A few days ago, the kids and I were headed for an afternoon out and about. We were standing in the bus shelter, chatting; Eldest right in the corner opposite the entrance, Youngest standing next to her while I stood directly in front and facing them. A woman, whom I've seen panhandling at this stop before, walked into the shelter, zeroed in on Eldest, almost pushing me aside, and started giving her spiel and a slurred and mumbling voice about wanting 75 cents for whatever. I cut her right off, telling her to stay away from my kids. If she wanted to, she could approach me, but NOT my kids.
Then we got on the bus.
Normally, the girls like to sit in the back corner of the bus. Once corner was occupied, and the other had the sun full in their faces, so they soon moved away. I was sitting in one of the sideways seats near the back, next to them.
The woman in the corner was clearly in rough shape. She seemed to be falling asleep - or passing out - and having a hard time keeping herself upright. I watched her, concerned. It was difficult to judge her condition, though, as her face was hidden almost completely by her hair and a pair of black sunglasses. At one point, she lifted her head up, looked around, and groped for the pole next to me. She staggered up, using the pole to move to a seat directly across from me. She started asking me something, but it was hard to understand her. Eventually, I figured it out.
She was asking for bus fare. On the bus.
She was thoroughly confused about where she was - it seems she'd slept through the stop she meant to get off at. I asked if she was all right and she told me no, and that her "old man" beat her up the night before. She then went back to the corner and seemed to try and sleep again. Before getting off the bus, I talked to the driver, telling him I thought she needed medical attention. Turned out he'd already made a call in to have security to meet him. Before we got on the bus, he'd observed her taking... something. He was guessing crack.
Later on, as the girls and I were walking around the streets, we were accosted by yet another panhandler, begging for money. The other panhandler heading towards us veered away on hearing me say I had no change (I don't normally carry any cash, so I've nothing to give even if I wanted to).
We ended up being in the area long enough to meet with Dh when he was done work. As we were standing at the bus stop, I was telling him about these incidents when, sure enough, another panhandler walks past and starts asking us for money! Dh, already pissed that we'd been harassed so many times in one day, had a rather angry tone in saying no.
It's getting to be that we can't go anywhere on the streets or walkways without being hit up for money by street people. After a while, it really starts to irritate.
On the one hand, I'd love to be able to help people who need it, but I have a hard time with the idea of panhandling. Buskers, I enjoy and will gladly give to if I can (like I mentioned earlier, I rarely have cash of any kind). They, at least, are doing something to earn any money they get, and some are remarkably talented. One can make a decent living as a busker, and I can appreciate that.
But what of the panhandlers? Are they really in need of help? How can you tell the genuine need from the con? One of my former employers, a devout Christian who struggled with what he felt was his duty as a Christian to help, and his desire not to be fleeced or contribute to someone's possible addictions, was approached by a panhandler while he was eating his lunch outside. It just happened that he was there because they were opening a new retail location and he was working on the interior in preparation. So when approached for money, he instead offered the panhandler a job painting the floor.
The panhandler objected, going on about how he had a degree. It seems painting a floor was beneath him, and that he deserved to be paid more than offered. My boss again offered him the job. The panhandler said he'd think about it and left.
He didn't come back.
What can we do?