Just 35 cents

Sooner or later, most people will encounter a panhandler. It is an unjust fact of life.

Though on most days my path crosses someone or another begging for some change, typically I don’t give money to panhandlers. It is not that I don’t empathize with their suffering, or that I doubt their need, but I don’t think what little I can give them will make a difference. If I am going to donate, I want to see it going to something productive, something that will provide people with the means to rise above poverty and homelessness.

That said, whether or not one gives money to someone on the street is a personal decision–it is not for me to judge. Earlier today I found myself engaged in conversation with two men whose experiences with panhandlers typify why so many choose to walk by those with outstretched hands. One man was asked for “just 35 cents” so that the panhandler could have enough money to buy a meal at a nearby fast-food restaurant, and decided to give him a dollar. A few minutes later, when he walked by the panhandler again, he was given the same pitch for 35 cents.

“I worked for my 35 cents,” he said, expressing anger at the panhandler’s insincere request.

I pointed out that surely the man on the corner begging for change would prefer to have a job and the means to provide for himself. He grudgingly agreed.

The other man I spoke with said he didn’t see how it would be that bad to be homeless, begging for his meals. He said he’d be fine living on the street. “There?” I asked him as I pointed to sidewalk in front of us, the wind blowing furiously. Would he really want to live there on the street, regardless of whether he was warm or cold, well or ill, happy or sad? In the end he agreed that living on the street is not the way to go.

The more I talk with people about homelessness, and the circumstances that find people in such a state, the more I continue to be amazed that so many have such little understanding of poverty and homelessness in this nation.

–By Jennifer E. Cooper