Dear readers, what is your attitude towards panhandlers?
My husband and I have adopted different attitudes, with him preferring to completely ignore them, and me preferring to politely refuse them. I want to acknowledge their personhood, he is afraid of encouraging them to accost us further.
Maybe that doesn’t make a difference, as neither of us are offering money. I’ve given money to panhandlers a few times over… ten years, but this is an area where I reach moral satiation practically immediately. Giving money to panhandlers feels so bad, because I overthink it afterwards. My whole life I’ve been told that charity feels good but you know what it doesn’t so stop lying to me.
For context, I’m in the San Francisco bay area, which has a very high density of homeless people. It’s a combination of (relatively) sympathetic attitudes towards the right of homeless people to exist, and longstanding policies that stifle housing construction.
Also, the weather is livable year-round.
Some people’s attitudes towards panhandlers are informed by concerns of safety. Fearing for my safety is not really experience I can speak to, although I can say that homeless people are far more likely to yell homophobic slurs at me. To be fair, I think that’s mostly because they’re more likely to confront people on the street period. I am told that homeless people themselves experience significantly more harassment.
Another common concern is that panhandlers will spend the money on drugs. Personally, I really don’t care. Well, I care about it in the same way that I care about the opioid epidemic that kills tens of thousands of people. I’m concerned about it as a public health issue, but financially starving people out of their drug problems is a bizarre and cruel solution that we would not even consider for any other group.
Panhandling is obviously not an economically productive line of work, but sounds as soul-draining as the worst of jobs, so I’m happy that they make money from it. If so many people can’t find gainful employment, then it sounds like the market is telling us that not everyone needs to be economically productive, and we shouldn’t punish people for following what the market wants.
But what would be even better, is if they could make money without the soul-draining labor, and without me going through this awkward social interaction that feels so bad. Like if we had a welfare system, that sure would be something. For now, there are organizations to donate to, and I will seriously consider that option when I am monied. Also, pro-housing groups, which I donate to already.