Monday, March 15, 2010

How to Panhandle

I came across this wikihow that teaches people the do's and don't's of panhandling. I am reprinting here from the wikihow (am sure that the author won't mind because it was put out for public sharing and education) because it gives some interesting insights into the panhandling world, situation, and mind. My comments follow the article.

A panhandler is a person who depends on the spontaneous charity of strangers for his/her survival. In some parts of the world, begging is the only alternative to starvation, especially in the context of a poor economy or an oppressive government; in other parts of the world, panhandling is illegal because of its association with addiction and irresponsibility. You never know when you might have to ask strangers for help, whether you've been mugged in a foreign land and need enough money to make it home, life deals you a particularly harsh hand of cards (like abuse, disability, illness, war); or you become so dissatisfied with your existing options that begging seems like a better alternative.


(1) Swallow your pride. Most people find it difficult to quietly beg for money from friends or relatives. It’s even harder to beg from complete strangers where everybody can see you. Still, you’re going to have to suck it up and be humble. If you've already exhausted the alternatives and begging is your last resort, it may help to keep in mind that in many countries, begging does not hold the stigma it does in most of the Western World, and in some places asking for alms is considered an honorable profession.

(2) Remember what you're offering. People who give you enough money do so because it makes them feel good. A person is more likely to help you if they can identify with you, and if they feel their contribution will make a significant difference in your situation. Sometimes, people give alms for religious reasons, and other times because they feel guilty for having been born with so much more than others without having necessarily earned it. The more you learn about why people give, the better you'll be at receiving.

(3) Clean up. Before you begin, make an effort to look presentable. You certainly don’t want to be smelling of alcohol, for example, but you also should comb your hair, practice overall good hygiene, and dress in clean, but cheap clothes. If you stand out, people are more likely to give you money. Wear comfortable shoes and dress in layers so you don’t get too warm or cold. You want to present an image of a hard-working, normal person who is just like the people from whom you are asking for money, except that you’re a little down on your luck.

(4) Make a sign. A simple sign on a piece of cardboard makes you more noticeable and tells your story—it’s advertising, plain and simple. Remember, you want to make people feel good for giving you money, so give them a reason: you just got laid off, you’ve got a family to feed, etc., and you need help. Tell your story concisely, and make your sign in neat, large letters. Make sure the letters are bold enough to read.

(5) Find a suitable location. Location is all-important to a successful begging endeavor, and the most important facet of location is traffic. The more traffic you can get, the better. There are two general approaches to location: you can target foot traffic or automobile traffic, but usually not both.

(6) Smile and greet people courteously. You'd be surprised how far a simple, unassuming smile will go. Smiles are welcoming, and put people at ease. Especially in the U.S., people generally appreciate a positive attitude. Then again, remember that you’re down on your luck, and you may want to play it a bit differently. Regardless of your approach, say "hello" or “good morning” to people and make an effort to notice them politely—they’ll be more likely to do the same to you.

(7) Ask for money directly and softly. You may assume that people know you want money, and most people do, but you’ve still got to work for it. Ask passersby nicely and in a quiet voice—they’ll have to listen more carefully and may slow down, and you’ll also appear less aggressive. Have something to put money in: a cup, a cap, a guitar case, a pan, etc. This makes it easier for people to quickly drop some change in. Empty it regularly so people—both customers and potential crooks—can't see how much you’re bringing in.

(8) Remember the names of your regulars. If you frequent a certain location, make an effort to remember the people who give you money. You probably won’t get a chance to know them by name (although you may), but you can recognize their faces and any distinguishing characteristics—for example, a person may carry an umbrella every day, even when it’s not raining—and give them a special greeting. Maybe even give certain regulars endearing nicknames if you don’t know their real names.

(9) Thank everyone. If someone gives you money, show your appreciation. Even when people don’t give you money, thank them (implicitly) just for listening, and wish them a good day. Doing so will make them think twice about refusing your request next time they pass you.

- reprinted from Wikihow

Here are my comments to the steps given above:

(1) I think we, who are the alms givers not the alms receivers, think mostly about our own emotional state. I wonder if we consider how difficult it must be for panhandlers, at least for the sincere ones who are truly in desperate straits, to ask for help from total strangers in public places and how awkward and worthless they must feel when few people will even speak to them, let alone look at them. Fr. Christian (Blessed Is the Kingdom) recently published an interesting poem on this subject written by Ellen Palmer in the 1990s called "Eyes." It is very much worth the time it takes to click on the link and read that sensitive and touching poem.

(2) Likewise, the more we learn about the people to whom we give money, the easier it is to give to them. That is why I like carrying God's credit card with me so that I can take someone to lunch, fill their tank with gas, or help them out in more personal ways, ways in which I can get to know a little bit about them.

3) When I put in the effort to get to know someone to whom I am giving alms (obviously, this is not always impossible and really is the exception rather than the rule), I almost always discover that we have something in common.

(4) I wonder how good this advice is. I do find those signs helpful if I am just driving into or out of a parking lot. However, I often hesitate in those situations, not knowing whether the person is "for real" or not even though it is not up to me to make that determination. I never hesitate when someone approaches me person to person on the street or in the parking lot with a specific request. What do you think?

(5) I guess I am more likely to get involved in the foot traffic location, but perhaps that is because I love to get involved: get to know the person, buy something for them, eat lunch together, or just sit and pass the time of day or listen to their stories. To do that in an auto traffic area would be very difficult -- I would have to notice, not hesitate (my bane), go park, and return. That requires greater deliberation on my part and less spontaneity and is therefore less likely to happen. On the other happen, I imagine that penny for penny, it might result in more income for the panhandler. I guess it depends on what it is specifically they need and why.

(6) This works both ways. Even if I do not have any change with me or time to stop and help, in my experience, saying "hello" makes both of us feel better. After all, would we not say "hello" to any other individual we might pass by. Why should panhandlers deserve any less courtesy?

(7) Good advice and not necessarily superfluous. If I know what someone wants money for, I could sometimes help in ways that they don't anticipate. For example, once Donnie had someone ask for money outside our local grocery store. He said he wanted to buy breakfast. Donnie bought him breakfast, and the two sat and ate at one of the cafe tables outside, California being a state of perpetual spring. Then he learned that one of the things that the panhandler was collecting money for was a cell phone because he had friends who could tell him where day jobs in our local agricultural economy were available at the last minute because someone was ill for the day; even though there was not a full time job opening, he was able to go and harvest for the day. Without a cell phone, however, he could not find out about these opportunities in time. Donnie told him to stay put; then he returned to our house only one minute away. (In San Ignatio, everything is only one minute away by car.) He returned with a spare cell phone that we no longer needed because we had upgraded and gave it to the panhandler, whose name, I believe, was Dick.

(8) Good advice. Getting to know a panhandler by name is helpful to both giver and receiver and can build a relationship. For a number of weeks, Donnie, who works at home and loves to take his daily breakfast at the cafe of our local grocery store, would thereafter meet Dick for breakfast every morning that Dick did not get a call to work. Over time, Dick was absent more and more, and finally, one day, Dick told Donnie he would not be able to meet for breakfast any more because he had just gotten a full-time job in the fields!

(9) An attitude of gratitude is good for everyone. I also thank panhandlers for sharing themselves with me, for trusting me with their stories, and for letting me help them. The rewards of alms giving go in two directions -- and maybe even in more than two directions.

I am curious as to your reactions to these "instructions." Comments?

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