We're on the eve of Christmas, and everyone is bustling around downtown, laden with shopping bags. Few seem to stop and offer spare change to the panhandlers on the streets. Some of these poor souls are fixtures, who claim a particular spot on the sidewalk and wait there day in and day out, in every season. But we're also seeing new faces among the panhandlers these days, and is it any wonder? Layoffs are spreading throughout the economy and hitting people hard.
The Labor Department reports that in November, employers took 2,328 mass layoff actions involving a total of 224,079 workers. Initial requests for jobless benefits rose to the highest level of claims since November of 1982. Desperate times call for desperate measures, like walking up to strangers to ask for money.
Personally, I struggle with the question of whether to give to the people who stand on the streets with their paper cups outstretched. I do contribute to homeless shelters, such as the Pine Street Inn and Rosie's Place, which helps to assuage my guilt about passing the panhandlers by. But I know that many of the homeless avoid the shelters, and a little spare change can probably make a difference in someone's day. Maybe they get a cup of hot coffee when the chill of the day starts to creep into their bones.
I heard a story about a man who made a point of always stopping to give a panhandler not money, but a can of tuna. He figured that the guy needed some solid nutrition. After all, food is a basic need.
How do you feel about giving spare change to people on the street? Is it better to give to a charitable organization, or would you rather give directly to someone in need?