How should people handle panhandling in Saskatoon? The issue has come to the forefront in the media in the past couple of weeks, with many people weighing in. A 2011 article in the Atlantic stated:
I’m certain that there are some cases where donations to an especially needy beggar are justified. But the ultimate danger in panhandling is that we don’t give to every beggar. There’s not enough change in our purses. We choose to donate money based on the level of perceived need. Beggars known this, so there is an incentive on their part to exaggerate their need, by either lying about their circumstances or letting their appearance visibly deteriorate rather than seek help.
If we drop change in a beggar’s hand without donating to a charity, we’re acting to relieve our guilt rather than underlying crisis of poverty. The same calculus applies to the beggar who relies on panhandling for a booze hit. In short, both sides fail each other by being lured into fleeting sense of relief rather than a lasting solution to the structural problem of homelessness.
Here are a few suggestions for a response the next time a panhandler asks you for money:
1. Acknowledge and Engage
- Smile and actually say hello. Go out of your way to approach rather than avoid panhandlers.
- Engage the person by starting a conversation. Take time to listen.
2. Don’t give money
- Ask what their greatest need is. In most cases, meeting the immediate need of food or clothing is best.
- Offer an alternative. Socks, underwear, toiletry items including toothbrushes and toothpaste, bottled water, granola bars or gift certificates for food can help address immediate needs.
- If you want to help a panhandler or homeless person get back on their feet, you can point them to the Lighthouse or other service agency aimed at lifting people out of poverty. Since 1997 we have provided long-term housing for those who have experienced homelessness in Saskatoon.
- If they are in immediate distress you can call the Lighthouse Mobile Outreach at 306-653-0538. They can transport them to a safe space.
- Many organizations are working together to end homelessness in Saskatoon including the Lighthouse, the Friendship Inn, the Bridge, Salvation Army, and the Saskatoon Indian and Metis Friendship Centre and many more. These organizations are able to increase their levels of support and programming through your donations of money and goods. To donate to the Lighthouse click here.
- If you volunteer, not only do you give back to the community and help those in need but by sharing your experience you can help eliminate misconceptions and stereotypes. Gather a group of friends and start a clothing or non-perishable food drive, host a fundraising event, or volunteer at the Lighthouse Cameco Community Kitchen or other local organizations.
In Orlando, Florida, the Central Florida Regional Commission took another approach to panhandling. They asked people who where panhandling what the people who passed them everyday might not know about them. The end result was a video that is truly eye-opening.
If you have a story of helping a panhandler in a non-traditional way, please let us know in the comments!