Today I saw a link from Yahoo! Finance that featured a story from The Atlantic entitled Should You Give Money to Homeless People? I found it a fascinating topic. The writer explores the case for both sides of the issue and states that the short answer is No unless you work for an organization that can insure the money is spent wisely.
In my own life I have adopted a No answer as well. I never gave the issue much thought until I was on a consulting assignment in the early 1990s in
that lasted almost a year. Given the length of the assignment I opted to lease an apartment on Cincinnati Queen City Avenue west of the downtown district on a bus line. I commuted home to Fort Wayne each weekend but seldom drove my car around . I rode the bus to and from my place of employment on Cincinnati 3rd Street near the Ohio River because it was convenient and less costly than paying to park my car downtown.
As a consequence I often walked around the main downtown business district especially during lunch time when the weather was favorable. What I did not expect was the number of panhandlers working
's downtown business district. At times it was not possible to walk through the downtown blocks without being constantly solicited for money. I was not aware that this had been a continuing issue for downtown Cincinnati businesses, many of whom felt they were losing income because their clients had tired of running the gauntlet of panhandlers and were no longer patronizing downtown businesses. Cincinnati
Businesses complained to politicians but homeless advocates campaigned against any measures being taken by law enforcement against the panhandlers. Numerous news stories were devoted to the issue indicating that
Cincinnati was second only to in complaints about panhandlers. Some stories featured panhandlers who claimed to be making several hundred dollars each week begging money from strangers. New York
Whenever I was approached, I always politely declined. When I did so, most were polite but some were belligerent. Initially my decision to say No was based solely on the fact that I could spare a few dollars here and there, but there were so many panhandlers that it was hard to see how I would make any difference and I was worried that my money would be wasted on booze or drugs so I said No. As I read and heard more and more news stories on the issue, I personally became convinced that I was witnessing another example and more evidence of Econ101.
Econ101 states that you get more of what you subsidize and you get less of what you penalize. It was clear that panhandlers in
at that time were being rewarded sufficiently for their activity for it to continue and to grow until it had become a real problem. Finally my assignment in Cincinnati ended and my interest in the issue ended with it. But results of a web search lead me to believe this is still an issue in Cincinnati despite local laws prohibiting or limiting panhandling and requiring a license to do so. Cincinnati
I never felt guilty about saying No. Giving money to a complete stranger is not my idea of charity. My wife and I are frugal with our money in most respects but I am proud of our record of donating to charities that we support. But I prefer to make our donations by check to legitimate charities and not in cash to complete strangers. I don't think there is anything wrong if someone has a different opinion and wishes to share their money with panhandlers. It's their money to use or give away as they see fit. But I think the article makes a good point that the odds are that such money helps very little and indeed might do more harm than good for society as a whole and possibly for the individuals who are given the money.