requests on the street, I hear from worthy causes on a daily basis at work, from my children's schools, additional projects at church, phone solicitations, mail solicitations, neighborhood collections, etc. I am easily getting over 40 "requests" every month. I cannot possibly give to all, so I have to use my best judgement as to what I feel has the most need. It may not be perfect and I am sure someone else would disagree with my selections. However, I don't see a reasonable alternative.

Jim, we all do have to prioritize--none of us have infinite cash to give out, and it's hard to argue with trying to direct your money where you think it will do the most good. I just get creeped out by the way these discussions on PF blogs tend to devolve into "I used to volunteer at the soup kitchen, until I realized that the clients ALL DROVE GOLD-PLATED CADILLACS!" rants against the "undeserving poor."

I have been approached many times in many different ways. Sometimes I give. Sometimes I do not. I don't doubt that there are plenty of people who are consummate scam artists and there are plenty who are without public or private assistance in some way or another because of "red tape" or other complications. I don't know what the answer is. Jesus said that we would always have the poor and needy among us. I simply choose to err on the side of charity. I believe that God would approve a cheerful and loving action, even if the recipient is less than honorable.

@Sarah: Perhaps you would share how you handle panhandlers and your experiences helping those who seek financial help. How much a month is reasonable to give? Should those who give make sure their donation is used in the most responsible manner? If a donation or handout is used irresponsibly, is that taking from someone else who needs charity?


Please keep in mind as to this audience. Most that visit this site steward every dollar they have. Just as they analyze every dollar they spend on consumer items (making sure they get the best value), they also try to steward their giving dollars as well. While I am sure there are always a few exceptions, I believe in my heart that most have intentions to make sure that the dollars they spend end up going to someone who really needs it versus something that did not fill a true need. Look at it this way: The concern is that a wasted dollar really could have done some good for someone else and if it was wasted, a more deserving opportunity was short-changed.

I, myself, find that I am falling further and further into this analysis as the number of giving opportunities in front of me every month seems to be continually increasing. So many of them sound like they really have needs and I actual feel such strong guilt when I turn certain ones down. As such, I play the mental game of "deserving and undserving" more often than I wish. I really think others are having the same issues I am having.

Greg, though most of my charitable donations are directed to organizations, I actually do try to give a small portion of my charitable budget to panhandlers. I do this because I don't think it's good to be in the habit of hardening my heart to the poor right in front of me. I grew up in a very poor neighborhood and I know that the poor don't always spend charity in the way that I, a person who doesn't have to scrimp and struggle to afford basic human comforts in the face of a hostile existence, might think wisest. The fact is, even if I gave my money to the most blue-chip, gold-plated charity there is, I can't guarantee that that money will end up being spent effectively. (See the charities that lost big-time because they had funds with Bernard Madoff this year. That money was stolen, not by some "undeserving poor," but by a very rich man [and possibly some of his friends/family].) That I can't fully control the results of my actions is something I have to accept, not use as a general excuse not to act.

As I've said twice now in this thread, I perfectly well understand that people have limited resources (me too!) and I don't think it's unreasonable to direct the bulk of your charitable giving to reputable organizations (me too!). JimL, I just think it's important not to think in terms of "deserving" or "undeserving." Either we're all deserving or we're all undeserving. It doesn't sound to me like you feel the need to heap scorn and opprobrium on the people you find you can't give to, and that's all I'm asking.

If anyone really can't figure out how to make that difficult decision without wrapping it in the justification that the person seeking aid was probably a bad, unworthy person--certainly a much worse person than *you* with your hard-earned money--well, if you're a Christian, I think you're going to be shocked as hell when you come to the end and find out what God thinks of your so-great human merit and of the ease with which you condemned those that he cherished. And if you're not, well, I feel sorry for you, having to live with that kind of hate and fear of others in your character.

I think you did the right thing. I have never had this happen to me but the whole situation seems shady.

I would have probably waited until he turned around and said something like "Wait, let me see the book again" and see if he turned around.

