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Handling panhandling

Handling panhandling

Is it good to give to people on the street who ask for a handout? The Oregonian asks in their series on homelessness in Portland OR:

Panhandling, also known as “flying signs” among practitioners and “begging” among the politically incorrect, is considered legal free speech in most parts of the country. Courts have repeatedly defended panhandling as a First Amendment right, as long as it doesn’t turn overly aggressive or interfere with traffic.

Giving a little spare change on the morning commute or coffee break can feel good for those of us who don’t volunteer or regularly donate to a soup kitchen or shelter. But the frequent sight of panhandlers also can fuel a sense that homelessness is everywhere, or that the community’s generous nature encourages transients to flock here. On sunny afternoons, it’s common for all four corners of Pioneer Courthouse Square to be occupied by people seeking spare change.

As part of our ongoing series examining homelessness in Portland, The Oregonian/OregonLive asked advocates for the poorest of the poor whether they give to panhandlers and what they’d advise the rest of us. The answers, sampled below, include a not-quite unanimous no and a few words of warning.

Read it all here.

Image: By Ivaan Kotulsky via Toronto History from Toronto, Canada (Man panhandling) CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons


posted by Ann Fontaine


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Luke Wetzel

The “Easy Essays” of Peter Maurin, co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement with Dorothy Day are likewise helpful:

Why Not Be A Beggar?

1. People who are in need
and are not afraid to beg
give to people not in need
the occasion to do good
for goodness’ sake.

2. Modern society
calls the beggar
bum and panhandler
and gives him the bum’s rush.

3. The Greeks used to say
that people in need
are the ambassadors of the gods.

4. We read in the Gospel:
“As long as you did it
to one of the least
of My brothers
you did it to Me.”

5. While modern society
calls the beggars
bums and panhandlers,
they are in fact
the Ambassadors of God.

6. To be God’s Ambassador
is something
to be proud of.

The Wisdom Of Giving

1. To give to the poor
is to enable the poor to buy.

2. To enable the poor to buy
is to improve the market.

3. To improve the market
is to help business.

4. To help business
is to reduce unemployment.

5. To reduce unnemployment
is to reduce crime.

6. To reduce crime
is to reduce taxation.

7. So why not give to the poor
for business’ sake,
for humanity’s sake,
for God’s sake?

Frankie Andreu

Luke, so beautiful. Thank you for having he courage to share this here.
We are surrounded by selfishness and choruses of supposed leaders who tell us to blame the poor for being poor. The “why nots” have blinded us in so many ways. Thank you for providing us with some of the “why’s.”

David O'Rourke

For me it is not about giving or not giving, but how to give. Personally I am not as concerned about whether the person will use the money for drugs or alcohol, or for food and shelter, as I am about whether or not I am enabling someone to remain homeless. Does the person have an immediate need for food or shelter that cannot be met by local social service and not for profit agencies? Or does giving money to someone who is panhandling enable them to stay on the streets and not seek help from agencies that can not only address the immediate needs of food and shelter, but can also start to work with the person to move them out of homelessness? To me this is a question of stewardship and this takes a commitment to understand the dynamics of homelessness in one’s community and knowing what resources exist, and then being able to point a person who is panhandling to those resources if that is the best response.

Emily Windsor

Whoever has the courage to look me in the eye and ask for something–anything–gets my attention. If it’s money, or half a sandwich, or a hearing ear, or a referral, a telephone number, or directions. That’s the way Jesus brought me up.

George A. Bennett

I agree. It hurts my heart when I see Christians have so much disdain for those of us that give cash to street people. Why are they so uncomfortable with it?

Personally, I give cash a couple times a month. Usually $20. I always speak Jesus’ name, and offer prayer. I don’t care what they spend it on. It’s their money. If they buy alcohol, or drugs, I wish them well. I know Jesus is faithful to Save, and Jesus has spoken to many in the depths of despair, while high on drugs, or in a drunken stupor. That’s when he spoke to me.

Philip Snyder

We are uncomfortable with it because giving cash to a panhandler who is addicted to drugs or alcohol is like giving a diabetic a case of regular Coke. It will not do them much good and will probably end up helping them to harm themselves. Better to give in kind donations and/or help them get to a good shelter. The Austin Street Centre in Dallas not only has a shelter, but has drug and alcohol counselling and a path from street life to independent living.

