Panhandlers, beggars, homeless in a big city

I recently moved to a big city area for a while and have been in the city on the weekends touring various sites. The cities are DC and Baltimore.

I usually take the metro when I go into downtown DC and I frequently witness the lesser of our society in all kinds of ways.

I can recall my first time using the metro to go to DC, a homeless man in a powered wheelchair came up to me and my friend and started talking about how someone robbed him of his $14 while he was sleeping. I believe he was a veteran and he wondered if my friend and I were military because of our short haircuts (we are not), but it was a good conversation. A bunch of thoughts were racing through my head while he was talking, since I was trying to figure out what to do. I wanted to help. I offered him food and asked if he was hungry, but he said he had some food and didn’t need any and that he didn’t want any money nor did he want to ask us for any. He then went on to say he was just trying to find the good in people and that he couldn’t understand why someone would rob him of all people.

He then said “God Bless” to which I replied the same to him and he was on his way. Please keep this man in your prayers.

Ever since then I’ve been on high alert and almost actively sought out looking for the homeless in the sense that I would not be caught off guard or passive if I encountered someone while in the city.

I can recall another encounter where a woman was going from train car to train car asking for money while holding a sign with a picture of what appeared to be her children and writing that she needed money. She seemed rushed and almost systematic in her way of going through the whole train, getting off at each stop after offering a general “God Bless” to everyone in the train car and then running up to the next car while the train was stopped at the platform. For whatever reason, I couldn’t feel up to giving her money. Maybe it was because I didn’t sense a genuine need? Her way of collecting money? :confused: Not being able to stop and talk and listen to her? I don’t know, but remember this woman too please in your prayers. Was I wrong to think this way of her?

Approximately a month later, I saw this same woman doing her thing while on the metro. This time I was prepared and when she came to me I smiled and looked at her eyes and said I would be praying for her, to which she hardly acknowledged and continued to make her rounds.

Another time this man was standing near the base of the escalators down to the platform and seemed to be rambling about how he needed some money for the metro or something. I couldn’t make him out clearly, but now that I think about it, if that was the case, I’m not really sure because he was already in the paid side of the metro and had a single use card in his hand. I didn’t have any singles so I gave him a $5. He seemed happy and said he would spread it around. Maybe he did. Please pray for this man.

In between these encounters I also recall running into a man in downtown Baltimore near the Basilica who asked for some money. I had singles and gave him $1. He asked me if I had $10 so he could buy a bicycle. I only gave him $1 though. Please pray for him.

Now, in other instances, I pass by individuals who sit on the curb or sidewalk areas in the downtown parts of DC and National Mall areas who shake a cup full of change screaming “Spare change…” etc. I can’t move myself to offer any $1’s to these individuals. :frowning: I don’t carry change, either. It seems like they are everywhere, too! Please pray for them all! But, I have to ask: Should I just stop and talk to them, find out what they really need? Possibly point them somewhere for help?

And lastly, just today, I was walking through DC on my way to a scheduled event and I saw a man digging through one of the city street corner trash cans. This seemed to signify that he was really genuinely in need. He was doing something to try to survive. I wish I had stopped to ask him if he needed some food. Please pray for this man, too!

In summary, if anyone is familiar with these kinds of situations and has experience or feedback to offer for how I could respond or help when I encounter the lesser of our society, please share your thoughts. I would greatly appreciate it. :thumbsup:

I can tell you’ve never actually been in any of those situations yourself. Have you ever thought about what you would do if you were? Have you ever found out how 99% of those people get into … and stay in … those situations?

You’re young and naive. Next time someone gives you a song and dance about being down and out, tell him you can offer him a $60,000 small business loan so that he can make money for himself while offering something of value to society instead of guilting the young and naive out of their parents’ cash.

You’ll probably get a blank stare like from the lady you offered to pray for. You know why? No it’s not because the loan will fail to put food in his stomach in the here and now, it’s because some people are so invested in playing the helplessness card in life that even if they win the lottery they will be back at square one in no time.

…a “homeless” man in a powered wheelchair? You are smart enough to get into a college yet you couldn’t see through that one?

Find the addresses and hours of your local food pantries and soup kitchens and homeless shelters. Print them on little cards and keep in your wallet. Give those to the people who ask, that way people who are trained how to help them can help them.

You have a very good heart. It is troubling to see people in difficult conditions, and want to help them. But I have lived long enough to know that many of the people you are seeing are, in some way, scamming the people they approach for money. They may have their story which sounds believable but the reality is that they are going to use your contribution for drinking or doing drugs. Giving them money is not helping them.

