Thursday, April 10, 2008

A Tin Cup and a Cell Phone

I have a heart, I swear. But I am also a skeptic.

When we were living in Los Angeles, it wasn't uncommon to see panhandlers at the freeway exits. Often, they were selling flowers or fruit. Sometimes playing music. Very seldom did you see someone just standing on the corner asking for cash. Every once in a while, I would make a purchase one of their items. I was a City employee and there was an ordinance against such panhandlers, so I didn't do it often. I do recall at least once that I made a purchase at a fast food restaurant and delivered it to a man with a "Will work for food" sign.

Back here in Iowa, it's different. Although I have not researched it, I've heard that panhandlers can apply for a permit to work a particular corner/exit ramp. I see people in the same spots over and over and have compassion for their situation - more or less. They are a little suspicious looking, with very new looking boots and coats. But who am I to judge since there are some really nice items available via donation organizations.

But yesterday really did me in. I watched as one of these men stepped away from the corner and faced the other direction... to use his cell phone. It made me angry to think that people like this are using our sense of humanity and emotion to make a buck - when they obviously have the capacity to do something more honest.

As I was about to post how annoyed and frustrated I was, I happened across Dan at A Slower Pace. His story is heart-warming and made me rethink my post. I shouldn't pass judgement across the board. Thanks, Dan, for reminding me that not everyone is a bad apple.


  • Paranoid

    The panhandler issue is so frustrating. When I lived in D.C., it used to bug the heck out of me when beggars would lie. A favorite trick was to get dressed up nice, then hold out a metro card and claim that they didn't have enough fare to get to their job and they forgot their wallet and please, please, won't you help me this once? I got suckered once, only to see the same guy playing the same game the very next day.

    I never minded giving money to panhandlers when they were honest about it, but I hated feeling like I'd been tricked. Plus, it made me suspicious of people who may genuinely have been in need of help.

  • High Heeled Mama

    I have often wondered about some of those I see around town and then feel guilty for questioning someone's need.

    By the way, thanks for stopping by my blog. As a result, I tagged you for seven random things:

    Sorry! Feel free to ignore.

    Thanks again. And I look forward to reading you in the future.

  • Miss Lisa

    It's hard to see them! Before it became illegal here, I would always get water and a treat for a pan handler I always saw after my weekly grocery store trip.
    Great link :)

  • Anonymous

    Nice post.

    Rain Town has several famous panhandlers. One is a dude who stands outside the post office with his hat out. All. Freakin. Day. He's sorta famous for being a local con, and most regulars

    This counterbalanced against the many folks who got a bad break and would be embarrassed to spend more than five minutes to beg for change, but then again who are we to make assumptions who is the con and who really needs help? It gets harder to make that distinction every day.

    Be back later...

  • runningwildkids

    I have seen evidence of these pan handlers in Iowa and Illinois. I feel like if you were to really give to them if they really aren't the ones that get into one of those nice cars and go home and clean up after they get a wad of money. I am sure that there are really people out there that could use the hlep but there are some many programs out there that can help these people. I would rather donate to them instead of giving to the person on the side of the road.

  • Anonymous


    Yes those guys off of 74 in Bett/Dav do actually have to have permits. It's one reason I never stop and give them anything. If they can afford that then what else can they afford. I feel bad for the people out there who have genuine needs tho! Sometimes I think I'd give them food but they are standing on the off ramp so it's not possible for me to get them food unless I get food and go back up and turn around to come down the same way....random I know. Hopefully there are ways you can help others, if you feel so led, by donating to worthy organizations in our area. There are a few good ones like the John Lewis coffeehouse and the one with the apple logo food bank down near the Mark.

  • Nicole Brady

    Paranoid - I had not heard of the "need fare" approach. I'll have to remember that on our next big city trip.

    High Heeled Mama - Thanks for thinking of me for the tag! I actually just did it a short while back. If I can come up with 7 more random things that make for interesting reading, I'll post them! :)

    Lisa - That's great that you thought about them during your grocery trip. It's bittersweet that now you can't find them!

    Sonny - Making the distinction is a problem. I feel cold if I ignore them but I feel like a sucker if I give to them.

    RunningWildKids - Agreed. Donating to programs rathern than the person on the side of the road is a good way to avoid feeling taken.

    Shot in the Arm - Thanks for the confirmation about the permits. I knew about JL Coffeehouse but didn't realize there was another by the Mark. (So glad I'm not the only person still calling it the Mark.)