I Wrote Me A Manual.

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I’ve always viewed most panhandlers as victims of circumstances that messed up and had not been given a chance. Society’s invisible people. For the most part, I still believe that to be the case. However, I did witness an exchange between a panhandler and train patron that caught me off guard…

I was on the MARTA a few months back and witnessed a female panhandler making the rounds. She was a regular, someone I’d seen many times before. The big difference that day was this young lady who took more of an interest to the homeless lady than anybody else on the train. After striking out with virtually every other patron, she approached the lady and gave her pitch. The lady responded by digging in her purse and whipping out her middle finger a job application. She told the homeless lady that her dad operated a shelter and was looking for food servers, specifically homeless ones. In return she would be given a place to stay and food! That’s a twofer right there. I was sitting right across from the exchange so when I heard that, I got hype. My opportunity had finally arrived. I was prepared to initiate the slow-clap as soon the two tearfully hugged it out. Everybody would join me and a series of awkward high-fives would follow.

Or not.

The homeless lady gave her the craziest gas face I’ve ever seen in my life. You would have thought she had indeed dug her in purse whipped out a middle finger or something. Like she was downright insulted. She ignored the lady and continued soliciting people in the train car, perhaps thinking her chances shot up after people witnessed what just happened. After striking out some more, she promptly got out of the car we were in and ran onto the next one. Gone. I was in complete shock. The lady was, too, and she explained to anybody that was listening that this would have been great for her. The lady would have had guaranteed free food, and more importantly, a place to stay. I say more importantly because she could have used the place as an address, a hurdle most homeless people have a tough time getting past when looking for employment. That’s when I decided to end the practice of giving to panhandlers.

Now, I don’t mean to come across as insensitive to the struggles of people. Homelessness is a real problem that effects those who obviously never asked for it. You always hear that more and more people are living check-to-check, a scary reality no doubt. And more often than not, I do see people on the train that seriously look like they’ve been ignored and abandoned by everyone. I always wonder why they’re not somewhere getting proper care instead. But in fact, that’s a major reason why giving to them is urged against. In many ways you’re feeding their possible addiction. Is that why the lady refused the help?

At the end of the day, I think the best move is to give to agencies that provide support for homeless people. Giving to panhandlers keeps them homeless.


Written by PJ

August 9, 2009 at 12:49 pm

3 Responses

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  1. You present an interesting question. It would be great if homeless people accepted such an offer and benefited from it. But then I think, how many of us would respond positively, if a total stranger came up to us and without knowing us said, “I know what is best for you. Go to this location, you can get a greater job than the one you have; and I just know you will be better than you are now.

    The part we forget is right or wrong, there may be reasons the homeless person has chosen not to go to the shelters. I’m guessing if I was homeless, the one thing I would know I had was the freedom to decide where I wanted to be.


    August 9, 2009 at 5:53 pm

    • Thanks for the reply.

      That’s a great point. I didn’t consider how such an offer from a total stranger looked from the homeless person’s perspective. You also raise a good point about reasons people choose not to go to shelters.

      Still, I think risk-taking is a very real aspects of being homeless. It’s inherently a risky lifestyle. Living on the street is risky. Panhandling, which is illegal in Atlanta, is risky, too. I think the least she could have done was take the application. From there, she could have decided whether or not it was worth it. It’s minimal risk. But if freedom and personal choice are very important to them, or if they’ve had bad experiences in the past seeking help, then maybe such an offer from a stranger isn’t all that appealing.


      August 9, 2009 at 6:56 pm

  2. If your experience in Atlanta is like ours in Chicago, many of the homeless are mentally ill. As such, I would suggest their ability to simply take the application and be cordial is impaired. Additionally, many homeless also struggle with alcoholism and drug addiction which further impedes their judgement. On the other hand, if the lady who offered her these services continues to do so with the homeless, I imagine 30-40% would welcome the interaction. And would very likely follow up.


    August 9, 2009 at 7:19 pm

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