"Sometimes I give money to strangers and sometimes I don't" is not an easy concept for a 6-year-old to grasp. But it's the truth.
"Sometimes I give money to strangers and sometimes I don't" is not an easy concept for a 6-year-old to grasp. But it's the truth.

Panhandling is a complicated issue for this parent

These days, my kids notice everything. And ask about everything. I admit, much of the time, they ask me a question that -- because my memory of seventh grade science class isn’t so sharp -- I say, "Let’s Google it." But sometimes, unfortunately, not even "The Google" can answer their inquiries.

Such is the case with their ongoing interest in panhandlers. We encounter them weekly, sometimes more, and it always inspires conversation that, quite frankly, I can’t answer in a cut-and-dried fashion.

The truth is, sometimes I give a dollar to panhandlers, sometimes I offer food (if I am approached in a grocery store parking lot) and sometimes -- for the love of Nancy Reagan -- I just say "no." Really, it depends on my mood, on the way I’m approached and whether or not I truly have money in my pocket.

"Why didn’t you give that man any money?" My kid asked yesterday after we were asked for cash for gas in a Capitol Drive parking lot.

"Because he was rude," I said.

"So you only give money to people who are nice?" he asks.

Crap. I have no idea how to answer this. Google, wanna weigh in?

I really can’t say that I always give money to "nice" people. I remember an instance this summer, when a seemingly nice woman asked me for money on Brady Street, and I said no, simply because I was feel strapped for cash myself.

"Sometimes I say yes and sometimes I say no," I finally tell my son.

I find panhandling a very complex issue, one that really can’t be explained to 6-year-olds. However, I am introducing them to another aspect of life: The reality that most things are not black-and-white, rather a slippery shade of gray, a color most of us cannot see until we are well into adulthood.

I hope they get this more quickly than I did.

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Talkbacks

Aluminum_Potsie | Jan. 26, 2010 at 10:46 a.m. (report)

A few things--first of all, for every panhandler you see in public begging for money, there are many, many poor/homeless people you don't see who are in the same situation. Giving money to the ones who are most aggressive about asking for it does almost nothing to help those people. Giving them money directly is also a terrible way to help them--certainly not all panhandlers are using the money you give them just to fuel their addictions, but it's much more cost-effective to encourage people in real need to use programs set up to help more than one person at a time. If you want to help, your dollar will probably be much better spent giving it to a shelter. The lesson you can share with your kids is that although many people will often ask for help, what they're asking you to do often is not the best way to help them.

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valeriemv | Jan. 26, 2010 at 9:28 a.m. (report)

35415 awesome issue to address MSE!

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mr.woody | Jan. 26, 2010 at 2:19 a.m. (report)

as an over the road trucker i was hassled by moochers at every fuel stop from milw. to miami to la. n back. please don't give to these folks. you may feel like you should help them but you're not. i stopped even listening to the tales they tell, just walk on by and forget them. especially the ones on the street. the most memorble one is a lady that hit me up for two years. nicely dressed, well spoken and not a lot lizzard. i must have given her over a 100 bucks 5 at a time until i decided to take a week off to visit some local points of interest. this lady asked me for money for gas 3 mornings in a row, til i asked her why she was still mooching off truckers when i knew she had enough to get home. this lady told me she made more money bumming off of us truckers than she made as a school teacher and only worked 2 hr.s in the morning and 2 more in the evening. pay attention to these folks and you'll find the same bums doing the work they chose to do which is sitting on corner bumming. hell, in la. they live on the side walk and want to be paid to allow you to use the sidewalk. i don't recomend the mission or salvation army as they make relegion a big part of helping someone who needs it. lady just don't feel badly, buy your kids a treat with the buck you would give a mooch and enjoy watching them, if anything tell the kids if they don't do good in school they'll be bumming in 20 years.

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bayviewboogaloo | Jan. 25, 2010 at 3:36 p.m. (report)

Totally agree. Who ever heard about someone panhandling their way out of poverty? If you can drastically improve your place in life, one dollar bill at a time, you have way better money management skills than I do. Organizations that help people are clearly the way to go.

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TosaJim | Jan. 25, 2010 at 2:58 p.m. (report)

I do not give cash to panhandlers...rather I sometimes go into a McDonalds or grocery store and buy something for that person to eat or drink. I'd rather write a check to a homeless shelter or organization who works with and helps those who need it.

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