“Could You Spare $5?”

On Saturday night a young person, perhaps 14 years old, walked up to me and asked me if there were any way I could give him $5. I had been standing in the corner of busy pizza parlor at the time, finishing up a slice, and thought, This kid wants to get some pizza. Ok! I have no problem parting with $5 right now and will give it to him.

The kid said, “Oh wow, I just want to tell you that everyone else in here didn’t even look at me or give me a chance, so thank you.” And then he left. He wasn’t going to use the money for pizza.

Growing up, my mother always cautioned against giving money to strangers because you don’t know what they’re going to do with it. “If you want to give, donate to a place where you know your money will be used for a good cause,” she’d say. Yes, I do that, but that’s never stopped me from giving money to buskers or random strangers, and although I don’t always give, I felt compelled to do it at that moment.

Maybe he used the money to buy a subway pass—who knows. Or for something terrible! I just know that if I were 14 and in a position where I needed $5 badly enough that I would approach a bunch of strangers for it, I would hope someone would look at me and give me a chance.

Photo: numuneko.jc

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20 Comments / Post A Comment

ratatosk (#3,495)

I completely understand! I can’t ever refuse someone who has asked for money for a ride back home, especially a girl at night; even though it’s likely that they’ll use it for nefarious purposes.

A year ago an itinerant guy pressured me into buying a train ticket. When I said I had no money, he said that I could use my card. I couldn’t think of a quick enough retort so I did get him that. But then he asked for a round trip ticket ($30!). I refused. UGH. I’m still angry at myself that I couldn’t just say no to the one-way ticket.

@ratatosk My boyfriend called me a sucker for buying a guy a transit ticket while we were in the states a couple of weeks ago. I figured what’s the worst that could happen? He rides around free for a day? The $5 didn’t mean much to me, and it could have meant a hell of a lot to him if his story was true.

AitchBee (#3,001)

There are always panhandlers at an intersection on my commute home, and I keep my non-quarter change to give to them, not for reasons that address or even engage with the “I prefer my charity mediated by the church-government-a nonprofit of my choice/they’re use it to buy drugs/you’ll just encourage them/I keep granola bars in my glove compartment and hand those out instead” debate, but because I want them to know that someone sees them. There are far worse ways to be a sucker.

selenana (#673)

@AitchBee Haha, the last girl I gave change to (just what I had in my pocket, it wasn’t much, def less than a dollar), said, “is that all??” when I handed her the money.

pawnknee (#2,911)

Mike you are too trusting! A teen asking for cash is sketchy. I’d have at least asked why he needed the money and if the reason was not terrible, I’d buy it for him.

deepomega (#22)

You get more of what you reward. In this case, panhandling.

Marzipan (#1,194)

@deepomega I think that’s one of the more compelling reasons I’ve heard not to do it. If I absolutely hated panhandling, but while it makes me briefly uncomfortable sometimes, I don’t hate it. I guess I think it can be a good thing to make poverty more visible. I mean, it kind of sucks to panhandle, and I don’t think many people who have “enough” money would do it.

So I’m withe Mike Dang on this one. just because sometimes it’s nice to give a poor person the power/choice that a few dollars gives you. You know? Like the power to make their own choice, without any judgement, is a good gift, and if it is, in my opinion, a bad choice, than I hope it at least gives them some kind of relief/happiness for a few hours.

The problem with never carrying cash is that even if I genuinely wanted to give money to someone seemingly deserving, I can’t.

For awhile when I worked in the city, I used to try to keep some spare change handy as I liked to toss a few coins into the guitar cases of awesome buskers on the street. Now I work in the burbs, so there’s not a lot of street musicians on my commute…

Morbo (#1,236)

I always ask what exactly it is that they want, and they buy it. I’ve bought bus tickets, lunches, water, hats, gloves.

I have a natural suspicion of teenaged beggars, mostly due to the large suburban gutterpunk contingent here in Chicago. We had one rather famous one here in the Loop a couple years back who was very loud, exclaiming he was “just trying to get home”.

After seeing this play out for a couple weeks, a blogger followed him after the evening rush. He was a student at the Art Institute of Chicago, sleeping in a very nice dorm. Performance art major, I guess.

@Morbo My highschool science teacher caught one of the (comfortably middle-class) kids on our class panhandling and loudly called him out for not taking his expensive shoes off when he put on his “homeless” outfit.

Most days, on my commute to and from work, there are panhandlers stationed at the traffic signals on the off ramps. They stand there and hold their signs, will work for food, god bless, whatever. I’ve given them coins before but as I see them almost daily it is easy to not give. I do Tithe at church and I know that they work with a lot of good organizations around town so maybe these same guys are receiving some of that benefit. Anyway, once on my way home the car in front of me handed the person panhandling a sandwich. I’m not sure if it was leftover from her lunch or if she actually had it for a panhandler. As soon as she pulled away the guy just tossed the sandwich over his shoulder and onto the ground. Guess he wasn’t really hungry.

Fig. 1 (#632)

@Bill Schoonmaker@twitter You know, if someone handed me a sandwich I’d toss it on the ground too. This whole thing about how beggars should be grateful to get anything is harmful.

kellyography (#250)

I have seen the same dozen panhandlers at least twice a day, every day for almost 7 years, not to mention anyone I encounter on an irregular route or errand. I always just smile and say, “sorry,” because I never have cash on me anyway, and I prefer to donate to charitable organizations rather than to individuals.

MalPal (#1,200)

I’m a sucker for the buskers. If someone is playing an amazing violin piece in a humid subway tunnel, damn right they’re gonna get a dollar from me. However, panhandlers never get anything from me. I’m too afraid they’ll follow me or something. Then again, I’d give money to a child or someone with a baby no matter what probably.

Jinxie (#2,987)

Maybe I’ve been living in the city too long, because my standard response to anyone asking me for money, no matter their age, health, spiel, handwritten sign, is “Can’t, sorry.” or some variation thereof. I see so, so, so many panhandlers every day and since I can’t respond to/give to all of them, I give to none of them. Not saying this is the right or the best response, but it’s my own coping mechanism. (And I try to justify it by the fact that I never keep money in my pockets and I’m not about to open my wallet in the middle of a busy sidewalk.)

bgprincipessa (#699)

@Jinxie agreed on all points. don’t usually have change, not opening my wallet, see too many. I also have concerns about them knowing where I live, since I am often walking and it is possible that they see where my house is, because they are often not too far away. Call me paranoid, but I just try not to interact.

Buskers yes, panhandlers no, because I’m scared/judgemental/selfish/smart/cynical/untrusting (take your pick, I’ve been all of those before).

allreb (#502)

For me it tends to come down to how cold it is out. I’m a lot more comfortable with a “sorry, no” in the summer, even though poverty is miserable regardless of season, but if I have a buck to spare when it’s snowing out I’ll almost always give it with the hopes that someone can at least get a warm drink somewhere and get inside for a few minutes.

EM (#1,012)

I miss being a smoker just because giving cigarettes instead of change felt like a good compromise.

Outside Farringdon station in London there’ll often be people still asleep on the streets, with sandwiches and snacks from Pret left beside them for breakfast by office workers.

If I have change I normally hand it over, but I like the gesture of leaving someone their breakfast and them not needing to say thank you.

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