'Us & Them': To Give or Not to Give?

May 15, 2015

When you see panhandlers on the street, what do you do? Ignore them and walk the other way? Hand them some spare change? And, how do you decide?

A lot of people have strong opinions about panhandlers, but are they based in reason or in ideology?

That's the focus of latest episode of Us & Them, the new podcast from Trey Kay & West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

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Trey Kay says the WVPB news staff’s reporting about a panhandling controversy in Parkersburg was the inspiration for his most recent episode.

Last fall, reporter Dave Mistich filed a story about the city of Parkersburg posting signs that read:

“Please Do Not Contribute to the Drug and Alcohol Problem by Giving To Panhandlers.”

“These signs made it sound like the city knew for sure that the money panhandlers get goes to drug and alcohol,” Kay recalled. “And I’ve always wondered whether that was true. I’ve always struggled with whether to give money to panhandlers. And so do a lot of people.”

Trey grew up in West Virginia, but he lives in New York now. He says whenever he’s in New York City, he encounters panhandlers. He recently stopped random people in Manhattan to ask if they give to beggars. He was surprised by how much thought people had given this question. Nearly everyone he talked to had a reason they choose to give – or not to give.

John, a guy Kay met at Penn Station, said he doubts that these people really need the money.

“I’ve seen some wearing $200 sneakers panhandling,” John said.  “So you tell me.  Why would I give that person money?”

A man named Simon told Kay he rarely gives because he believes panhandlers “just have to find a job.”

“I’ve seen a lot of alcoholics drinking, not really working,” Simon said.  “They’re just lazy.  They don’t want to work.”

Another person told him she doesn’t give because she’s seen TV news stories about beggars who are actually rich. 

Others said they gave if the person seemed sincerely needy. And some said they didn’t care how the panhandlers spend the money – even if it goes for alcohol or drugs.