As with every other charitable system in our country — panhandling is abused. I can’t be party to that.

I used to work with off-duty police officers who would tell new stories every week about people using panhandling as an extra source of income. They would chase these people out of public spaces where panhandling is forbidden by law — and follow them back to a $30k car where the “poor panhandler” would laugh at them and drive away. Some even confess to the tens of thousands of dollars they made in “extra income” thanks to the “gullibility of others”.

These are professionals. You can’t tell if they really are poor and homeless or not. No matter how good your “radar” is — the sad fact is that you’re probably “being had” a decent percentage of the time.

There are people that are okay with that. The fact they are being fleeced x% of the time is justified by actually helping someone 100-x% of the time.

If that is you? Cool. This article says to “stop lying to yourself”. I request the same thing. If you think you can spot a “real” homeless person versus a very clever professional panhandler — YOU are lying to yourself.

I’ve called out a few panhandlers — and none of them have passed muster. There is a Wal-mart on my way home from work. I know for a fact that when I stop there — I will be hit by a pandhandler every single time. They are always different; some men, some women — some old, some young. But the story they tell? Almost scripted to a fine honed shine. They need gas for their vehicle, bus fare to get home — there are slight variations, but the bottom line is always the same. Your truck is parked on the other side and your starving daughter is in there? I’d love to meet her.

Funny how the “desperate plea face” instantly changes to “I can’t be bothered by you” face. These are professionals.

I will share a story where I was (probably) almost a victim to a panhandler.

In Phoenix, there are many 6-way intersections (yeah, no kidding) so your wait time at these can be extremely long. We pulled up to one and there was a guy — cowboy/farmer outfit (very common here) — standing at the intersection holding a sign. Early Baby Boomer by the look of it. Older guy.

The sign read, “Need gas for my truck so I can work”. His truck was right there, too. Damn nice truck. Work truck. The look on this man’s face was one of sheer humiliation. For him to stand there and hold that sign? It was obviously rending his soul out of his body.

This was long after I learned of the scam of the streets happening here — and my compassion level was at an all-time low. I sat there at the red light; looking at this man and his humiliation. The heart-strings were being tugged and he didn’t fit the profile at all — even the sign was non-standard.

I drove off, feeling guilty. My wife looked at me and said, “You want to help that guy, don’t you?” I told her I did, and she is even less compassionate about these things than I am. She said it was okay — we should turn around and do it.

It was only a few minutes later by the time we got back — and the man and his truck were gone. I felt bad I didn’t help — at the same time, I felt good that maybe I had made a good judgement call. If this guy was a pro-panhandler, he wouldn’t have up and left during rush hour; a lot more money to be had. I have to assume the guy got some cash to fuel his work truck — then left to, you know — work and feed his family. It was unfortunate that I wasn’t the one to help, but someone did and that was A Good Thing(tm) … I think.

Or maybe it was some other sucker that got taken? I’ll never know.

Since that man and his truck, I’ve been approached dozens of times. None of them have ever felt “right” like that. The pitches, the patter, the signage — everything feels like a big stage. I still call the occasional one out — and none of them have been able to produce the broken down truck, the hungry kid or even the sick dog. Once the facade appears to be over, they leave and go to the next person er … sucker.

I’ve seen people with “Hungry” signs throw away food given to them by compassionate people the second they are out of eyesight.

Am I jaded? I guess so. But I know I can’t be sure — so my position is to abstain.

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I write, blog, record and review anything that interests me — including humanity, parenting, gizmos & gadgets, video games and media.

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