Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Should we fork over cash to the "homeless"?

For me, it's the ones with the dogs.

I might roll down my window at a stoplight for a guy in a wheelchair, or someone with a witty sign about his naked need for beer like we're in on the joke together, or just hungry eyes looking at me through the windshield. But a homeless guy with a dog always gets me reaching for my wallet.

So what exactly am I contributing to?

A provocative story this week by Times reporter Lane DeGregory explored a more cynical side of some who panhandle our streets advertising themselves as disabled or veterans or homeless, the truth apparently being flexible. Some spoke of working shifts, of creating different signs for different audiences, of regularly making enough to stay in a motel — all of which could make a person who's usually ready to hand over a few bills think twice.

A lot of us already do. Panhandlers said drivers in Lexuses and Beemers don't give like people in sorrier cars, maybe because having your own life even slightly closer to the edge makes you more willing to help.

So it turns out the real world can be a dirty one, and every homeless person is not some down-on-his-luck hobo (remember hobos?). They can have arrest records, substance abuse problems and mental health issues, and, yes, they can spend your street corner singles on beer or something less legal.

As a lot of us might if we slept nights on concrete and endured that kind of life. People "self-medicate," says Lesa Weikel of Hillsborough's Homeless Coalition.

So if you are so inclined, should you give? "It comes down to a personal decision," Weikel says.

Interestingly, some people who work daily in the business of feeding and housing the homeless told me no, they personally do not hand out cash, preferring to give to agencies with homeless programs. Give food if you want to give on the street, they said. Gift cards, even.

Tim Marks, chief operating officer of Metropolitan Ministries, says he's offered food to people who don't want it, though plenty do. Some will take advantage of a good heart, but some are genuinely hurting. His agency, by the way, once had one of the best and most basic pleas for help: a sign that read Urgently Need Peanut Butter. This week, they're down to a two-week supply.

I call Pinellas Sheriff Jim Coats, wondering if a sheriff gives to panhandlers. Turns out he, too, prefers to donate to programs to help them, though he says his wife has been known to roll down the window.

And there's the dilemma. You're doing well enough to live under a roof and ride around in a car. A man on the corner clearly has less, and he is looking at you.

"That's just simply a human exchange of caring," says the Rev. Warren Clark of Tampa, who hands over 50 cents or a buck. But the question is a superficial one, he says, the real issue being public policy and jobs to get people off the streets.

There used to be this guy by the interstate. His handmade sign talked about HIV and regularly updated his T-cell count, and if this was scripted, the man deserved an Oscar. He's gone now, no clue as to how those crumpled bills helped or didn't, only the lingering thought when you pass his spot that you wish he hadn't had to be there in the first place.

Should we fork over cash to the "homeless"? 07/07/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 8, 2009 9:52am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Two boys in critical condition after Largo crash


    LARGO — A 7-year-old boy was thrown from a car in a head-on crash on Starkey Road, and both he and a 6-year-old boy were in critical condition Sunday night, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

  2. Trump's new order bars almost all travel from seven countries


    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Sunday issued a new order banning almost all travel to the United States from seven countries, including most of the nations covered by his original travel ban, citing threats to national security posed by letting their citizens into the country.

    President Donald Trump speaks to reporters Sunday upon his return to the White House in Washington.
  3. Somehow, Rays' Chris Archer remains just shy of being an ace

    The Heater

    BALTIMORE — Chris Archer had another bad game Sunday.

    Chris Archer is sputtering to the finish line, his rough start on Sunday his fourth in his past five in which he hasn’t gotten past four innings.
  4. In Mexico City, hopes of finding quake survivors dwindle


    MEXICO CITY — Five days after the deadly magnitude 7.1 earthquake, the hulking wreckage of what used to be a seven-story office building is one of the last hopes: one of just two sites left where searchers believe they may still find someone trapped alive in Mexico City.

    Rescue workers search for survivors inside a felled office building in the Roma Norte neighborhood of Mexico City on Saturday.
  5. GOP health bill in major peril as resistance hardens among key senators


    WASHINGTON — The floundering Republican attempt to undo the Affordable Care Act met hardening resistance from key GOP senators Sunday that left it on the verge of collapse even as advocates vowed to keep pushing for a vote this week.

    Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a moderate, said Sunday that it was “very difficult” to envision voting for this health-care bill.