If you were driving, I’d say to buy a few small cans of beans and weiners or some other protein that can be eaten right out of the can, some plastic forks, and some bottles of water. Then print up some of the cards that Castello brought up, and tape them to the can. Give those out to anyone who seems to need help. But if you are walking and riding the subway, it’s hard to carry the food. So the cards would seem to be the best solution. And anything else you give them, including metro tickets, will likely just be sold for money to buy alcohol with.

Praying for them is a good thing to do.

Well, I think that the whole “scam” thing is highly overrated.

Do you guys really think that someone comes in from the 'burbs, parks their car at Colonial Parking on K street, puts on their stinky clothing and 4 coats and spends a ‘shift’ asking for money? I hope you don’t think that.

These people that you encounter might not be like you, might not think like you, and might be trying to get your money, but it’s not a scam. It’s a sad chapter in their lives. Many are mentally ill. Many do not want the help that social services gives. Many are ‘happy’ living on the streets. There are people in the District that don’t even go to shelters when it’s snowing and 20 degrees!

These people do make me very uncomfortable. I don’t know what to do. But, in today’s Gospel, Jesus didn’t make the distinction between the “deserving” homeless and the “preferential” homeless.

I used to live in DC. If you want to help those who are actually in need, carry the cards. If you want to help more, donate to shelters and soup kitchens. You can also give stuff to them like clothing, because some of the homeless who come in there could use some.

Christ did indeed tell us to help the needy, but He didn’t say not to use prudence so that our resources wouldn’t be wasted.

And remember that we are called to do differnet things. Some of us are called to help the homeless, others to help the elderly, etc. And we are called to help in different ways at different times. A mother of young children is called to do different things than a single man.

Undercover television reports in many citiees have found that, yes, there are many who run such scams.

Some are and some aren’t, and you may not be able to tell the difference.

Whether we give directly to these people or we give to agencies trained to help them, we must always do so from the heart.

I personally believe that giving to agencies that can help those truly in need and can better discern the scam from the need is the best way for me to give. If I do give to the homeless or those begging on corners, I typically do not give cash. I give food or gift certificates/cards or referrals to agencies.

Go back to the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Did our example, the Samaritan, hand the man a bag of money? No, he took the man to an inn, a shelter, and he donated money for the man to be cared for by people who were trained to do just that.

Castello, if you were in that situation, don’t you think you’d already know about the pantries and kitchens? And if you didn’t, don’t you think you’d find out first from your fellow panhandlers … and you would have found out on the very first day you became a panhandler?

Juliane, why should Chris reorganize his lifestyle to accommodate people who prefer to live off of the naive, guilt-driven generosity of others? If these people wanted food, don’t you think they would walk up to the back door of the nearest McDonalds?

What I don’t understand is why everyone else assumes it’s their responsibility to fulfil any beggar’s request, as if that’s the whole story and the beggar has no choice and the giver is the beggar’s only hope. We’re not talking about someone in front of you who accidentally got his coat caught in an escalator step and you are in a position to pull it free before the two of you plus the dozen people behind you all get hurt. Ending up a beggar is less of an accident or the product of bad luck than most people think.

Nobody seems to be thinking about the beggar’s responsibility. Everyone seems to be taking the situation at face value in spite of the tons of information plus common sense that we all have about what’s really going on here. This isn’t the pool of Siloam in 32 AD, folks. This is the National Mall in 2011.

Incidentally, Juliane, have you ever asked *beggars *what they think of people who do the business card / single-serve-stew thing?

Paul, it’s not fear of the dirty “other”. Their refusal of precisely the kind of help that does justice to their human dignity really must be taken into account. Jesus did, however, make a distinction, and Paul ratified it: Jesus said “be wise as serpents” while Paul said “whoever would not work, let him not eat”. Whether or not they are mentally ill also needs to be taken into account, and Jesus had something to say about that too … something about when a demon is expelled from someone, it brings back seven more to repossess its victim. In other words, if you squander the help you get when you are truly helpless, you will eventually find yourself worse off than you were before.

It’s natural that you feel uncomfortable and don’t know what to do. It’s because you’re face to face with people who mysteriously and inexplicably make themselves destitute. Yes it is totally illogical and if you can’t comprehend why someone would do that to themselves then you “get it” - that’s the mystery of sin.

Amen and amen.

I had an acquaintance who did a variation of the card thing: he handed out job applications.

Guess what never happened.

Also, once upon a time there was a young Catholic man who wanted to grow in holiness through corporal works of mercy. He read the life of St Martin of Tours and imitated St Martin’s legendary act of charity wherein he tore his coat in half to share it with a beggar. So he ripped the back seam of his own coat down the middle and gave one half to a shivering homeless man in the street. Whereupon the homeless man pulled it on over his arm and shoulder and halfway across his chest, looked at it, looked at the young man, and said, “How does this help me?” LOL

Yep, he worked through existing social structures.

