While it doesn’t illicit death threats like our tent city, Second Chance Village, panhandling is, by far, the most controversial activity I promote.
You can find all kinds of articles and videos these days “exposing” panhandlers:
Stop AKRON Panhandlers – This person just runs around photographing and videoing panhandlers in Akron that he believes are scammers.
These stories always get a lot of attention. I’m not exactly sure why.
- Maybe it makes people feel justified in not giving these people money.
- Maybe it helps people validate their beliefs that these people are all just lazy.
- Maybe it’s just yet another story of shock and disbelief that we can add to our entire shocking world.
I work with a lot of panhandlers. So I thought I’d share what I know about them. Maybe it will strengthen your current beliefs. Maybe it will influence your thinking a little. Who knows.
You should know that I used to be a person who never gave to anyone on the street or on a street corner. I believed it was a con. I felt like I was just being deceived out of my money.
I now give to panhandlers when I have a few dollars in my pocket. I’m not some extreme giver. But I definitely give when I can.
This is my story on why I changed.
One of the first people I ever met from the homeless community was Ryan Scanlon. He’s a former drug dealer and now he is going to college and owns a home. Most of that money comes from student loans and, you guessed it, panhandling. You can read his story on his gofundme:
I am a father of two young children (one of which has special needs due to autism). It is my dream that when it is my time I can make up for my mistakes and times of absence by leaving them this home in my living will so that they will never ever be forced to go through what I had.
This is his genuine belief. He is an incredibly committed dad.
He’s also incredibly smart and studied.
He quit drugs and alcohol not through Alcoholics Anonymous but through his own behaviorist therapy plan.
He is incredibly understanding of humans and human nature. He understands what makes people tick.
Why doesn’t he just get a job?
There are two reasons:
- He has seizures. Regularly. So it’s very difficult to do manual labor, such as roofing, with the likelihood that he would fall off.
- He likes panhandling.
That’s as honest as I (and he) can be.
He is the person who changed my thinking on panhandling.
There are several points he made that changed my thinking.
First, and maybe most importantly, you can’t possibly know the motivation of any panhandler.
Some panhandlers are definitely trying to get money for alcohol and drugs.
I will say, I’ve never met a wealthy panhandler.
Even my friend Ryan Scanlon is FAR from wealthy. He bought a condemned house for a few hundred dollars. And through sheer brute force and will power made that house livable. It was one of the greatest struggles I’ve ever seen anyone go through.
He lives in one of the lowest property value neighborhoods in Akron. Houses sell for $16,000 or less.
So, the most successful panhandler I know isn’t driving a fancy car or living in a fancy house. (He can’t drive at all, because of his seizures.)
Several panhandlers I know are living beer to beer. They make a few dollars and go buy a couple beers. They drink them and then get some more money so they could buy more beers.
I know one panhandler, who is now sober, that had a tab with the local gas station. They would give him his first beer of the morning free. He’d calm his nerves so he could stand on the street to get a few dollars so he could start his day over again.
That’s something you need to understand. Every single panhandler I know that is panhandling for beer has a serious drinking problem. They are jittery. They aren’t drinking for fun. They are drinking because they need to drink. It’s something that’s very difficult to understand unless you have been there or are close to someone who is.
This isn’t panhandling for fun. This is panhandling for medicine for their addiction.
And then there is Ellen: Fundraiser by Sage Lewis : Homeless to HomeFULL. She panhandles for diapers and her $50/month rent.
She has carpal tunnel, which has made it very difficult for her to get a job at the only profession she knows: fast food. So she does the only other job she knows: panhandling.
You should know that there are many people in America who are getting apartments for $50/month because of some sort of disability or illness. They can’t work. And so what I, and many others tell them is: “Go fly a sign.”
That’s the only way these people are going to make their $50/month. And if they don’t make their $50 then they will lose their apartment and be back on the street.
So, if no one gave any money to any panhandlers homelessness would, without a doubt, increase.
The question is: who is who?
Who is drinking their money? Who is shooting up their money? And who is using their money for rent, diapers and college?
You can’t know.
I barely can know.
People that are con artists are some of the most believable people you will ever meet. It’s very strange to be lied to with such sincerity and seeming honesty.
I know a panhandler that flies a sign that says, “Yes. I’m using this money for drugs.” He finds that it converts better sometimes. He is completely sober and uses the money for very good reasons, some of which are to help other homeless people.
These are all people that need cash. The don’t need a bus pass. They don’t need food. They need cash money. They all have things that need paid for with cash.
So, if you ever run into a panhandler that doesn’t seem very happy with your bottle of water or bus pass or granola, that’s why.
They are about to go into withdrawal.
They are about to lose their apartment.
They are always living on the razor’s edge of existence. Your dollar will save them from calling an ambulance to go to the emergency room. Your dollar will keep them in their apartment and not in the woods.
This leads me to the second reason I now give to panhandlers.
One way or another, these people are going to get money.
They have chosen the legal path. It’s the humiliating path. They constantly get yelled at and scorned. But it’s the legal path.
Many others chose other paths.
Some chose to sell drugs. And some chose to break into your house and steal your things.
Which would you prefer?
I can all but guarantee that if panhandling is outlawed crime will go up. That’s the next career opportunity these people know.
I am surrounded by thieves here at The Homeless Charity. Just this morning one of our previous residents returned a box of CDs a friend of theirs stole from us. Why did he steal them? He wanted to listen to them. I almost told them to give them back to the guy. But they were so strong doing the right thing I thanked them profusely and kept the CDs.
So the next time you see a panhandler you might just be thankful they aren’t selling your kids drugs or breaking into your house in the middle of the night.
And finally here is my third reason for giving to panhandlers:
I once interviewed Ryan Scanlon. During the interview I asked him if their was a segment of society that typically never gave to panhandlers. He quickly said, “Yes there is.”
I asked him who that group was. He said, “You.”
Middle aged white males never give to panhandlers.
- Women give.
- Other panhandlers give.
- Poor minorities give.
But middle aged white men in nice cars never give.
I hate being a stereotype. So that was the very day I started giving.
I have so much and I’m judging people I don’t know anything about.
Who am I to judge?
How much more power and privilege do I need that I finally can stop lording my success and prosperity over the poor?
I will say, if you are interested in helping a specific person but only want the money to go to things you feel comfortable with, I can help with that. Just email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
I can basically help you sponsor a homeless person who needs the money for rent or for their baby or whatever you are inspired to help with. I know people in pretty much every terrible situation you can imagine. So I can find you a person you might like to help.
Otherwise, just give the person on the corner a buck or 2. It’s really going to help them out in whatever part of their journey they are on. And you will be really surprised at how good it will make you feel.
It will be the best dollar you’ll spend all day.
I also recommend giving to the same person over and over. You’ll build a relationship with them. It will likely become a part of your daily commute that you look forward to.
Helping the poor is fun and a joy filled experience. That’s all I can say. In fact, you might find that it feels so good you’d like to do more.