It might sound mean-spirited to some readers but I never give my spare coins to panhandlers. I learned my lesson thirty-five years ago about the harm it does to these folks. Here is a story that tells the reason for my apparent stinginess.
In August of 1977 I was transferred by my CNIB supervisor to work at a smoke stand in the Beaver House liquor store. The Corona Hotel stand had been closed because of poor sales and people also stole merchandise from that shop. They seemed heedless of the fact that they were literally robbing the blind blind. This stand had everything behind the counter and I fetched whatever the customers wanted. The room was quite small, about the size of the average broom closet.
Once again, I struggled with my conscience. The pop and mixers we sold were used in people's drinks. Was I indirectly contributing to alcoholism and drunkenness? I prayed and pondered earnestly on this for a few days. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that people were ultimately responsible for their own actions.
I regret not thinking through a related moral matter that autumn. Shabbily-dressed men frequently came to the store counter and asked me for dollar bills for their change. I dutifully helped them until the manager of the liquor store came to the window. "Are you giving these bums paper money for their change?" When I replied that I had, he continued, "I Don't want you to do that anymore."
"Because these men are alcoholics. When you give them bills, they just buy booze with them and it worsens their problems."
"I was only trying to be helpful."
"Well, don't do that anymore. You're just keeping these men addicted. "We don't sell alcohol to anyone with lots of change because we know that they just panhandled it. These people need food and a place to live, not booze."
I apologized and agreed not to make change for those street people anymore. This mature gentleman's criticism hurt but I also realized that he cared for these derelicts of society. Had he been greedy, he could have accepted their money without caring what they did with his product. I thought I was helping when I was actually hindering people. I accepted the liquor store manager's admonition since it came with a noble explanation.
I wrote about other moral dilemmas I faced in How I Was Razed: A Journey from Cultism to Christianity. I hope to have this memoir in print and e-book form by the end of the year. As for my two previous memoirs, please click on my books link at the top left side of this page to learn more about them.