Still wouldn't give him any money though.


It's not about us parting with our "hard-earned money". It's about wisely using the money God has put under our stewardship. Instead of randomly giving to whichever panhandlers approach you, might it not be more effective to develop a relationship with that person, give them help if they need it, and possibly bring them to Christ as a result? Or is life just too busy for that sort of giving?

We keep meeting/seeing a teen in various stores near our block. He carries a small pad with a note and keeps stopping people , always asking for money. And he is always at it, various times of the day. It is something to do with his college tuition I highly doubt it though.
The need money for gas is also quite familiar, it could even be bus money.
It must be a lucrative deal if so many people are doing such things.

You sound pretty threatened, Paul. Do you do any of that? Or do you wrap yourself up in the comfort of your judgment and walk on by? Why does it scare you so much, this suggestion that maybe you're not called upon to determine which of God's children he loves enough to have you take care of?

I'm personally an agnostic so I'm certainly not out to bring anybody to Christ. I can only try to treat my fellow human-beings as my fellow human-beings rather than as people who "deserve" or "don't deserve" the basics of life. That means giving my money in various ways (and, yes, giving my time in various ways). But I come from a good Christian family and I know how good Christians act towards the poor. Wise stewardship is no excuse for hatefulness and judgment.


I think you are way off base now. It appears you are making accusations against peoople that you don't even know and think that their motivations are based on ill feelings they may have versus that of stewarship.

I think what Paul wrote more accurately reflects what I have read in the bible, both with good stewardship and developing relationships that lead people to Christ. The bible clearly speaks of feeding and clothing the poor (meeting their needs) and bringing them to Christ. I see nothing that says to just throw them a couple bucks and hope it does something.

The laborer's appetite works for him; his hunger drives him on.
Proverbs 16:26 (NIV)

"If a man will not work, he shall not eat."
2 Thessalonians 3:10b (NIV)

I have never been approached like that, but my aunt has. She happens to teach ASL, so she started "yelling" at him. She works to teach people that deaf people can do nearly anything a hearing person can. Having someone beg money on the basis of being deaf makes her furious.

Posting things from the Bible is fun... you can usually form opposing arguments using different 'chapters'


No, I'm not threatened at all. And I'm not trying to judge who deserves help and who doesn't. I'd happily give anyone food and clothing, but I think just throwing money at someone's problems isn't going to fix anything. The saying "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." comes to mind.

If we focused more on developing relationships with the needy, giving them the real help they need (which may include money), and encouraging them, we could bring them completely out of poverty and drastically improve their life. Giving a homeless person a few dollars only helps for a little while, whether they use that money on food or clothing or cigarettes or alcohol. Most of the needy lack things that money can never fix - like caring friends and family. But since it's easier to give them the money than to spend countless hours building relationships, we get caught up in silly arguments like these.

Paul, and it seems it's easier still to not give either money or love, and just walk on by thinking that those people are less than you.

To be blunt, people need to eat. "Throwing money" at that problem? Yes. I throw money at that particular problem of mine three times a day, and I bet you do, too. I find it works really well. Short-term immediate needs require short-term fixes. It's nice to work on seeking longer-term solutions, but telling a person "Don't worry, buddy, you're going to know how to fish in three months!" doesn't feed him that day.

For those who don't appreciate the pan-handling (at least at WalMart) don't forget to report the panhandler to the store employees.

I don't give to them and I don't appreciate them approaching me in the store. And I know that if I owned the store, I wouldn't want my customers being approached in this manner.


You seem so quick to jump to a conclusion that those that give differently than you must look down on others less fortunate. You continue to ignore the way others think when it comes to stewardship and resource allocations. Many of us are focused on solutions. Giving someone a buck or two really does not give them help. That person is in the very same exact position within hours of getting your handout. Why not focus on really helping them by seeking to address their problem. Secondly, it is not a matter of short-term versus long-term. Perhaps you should spend time working with organizations that are focused on making an impact on the homeless and you will have a better understanding of what it takes to really make a change in someones life.

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