As promised, here is the second post for Panhandling Scams.
In some metro-urban areas of the country, more and more panhandlers are showing up on the streets. It is hard to tell which ones are really in trouble and which ones are out there trying to get one over on unsuspecting people. In my previous blog post, I talked about the panhandler who picks out a target in an attempt to swindle money by claiming they (the panhandler) are in immediate need of a small amount of money and no other solution but getting cash in their hand will alleviate their dire situation. In reality, they aren't in need but only looking to alleviate someone of their hard earned cash.
The second part of the panhandling series deals with the street beggars you see on corners holding up signs like "Hungry, family homeless. Please help." Don't get me wrong, I do sympathize with the many families who are really homeless and jobless. Unfortunately, it is hard to distinguish who really is in need and who is out to make a lazy buck.
Though hard to distinguish, there are still some signs which can help you determine if the street beggar you are about to give money to is really in need.
1. Take a drive down the main strip of your town, city. Count how many street beggars are at each intersection. If you see a beggar at almost every street corner or intersection, chances are it is a crew working the area. Is this a bad thing? It can be, let's face it - if there is a leader of the crew they aren't handing out 1099 forms for tax purposes and certainly aren't claiming to be a business which means no background checks for the people on the crew. These crews can be introducing transient criminals into a community without a care what these crew members can or will do in their surroundings.
2. Before handing out money watch how the street beggars interact with others or act when they think no one is really is watching. You don't have to intently stare or even watch one street beggar. All you have to do is be observant, which you can do waiting for a light to change. Below are a few things I've noted while sitting at a red light with a street beggar on the corner.
A. They try to hide the fact they have a cell phone and are texting or get a call. In my area I have seen 4 "homeless" sign holders pull out a cell phone, text or make a call. Only one was somewhat smart enough to try and hide the phone behind his sign. Another one had an iPHONE. So, yeah no money for them.
B. The changing of the guard. A sure sign of a begging crew, oh it's 2:00 PM it's time for Ralph to take over the corner for me. I can't say the countless times I've seen two corner sign holders meet up, one hands the other their cardboard sign and walks away with the other taking their place.
C. If you see one with a sign that says "Will work for food" or "Will work for (insert whatever here)" call them on it. Ask them if they will come to your house and mow the lawn, trim the hedges, etc, etc. See what the answer is, bet it's no.
D. Give something other than money. If you really feel the need to give something, give food. Watch the reaction, there have been times where a sign holder has been given food and gets angry because it's not money.
3. Sometimes it is beneficial to read the sign they have. Why you ask? Simple. If someone who looks like they are 30 or younger is holding a sign that says "Homeless Vietnam Vet" do you really think they are?
4. On the same note as "Changing of the Guard" and "One on every street corner". If you can't recognize the panhandler on your local corner or it's always a different one, well it's a panhandler crew and chances are you aren't really helping by giving them money.
Let me stop here and say once again I have no objection to those truly in need and who are genuinely down on their luck and have no other way to support themselves or their family. But, understand there are times when it's more beneficial to them to give food, the address of a nearby shelter, or food pantry. The reason is there are other resources at those facilities that can be utilized more than the dollar you give someone.
I am not saying don't ever give money to a panhandler, I'm saying be aware of what you may be doing. You may be enabling an addiction. Some panhandlers are already getting help through the government or state but of course that help doesn't include paying for addictions, so they may turn to panhandling for an unregulated source of income for that monkey on their back.
You may be helping someone stay on the run from the law. It's a harsh reality but sometimes if someone doesn't want to own up to their crime they will go off grid and what better way to do that than become a panhandler in a large city.
If you really feel compelled to help, give to your local food pantry, shelter or volunteer your time. A helping hand doesn't have to have money in it to be effective.