Oh by the way, in the parable, whose fault was it that the guy got mugged in the first place?

This is the crux of my problem understanding this.

Somehow, giving to the social services agencies seems too sterile. I do not work with the homeless, but I do give to various charities. In this day and age, would Christ say that I was fulfilling his admonition to feed the hungry and give shelter to the homeless?

You know what? You’re going after me, when I was making a suggestion that might work for the OP and might help someone. It’s unnecessary to do that. I don’t give because the person might be a scammer, I give because that person is Jesus.

I would have to say yes.

There are two things going on here. One is the principle of subsidiarity, and the other is the balance between individual and collective action.

The principle of subsidiarity basically says that charity begins at home and that social problems should be dealt with by the lowest structure.

Someone I once knew had a needy, lazy, manipulative niece who made a lifestyle out of getting herself into trouble and mooching off of family members. She (the aunt) wised up and at one point categorically cut the niece off and steadfastly refused to help her out any more. After trying again a few more times, the niece eventually moved on to mooch off of other family members and the government and never bothered the aunt again - but not before she trashed her aunt’s reputation to the rest of the family for being cruel, mean, and selfish etc etc. Sadly, the rest of the family bought it, because they believed blood is thicker than water and their wallets were thicker than their skulls LOL. At last count she has three children from four different men :shrug:, all living the lifestyle.

Now that’s an extreme example, but my point is this: the government is in no position to make judgment calls about the worthiness of a particular charity case, and we all know people lie. But then again, the government is in no position to make judgment calls about what kind of help a given needy person would benefit from. I understand when you think it’s “sterile”, but Paul, helping people is not all about your personal warm fuzzies, and that’s where a lot of people go wrong. Think about it: what kind of help would be helpful?

I knew a super-rich person who donated a resurfacing project for a tennis court to a small cash-strapped school. Oh, they appreciated the resurfacing but what they needed was a textbook reimbursement grant program. But this donor had a tennis court or two in the back yard of her mansion, so that’s what the school got. Let them eat cake, right?

Anyway, balance between individual and collective action is hard to define but in general if the “help” is not “working” then you know the balance is off. In the case of lifestyle-panhandlers, individual action obviously doesn’t work (because it’s not *supposed *to work). Again, what help would be helpful?

The above post makes me feel kind of uncomfortable b/c I remember helping to paint a poor woman’s house as part of a charitable effort (for a well-known, reputable charity). It wasn’t until we were done that I found out that although she appreciated the effort, it wasn’t the color paint she wanted. It really probably would not have cost much more to talk to her ahead of time and make sure she got the color she wanted. Even if we used a color b/c there were extra supplies, purchasing more probably would not have cost much, and for all I know there was plenty of paint available.

But after thinking about that I decided I don’t like the type of giving where it’s about what the giver wants, and not about what the recipient wants. This lady really was living in not-very-good conditions and there was no scam involved.

In contrast, with a beggar/panhandler I try not to give money b/c I can never be sure it’s not going for alcohol or other drugs. I try to support other efforts instead. I know the feeling about it being sterile, but empowering addiction is not a good idea, and I honestly can’t tell who is addicted and who is sober and down on his/her luck and begging out of not thinking about other options.

Sure I’m going after you! That’s what discussion forums are for! I’m sifting your suggestion so we can all think about if it’s a good one or not, because it’s a very popular response. Don’t get defensive! This is the internet, you can’t take things personally.

Is loading up with Dinty Moores about helping others, or about quenching personal feelings of guilt? Are you giving because you know that this kind of giving is the right thing to do under the circumstances … or because you have to rub an anesthetic on your own broken heart? Because in my mind, the best cure for guilt is doing the right thing, don’t you agree?

Believe it or not, there’s a connection here with all sorts of other moral issues we face, like even the euthanasia and abortion issues! Did you know that some people are pro-euthanasia because they want to put *themselves *out of their *own *misery at watching *other *people suffer? Isn’t that sick? To take someone’s life because *they *make you uncomfortable? And many people are pro-abortion because they feel bad that a child should be born into poverty. Again it’s all about their own guilt, not about what’s best for the other person.

It’s the same way with a lot of people who give to beggars: it’s not about what’s good for the beggar, it’s about what makes themselves feel better about themselves, the beggar is just a tool for self-consolation. If I were a beggar, I would feel bad about taking their money because it would only make them more self-centered and out of touch. I would be like the homeless guy with the half-coat I mentioned above, I would offer the can of cocktail weenies, Poland Spring, business card and spork, back to them and say “Give me a mop, a bucket, and the address of one of your bars … pay me in cash at the end of the night and then I can buy my *own *sodium-laden convenience foods!” LOL But that’s just me, I’d rather preserve my human dignity by acting like a dignified human instead of shuffling about like a walking charity-sponge.

