People sometimes ask me, “When I see someone panhandling, should I give that person money?”
I always say that the choice to give money or not is a personal one, and that I don’t have a yes or no answer. However, I also say that, in my mind, the bigger question is how best to respond to the humanity and inherent dignity of the person in front of you. While money is what someone may be asking for, each of us also needs to be acknowledged as a human.
When I see someone I don’t know who is panhandling, I do my best to look that precious person in the eye and smile, and say “sorry, not today” if I choose not to give money (which is my default). I also try to ask how their day has been so far. Sometimes people feel like chatting, and sometimes not. But being seen and heard is important. It’s hard on us when we are not acknowledged, and if that’s someone’s experience all day, it really takes a toll.
One of the reasons that I LOVE doing street outreach is that I am not in a rush to get anywhere and therefore have all the time in the world to stop, ask my friend (or someone new) how they are doing, and engage in a conversation if that’s what the person is wanting/needing.
A couple of weeks ago Erinn and I were on outreach, and a friend beckoned us over. He took the bottle of water that we had with us, but was clearly more interested in having a chat. We sat in his favourite panhandling spot, and shot the breeze. Eventually we got up to go, and he said, “I like that you talk to me like I’m a person person.”
That’s what we all want — to be seen for who we really are: people people. So the next time you wonder whether or not to give some change to someone who is asking for it, remember that the deeper need is to be seen.