Thoughts on Panhandling

posted by Mike on September 8th, 2005

On the one hand, a lot of guys panhandle to feed addictions.

On the other hand, asking for help is a basic social action. When I came into the world, the first thing I did was took a breath and cried for help.

When a city mounts an anti-panhandling media campaign, it can come across as saying: “Welcome to our town! Don’t even think of asking for help here!”

How should we relate to people who are asking for things we probably shouldn’t give them?


Some clergy in Worcester say in a statement:

It is, of course, praiseworthy to be giving money to legitimate charities that seek to minister to the poor. But it is self-delusion to believe that every person in need in our community can have his or her needs met to satisfaction even by the excellent array of service agencies that serve our community. Further, for some of our faiths the act of responding directly to the beggar is transformative for the one who gives. Should we ever discourage such behavior?

Peter Maurin was the co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement. He wrote:

Why Not Be a Beggar?

God wants us to be
our brother’s keeper.
To feed the hungry,
to clothe the naked,
to shelter the homeless,
to instruct the ignorant,
at a personal sacrifice,
is what God
wants us to do.
What we give to the poor
for Christ’s sake
is what we carry with us
when we die.
As Jean Jacques Rousseau
says:
“When a man dies
he carries
in his clutched hands
only that
which he has given away.”

People who are in need
and are not afraid to beg
give to people not in need
the occasion to do good
for goodness’ sake.
Modern society
calls the beggar
bum and panhandler
and gives him the bum’s rush.
The Greeks used to say
that people in need
are the ambassadors of the gods.
We read in the Gospel:
“As long as you did it
to one of the least of my brothers
you did it to me.”
While modern society
calls the beggars
bums and panhandlers,
they are in fact
the Ambassadors of God.
To be God’s Ambassador
is something
to be proud of.

Ammon Hennacy was a Christian Anarchist who offered hospitality to the poor and resisted war and taxes. His point of view constrasts with Maurin’s:

There is a great difference between kindness and weakness. To give a derelict a “dime for coffee” because you are too weak to say no, knowing that it is for liquor, or to give money for carfare when a walk of a mile for an able bodied young man would help to waken him up a little, is also weakness.

St. Therese of Lisieux (Therese Martin) was a French nun who died young. Apropos of panhandling, she wrote:

I cannot always carry out the letter of the Gospel, for occasions arise when I am compelled to refuse a request. Yet, when love has taken deep root in the soul, it shows itself outwardly, and there is always a way of refusing so graciously what one cannot give, that the refusal affords as much pleasure as the gift itself.

It is true that people are more ready to beg from those who are most ready to give. Still, on the pretext that I shall be forced to refuse, I ought not to avoid an importunate person, since the Lord said: From the one who would borrow from you do not turn away (Matt. 5:42).

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One Comment Leave a comment.

  1. On September 9, 2005 at 11:36 Adam (Southern California) said:

    A couple of weeks ago, a guy walking along the street asked for some money for beer. He said it was his birthday and he wanted to celebrate a little. Then he actually produced a driver’s license to show that it really was his birthday. I gave him a dollar.

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