I’d also have to say no, that person is not Jesus. Because number one, Jesus did not mooch off of his family or the system, and number two, if you pretend the other person is somebody else you’re not relating to the real person who is actually there.

I think this song is fitting for this thread …

“Saving Us”
by Serj Tankian

youtu.be/9Wk38bW8whc

My interpretation of this song describes how difficult the world can be for the downtrodden and ‘out of the wheel’ type people, e.g. homeless, jobless and such.

In the video the homeless man can be seen as someone who needs help while the world and all their misguided/twisted ideals ignore him and let the man struggle on through life - yet it is the people who are not tied to the majority of the world who are willing - no they want to help and do (the children in the vid).

But we are not gone yet, this is represented by the children at the end of the video, That we are good natured, we just live in a world where its easier to think of solutions to big problems, than fix the small ones. And the little kids don’t see all those problems, they see what is before them, and know what can help.

For many it is difficult to break free and see the world as it is. Many are caught up in all the trappings that people forget the whole point of being human and that’s love.

To me the lyrics are telling how hard it is for someone without these so called ‘ideals’ and attempting to fit into the world as it is today - are mostly rejected and attacked, the saving us bit is how only an small portion of people who want to help and even then most do it for guilt/ego (thus continuing the ‘tearing us’ thing).

It is about how people lie to avoid false judgement from others because they fear it, and ‘being honest is a sign of weakness’ mentality. Not to mention in doing so it would probably scrap most of the ‘ideals’.

At another level it is about how humanity looks over people they could help in favour of ideological problems. Instead of giving a homeless person a dollar and making his day better we would rather let him walk by unnoticed because of our desire to stop animal testing.

It is about how much conflict and aggression there is in today’s society, with almost everyone trying to force their ideals on everyone else ‘for the better’.

I go down to St Mary Mother of God in Chinatown frequently for the Latin Mass. There are often homeless folks panhandling outside of the church (often sitting on the wall by the GAO building right next to the church). One thing I’ll do, when I have time, is offer to buy the guys that are sitting there a cup of coffee or breakfast over at the Burger King across the street. Often they won’t take me up on it, but occasionally they will. If I have enough time, I’ll buy myself a cup as well and talk with them while we’re drinking our coffee. I think they appreciated the fellowship. I remember one time, a few years ago, one of them told me how he understood Father Conway (the pastor there before Msgr Harris) was a rich man and how he, personally, banked all of the collection. It took me almost 20 minutes of convincing to prove him wrong on that point. I’m not sure that he was actually convinced or if he just gave up.

One time I was down at the laundromat (when we wash comforters and blankets, we go use the big commercial machines) and was accosted by a fella who was trying to get some money for food. We offered to buy him and his family some sub sandwiches at a takeout within short walking distance. Again, we got a chance to talk with him and so on and I think it was genuinely appreciated.

The point is that I think the human aspect of helping out the poor, the homeless, etc., is really under-appreciated and not done nearly enough. And I think that solidarity on a personal basis helps both them and you. It’s not without risk: there are a lot of people who are in that situation due to drug addiction and mental illness. But, mostly, I think that’s just a matter of discernment before making contact with somebody.

From St John Chrysostom’s 50th Sermon on Matthew:

Would you do honor to Christ’s body? Neglect Him not when naked; do not while here you honor Him with silken garments, neglect Him perishing without of cold and nakedness. For He that said, “This is my body,” and by His word confirmed the fact, This same said, “You saw me an hungered, and fed me not;” and, “Inasmuch as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.” For This indeed needs not coverings, but a pure soul; but that requires much attention.

Let us learn therefore to be strict in life, and to honor Christ as He Himself desires. For to Him who is honored that honor is most pleasing, which it is His own will to have, not that which we account best. Since Peter too thought to honor Him by forbidding Him to wash his feet, but his doing so was not an honor, but the contrary.

Even so do thou honor Him with this honor, which He ordained, spending your wealth on poor people. Since God has no need at all of golden vessels, but of golden souls.

And these things I say, not forbidding such offerings to be provided; but requiring you, together with them, and before them, to give alms. For He accepts indeed the former, but much more the latter. For in the one the offerer alone is profited, but in the other the receiver also. Here the act seems to be a ground even of ostentation; but there all is mercifulness, and love to man.

My congratulations to you for the attitude you’re showing in your post. More people should do just what you’re doing. Personally dealing with the poor is commendable.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.