I saw a panhandler today. Not terribly unusual, but I can't shake it. He was standing just off a freeway exit with a sign that read: PLEASE HELP, HAVE KIDS, DESPERATE.
Typically, I pay -almost- no attention to panhandlers. Typically, I feel that little pang of empathy and proceed to look straight ahead, doing everything I can to avoid that person. Typically, I can remind myself that there are assistance programs for people in these situations and move on knowing that I contribute a little to those programs. Typically, I don't think about panhandlers after I've driven away.
This one is staying with me.
I'm not a softy when it comes to panhandling and begging. I'm really not. I had a terrifying experience downtown when I was followed by a one until I went into a -well lit and busy- mall. Feeling threatened in that way pretty much ended any empathy I may have had for that situation. But this man struck me. He was dressed nicely. Had I seen him in any other situation I would have thought, "I like that shirt." I did like his shirt. In fact this man strikes me as one that would have had 'it' together. He was dressed nicely, clean shaven, clear eyes. There was just such a disconnect between his image and what he was doing.
Of course I struggle with the debate of What'sTheMoneyReallyGoingToBeUsedFor vs. CharityAndGoodDeed. My general thought process is this: If this panhandler is really, honestly in need of money or food there are programs and assistance available. I also know that there is only so much help available and not everyone can get help whenever they need it.
My heart went out to this man today. He changed my perception of those who are in his position, even if they are doing it dishonestly.
Who am I to judge?
But the internal battle still remains: do you give to panhandlers and beggars?