I think I finally reached my breaking point on panhandlers when I was filling my car up with gas last Monday, and the guy at the gas tank next to mine asked me if I’d fill up his car for him. I was so freaked out I couldn’t answer, and he proceeded to approach others at the gas station, with gas can in hand, grumbling loudly all the time about how stingy people were being.
It seems that I’m getting panhandled everywhere. At every freeway offramp, some bum with a sign has a cardboard sign and an outstreched hand. One day, Peter actually noticed that the beggars were actually working in shifts, and had a special spot where they stashed their bicycles and (small) backpacks. Someone’s always lurking near my bank’s ATM machine, and even at stop signs leaving the shopping center. I’m not even shopping at Trader Joe’s as much as I used to, because going to there means having to steer around someone in a white suit shaking a coffee can in my face, asking for money for a suspicious unregistered charity, which I once heard only gives 5% of its collections to anything other than itself. Despite the fact that Trader Joe’s has put up a big sign asking its customers not to give money to the solicitors on their sidewalk, the people in the white suits blocking my way out must be doing well, because they’re not only there from opening to closing, they’ve started proliferating to other Trader Joe’s in the area.
What bugs me most of all is that the expansion of beggars is like the spam problem, probably even worse. If the beggars weren’t getting considerable moolah for their efforts from kind-hearted, but misguided people, they simply wouldn’t be there. If the generously-inclined wrote a check to an accredited charity, a lot more of their money would be used for good. Sure, even legitimate charities have an overhead, but some of your money will actually provide a meal for someone down on their luck, or rebuild a church. When you’re just handing money to strangers, the money may well be going into a heroin hit or towards a new Mercedes.
For all I know the contractor parked at the gas station really needed gasoline to get home, like he said. But it’s also possible he had money for gas, but figured if he could get someone else to buy the gasoline for him, he could spend the rest of the money on a few cases of beer.
I just have one request. If you feel your heart-strings twinge when you hear a stranger asking you for money, investigate their charity or sob story first. And if you can’t make that effort, set the money aside and give it to a charity you trust. Handing out cash to all askers just means there’ll be even more people with their hands out. And I already think we have too many of them already.