QUESTION: Panhandlers at various street lights in Oklahoma City have increased. Some people feel that we should give these people money at every stop. I do not feel like I have extra cash for this, but it is hard to politely look away when they are right in front of you. Is there a universal NO that I should know about or should I just pretend that I don't see them?
CALLIE'S ANSWER: You answered it best by simply saying “I am sorry I don't have any extra cash.” I had a friend who would get very upset when we would drive by people who were in need of food. She decided to make a “hungry kit.” She put all sorts of food that wouldn't go bad in her car and would pass these out whenever she could! It was no longer sad but made her happy!
LILLIE-BETH'S ANSWER: There isn't much else you can do at the moment they ask other than decline their request by saying “no” and shaking your head or driving by without responding unless you want to.
However, so many people live with great needs, and your conscience about turning panhandlers away may be leading you in a direction to help people of some sort. Pick a respected nonprofit organization that mirrors your interests and serve there often, with your own gifts of time or money. The Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits notes that there are nearly 19,000 nonprofits working in Oklahoma, covering a diverse set of interests. By doing that, when you see people asking you for money, you'll know that you're already working to change lives for the better.
HELEN'S ANSWER: It is so sad to see these people on the streets asking for cash. The people who are on the corner of Memorial and May in Oklahoma City are usually regulars, and I see people contributing to them every time I drive past. If you don't have the extra cash to give them, just say shake your head and say no or ignore them. Hopefully that is enough to discourage them or the light will change and you can go forward. It is up to you how you want to handle these people and sometimes a firm answer is better than no answer.
If someone seems threatening to you when you say no, don't hesitate to call the police.
If there is a time that you have extra money and you want to give to help people stay off the streets, find an efficient charity. That way you know the money you give will go to the people you designate.
GUEST'S ANSWER: Matt Price, Features Editor: This can be a tough situation for people who wish to be charitable and compassionate. However, Oklahoma City actually has a law against aggressive panhandling, which includes continuing to beg or solicit from a person after the person has refused. So your best response if you don't want to contribute is a firm “sorry, no” or, if you are in your car, just continuing to look forward. Many people don't wish to give to panhandlers, as there are concerns about how the money will be used.
If you do want to help, but don't wish to give cash, there are two programs in Oklahoma City designed to assist panhandlers. Homeless Alliance Executive Director Dan Straughan made two suggestions in an October 2012 story in The Oklahoman: the City Rescue Mission's Compassion Card and the Homeless Alliance's Real Change voucher.
Here's more information, from the story by Leigh Anne Manwarren:
• The Homeless Alliance's voucher program costs $1 per voucher, which pays for a person's bus fare to the Homeless Alliance's three multipurpose shelters. Go to www.homelessalliance.org/?page_id=37
• The City Rescue Mission's Compassion Card program is a card with the shelter's phone number so a volunteer can pick up a person in need, and the card is free. Go to http://cityrescue.org/learn/services-and-programs/compassion-card-project/