To Give or Not To Give – Handling the Beggar Dilemma.

Sometimes people who street-beg aren’t who they say they are.

A three-year-old girl holding a Toys for Tots can asked my friend Meredith for a donation at the busy CVS yesterday.  Meredith is kind and loves Tots, so she pulled out some singles and handed them over, but the kid didn’t stick the folded money through the can’s narrow slot.

Instead, she pocketed it and walked away.

Five minutes later another beggar approached Meredith at the same store, different aisle.  This time it was a desperate woman seeking bus money, and Meredith helped her out with a couple of bucks.  The woman thanked her and took off, and my charitable friend went about her shopping with the money she had left.

Ten minutes later, different aisle, same woman hits her up again.

She pitches the identical bus money spiel, word for word, inflection for inflection, to an astonished Meredith.  Then the lady hobo pushes forward who she feels is her ace in the hole, her sure fire money getter, her very own Billy Baroo.  Standing there, still holding the empty Toys for Tots can in her hand, is the same three-year-old girl as before.

That’s when kind Meredith lost it.

“You already asked me for bus money and I gave it to you, and you shouldn’t be letting her use that can.”

Believe me, for low key, soft-spoken Meredith, that minor outburst was her equivalent of Pacino’s Arthur Kirkland screaming, “You’re out of order!  Your well-rehearsed bus money scam and use of this child to fake-charity-collect is out of order!  This whole beggar dilemma is out of order!”  (Link to ‘And Justice For All’ Scene)

Nobody likes getting scammed.

Even mild mannered Meredith snapped when it finally dawned on her that these two had been playing her for a sucker.  It’s that shocked, then angry feeling you get when you feel bad for someone, dig into your own shallow pockets to help, and then find out they were swindling you all along.

And it’s not just during the holidays, either.

Hustlers are out scamming the public all the time.  Watch the video of the hard working guy who regularly gave money to the same beggar when he finds out she drives a better car than him.  (Link to Video)  Even through his anger, his message is clear:  I don’t appreciate people like you taking advantage of people like me.

It stinks, too, because the world needs more people like him.  And like Meredith.

When I told my wife one time how upset I get every time some stranger begs me for money, she asked why.  The best answer I had was that those interactions made me feel awful either way.  If I refuse to give a dollar because they’re unworthy (you’ve got arms and legs, dude, earn your own), then I walk away thinking, Who am I to judge?  I’ve never walked a day in their shoes.  WWJD?  He’d fork over the buck, cheapo, and then I feel awful for hours.

Of course, I feel worse when I do give beggars money.

Unless they’re crippled or unstable, my first thought is, Congratulations, sucker, you’ve just been had by the oldest ruse in the book.  That guy didn’t need gas money for the car his family is waiting in, he’s going to buy drugs or alcohol using my hard-earned money that my family sure could use.

My wife has a great answer to this dilemma.

She suggested I carry three singles in my pocket and give them to the first three people who ask, no questions, no judgments.  Since I love her and have that kind of money, I tried it, and this is what it taught me.  When I gave the old way, the gesture was all about me and my judgments and it felt awful.  With my wife’s way, though, it became about pure generosity regardless of who’s asking.  I walked away those three times with no negative thoughts and I actually felt good about giving, so maybe it was money well spent.

All I know is that for three bucks my beggar dilemma is solved.

By the way, Meredith felt terrible after she left those two at the CVS, so she ended up going back a little later to offer help.  Even though scam artists sometimes take advantage of my friend, it doesn’t stop her from being generous.  She keeps her heart open, regardless.

The world could use more people like that, for sure.

  • Mike Lukas


Thanks for reading – have a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

I’m off for a week but I’ll be posting a new one for New Years.

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11 thoughts on “To Give or Not To Give – Handling the Beggar Dilemma.

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  1. I used to have the same dilemma. I would worry so much before donating my money to beggars thinking whether or not they are scammers. But after a while, I realized that it shouldn’t matter. What matters is myself. Do I want to give some money or do I not? If I do, just give them some without trying to judge them. If I don’t, well that just means I’m not so generous that day. Nothing to do with the beggars themselves.

  2. One time, I was hit up by a young woman asking for money for food. I had a packet of crisps on me so I gave her those. She thanked me, rather disdainfully and walked off. Then there was another man who was grateful when I gave him some t-shirts I was going to take to a charity shop. Obvious which one was genuine and which was the scammer. Maybe that’s the solution, if someone wants money for bus fare, take them to the bus and offer to pay their fare or if they want money for food, go into a local shop and offer to buy food.

  3. I have helped people who obviously are down on their luck, when I am not down on mine. If I don’t happen to have cash on hand, I say so, and move on. Happy New Year to you, your wife and Meredith.

    1. Your way is my way, as well – I try not to ignore someone even if I can’t help them right then either. Sometimes even a kind word or two helps a little.

      Happy New Year to you, too, fellow Sagittarian, and I’ll spread your good cheer to the ‘ladies’!!!

  4. Every day, on my way home to work, there would be someone standing and begging on the corner of the street at a stop sign where the street narrows and traffic tended to get jammed up. I would always give my spare bucks to just one guy – an older gentleman. Anyone else standing there just seemed like a scammer to me, for some reason. One day, I had my dollars ready, but the older gentleman wasn’t there; a younger kid was in his place, looking like he was definitely strong and able enough to get real work. I thought to myself, “Oh well. He can have these dollars.” I handed them to him, and he gave me the standard “God Bless You.” I then see him quickly walk across the street towards some trees, where the old man was sitting! He looked sick and tired. The young man handed the old gentleman the money I had just given him and went back to his post. Definitely an eye-opening moment for me. You just never know.

  5. An excellent suggestion to handling this issue, which (I completely agree) pulls at the heartstrings if you don’t give something but conversely, pulls at your good nature when you feel like you have been scammed. What bothers me here in Melbourne is that we have increasing numbers of people making the footpaths(sidewalks/pavements) their home (and in many cases it is genuinely because they have nowhere else to call home) but the government seems to show little care about their plight unless we have a major sporting event (such as the Australian Tennis Open) coming to town. Governments are great at turning a blind eye to such circumstances until such a time that it makes their cities look bad on the world scale.

    1. Wow, that’s not good.
      Nothing makes you feel loved less than a mom who only lets you bathe and clean up if company’s coming over.

  6. All summer long in our city at major intersections “pan handlers” with their scribbled plea for “HELP” on a piece of cardboard would stand for hours on all four corners and on the medians. Simultaneously. Their presence was a repeated news item on TV, mostly because of the danger for them and for drivers. The administrator of our local shelter (Open Door Mission) urged folks not to give them cash. She said it was just a short “fix” (sometimes literally to access drugs and alcohol). More than once I’ve offered to drive someone to the mission, where they could access hot meals, showers, clean clothes and assistance both physical and mental. So far, no takers.

  7. Used to German towns where very few beg for money in the streets, when I came to England the first time I was shocked at the amount of people. At first I tried to help but quickly I realised that not everyone is thankful and not everyone really needs the money.
    I opted to give coins to those I knew. And those who do something like playing music or paint.

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