By Lillie-Beth Brinkman and Helen Ford Wallace and Callie Gordon
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.