Helen Kromm

I just saw this video George. It just occurred in Broward County.

It is profoundly disturbing. Troubling. But more than anything, saddening beyond words. I don’t post it to add something to trouble your heart, but to tell you that when I see such as this, words such as yours lift my heart.

Helen Kromm

“Whoever has the courage to look me in the eye and ask for something–anything–gets my attention. If it’s money, or half a sandwich, or a hearing ear, or a referral, a telephone number, or directions. That’s the way Jesus brought me up.”

A beautiful and moving expression Emily. Thank-you for sharing.

Frankie Andreu

Thank you Helen and Emily. We are all God’s children; we all need this education from Jesus. I also appreciate how your comments are also uplifting of others.
David’s discussion of stewardship is spot on as well. This is something we need to achieve personally and as a society.
Would that there were more who did not see the poor and the homeless simply as stumbling blocks, perhaps deserving of “spare change,” lying in their path on their way from their well-paid jobs to their heated homes.

Regarding my “lack of experience,” I would be pleased to exchange a list of countries and cultures in which I have worked and established programs to help the poor and the sick.

Frankie Andreu

Luke and Emily, I am moved by your ministering here. The stereotyping of those who are poor and homeless as “addicts” and con artists is disturbing, as is the idea that being poor in America is somehow essentially different than being poor in “third countries” (whatever that may be). I never give “spare change.” I give substantially with money and with goods. I never ask a person to show me their arms in order to verify there are no needle marks, to take a lie detector test, or swear an oath of allegiance to my beliefs. I simply give and give from the heart. And I do it because it is right to do and because Jesus has set that example for me.
It is fear that prevents people from giving, not love. And fear is usually associated with a great many unfounded excuses.

Bro David

This post is meant to fling crap on those who have a different opinion with regard to the subject and to somehow promote your own personal self-righteousness.

No one who commented here or in the original article posited any stereotypes. You also show you lack experience if you somehow think that poverty is equal in all cultures, the world over.

Why is it that you bring this self-righteous attitude to every thread in which you comment?

Jennifer Caldwell

“The stereotyping of those who are poor and homeless as “addicts” and con artists is disturbing…”

Especially since this describes many professional people I’ve known, clergy included (every denomination).


Jesus said,”Give to those who beg from you.”
He did not say there were any exceptions.

Luke Wetzel

These are two of the best reflections that I’ve ever read related to this subject:
“The fear of losing control is at once a fear of “enabling” or perpetuating sin (by giving money to an alcoholic in search of a drink), of being made a fool in a con, or of the slippery slope that one seems to occupy when one starts giving freely to those who ask (because so few exercise proper restraint in asking!). It is clear that these are fears that I face. And yet the fear of enabling rests on a conviction that I am a more responsible steward than the alcoholic, perhaps that spending that money on my own dining-out habits, on coffee for a meeting with a colleague, is somehow more faithful than this man’s indulgence in a destructive habit born of who knows what hardship. The fear of being made a fool is a fear of losing the esteem of others, and ultimately a fear of being made lowly, even if it be for the sake of Christ. The fear of the slippery slope is ultimately a fear of becoming poor. And the fear of becoming poor is the fear that God will not provide what I need. The belief that through charity one might be left with too little is fundamentally a failure of faith.”
“Take a good look at the world around you, and then tell yourself that you do not possess enough. If you can do that without feeling even the slightest twinge of guilt or silliness, then you are most assuredly insane. But if you can do this, if you can contemplate the birches and the stars and the seas in their true light, and recognize your own insignificant smallness in the midst of our Majesty’s Creation, then you must also acknowledge that GOD has made the earth so extraordinarily, superfluously bountiful that it cannot possibly be possessed by anyone. And if you can admit that much, then you can also admit that giving away the change in your pocket to the stranger who asks it of you, without hesitation, is not a violation of morals, but a common sense imitation of GOD towards His Creation; He gives freely, and lavishly, without counting the cost, in spite of the fact that not one of us “deserves” it. So we, too, must give freely and lavishly to those who ask of us, even if they are the addict on the street. In doing so we prove our faith in Providence by making the world more beautiful as it should be. That, after all, is what the coming of the Kingdom of Christ is really all about–creating a new, beautiful society within the shell of the old.”

The latter article has wonderful citations from the Holy Scriptures and Church Fathers and is worth a look for that reason alone.

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