4 Quarters to Walk Away

It was 3:00 in the afternoon. I had grabbed an hour to squeeze in a haircut before the Executive Committee meeting. After the haircut, I stopped for gas and a bottle of water. While waiting in the short line to pull back onto the street, a man approached my car and tapped on the partially opened window.

He had a look that instantly made my wary. He was thirty-something and his attempt at flashy clothes bore the burden of being both cheap and rumpled. He was a bit chubby with died blond hair greatly in need of a touch-up.

I lowered the window to hear his pitch. “My boss just dumped me at this gas station and I need to get to the bus station to buy a ticket for home. Can you spare $3.00?”

I immediately wondered why a boss would just dump an EE in the middle of Reno. This was an OK place to be in the daytime, but at night I would not walk through the area with my wife on my arm. The area accommodated highway over passes, some very inexpensive housing utilized by incoming, low wage casino employees. There are plenty of nighttime crime stories in the paper that are sourced in this vicinity. He had beer breath and was a bit unsteady on his feet.

He looked pointedly at the loose change in my console. I lowered my window a bit and leaned toward him. “I don’t usually do this, but here are 4 quarters. The city bus stop is right across the street. You can buy a ticket for a dollar that will get you to the Greyhound Station. Now, just walk away.”

I rolled up my window and drove away.

Now I feel bad. Perhaps I should have directed him to the local homeless shelter. Sometimes they have money for these things. I was angry with his story. He blamed his boss for dumping him, but he smelled of alcohol in the middle of the day and I immediately thought he deserved to be fired for drinking on the job. But perhaps he had the beers after he was fired and used his pocket money for that instead of trying to get to the Greyhound station.

What would you have done?



  • 35 Comments sorted by Votes Date Added
  • Marc: Every evening, as I wait for the light to turn green, (it is always, always red) I am approached my a gentleman carrying a sign thats says he is a down on his luck Vietnam vet. To add to this picture, he has only one arm.

    The first time I saw him, I pulled into the MacDonald's on the corner, went to the drive up window and odered him a Big Mac, fries, large soda and a pie. I circled the block and reached the intersection with its red light. As I approached him, I held out the bag, handed it to him and told him to enjoy. The light had turned green and as I accelerated I looked into my rear view mirror to see him toss the bag and contents into the gutter.

    I know dam well what I would have done.
  • I may sound cruel, but I probably wouldn't have done even that for fear of a car jacking. Sounds like he has made his own bed...
  • Santa Barbara has a big homeless population. I think most of them are there either by choice or poor choices they've made. If I were homeless I'd want to live in Santa Barbara too.

    I used to help when I could with change or food or whatever, but after seeing the same people day after day in the same spot I stopped. I realized I wasn't helping the problem.

    It's gotten to the point where they actually tell you they just want money for alcohol or drugs. You simply become their ATM.

    They have cardboard signs that say, "Why lie? I need a beer." Or they'll ask for money for pot.

    One teenager had a blank cardboard sign and he told people, "I can't afford a pen".
    It's become a joke to a lot of them, so I have no problem not helping those ones.
    The ones that really need the help, know that there are shelters and organizations out there to help them.

    I would've kept going and not lowered my window. I think the best way to help is to donate to the churches and other organizations that help them.

  • Surely Marc, you are not naive enough to fall for this crap. Notwithstanding your eloquent writing, anybody who approaches you at a corner or at an intersection is a fraud. Fall for that and you deserve it. All of these guys are either crackheads or dope addicts of some nature, period. Usually there is either a Job Service Office or a Temporary Labor Service Office within a quarter of a mile. Offer them a ride to the Job Service office and watch them scramble! Get real!!
  • I would have not opened the window. If you really want to help donate time, money or food to a soup kitchen or shelter.
  • You were more generous that I would have been. I can not walk down the street in downtown Boston without being harassed (yes, harassed) for money, cigarettes (6 bucks a pack - buy your own!), whatever. I make donations of time, money and clothing to shelters on a regular basis so I feel that I do my part to help those who need it. I too bought food for someone once, a woman who was begging for change with her baby. I went into CVS and bought a bottle of milk, juice and baby crackers for the baby. She swore at me and asked what the f*** SHE was supposed to do with this sh*t. Never again.
  • I used to live in Greensboro, NC, and this scrawny, gold-toothed woman used to haunt a particular intersection panhandling. One time she came up and said she needed money because her kids hadn't eaten in days. I told the truth, that my (then) husband worked for Child Protective Services and could help. She took off running. This is just like the woman who pretended she was pregnant and would rob people when they stopped to help what they thought was a very pregnant woman with car trouble. I would donate to local shelters and charities and keep your car windows up.
  • Hey Marc: Your heart is certainly in the right place, but think of where these folks hang out...intersections...fast food restaurants....etc. They are looking for easy marks (no pun intended).

    Anyway...all the advice is good ... donate your and money to shelters which offer food and lodging to these guys if this is what they are interested in.

    Our local police have asked the public not to give to panhandlers - it just encourages more of it.

    Now...we even have so called "legitimate" causes out at intersections trying to collect money for churches and other organizations. You have to worry about running over them as they go from car to car trying to elicit money. I don't even acknowledge them if they approach my car.

  • We had a group in our area two years ago who wore white shirts and ties and claimed to be collecting money for the building of a church. They looked nice enough and their cause sounded legitimate. Turned out they were in here from Idaho. The cops ran them out of town after about a week.

    A local television station carried a program a couple of years ago. They used a hidden camera to film a group of panhandlers in the middle of a busy highway intersection. The filming covered three days. It showed these guys getting money from people in cars, then switching 'shifts' and the guy who was leaving would go to the convenience store on the corner and buy one of those 'mortar round sized' beer cans in a sack and go behind the store and drink it and toss the sack.

    The North Jackson Job Service Office is literally less than a half mile from the intersection which is the most used for this purpose. The cardboard signs always lie. "Will work for food" is a lie. No they won't. Offer them a little yard work and see. If they wanted food they could go to any shelter in town or any of several soup kitchens. Beer, Wine, Crack, Pot, Crank and Meth.
  • I'm with the others, donate to a legitimate homeless shelter. I never give to anyone in the street. A few years ago, there was a violinist who played street corners to "get money to stay in school." It turned out he was living in a very expensive apartment paid for by the generous public.
  • I'd like to go back to the comment made about the charities that collect at traffic lights and intersections. This has always driven me nuts...a while back my step-daughter's organization decided to do this and I was a mean horrible person for not permitting her to participate.

    First, no matter how well organized, she could have been picked up by any looney tune driver in no time at all and with all the confusion, who knows how long it would take for someone to realize a kid was missing.

    Second, I'm always afraid that I'm going to hit one of these people and it will be my fault because I'm in the car.

    Third, they cause more traffic problems than already exist.

    Fourth, there is no way to verify the validity of the organization. They don't like it much when I offer to send them a check instead, if they'll give me some literature....

  • All four points are absolutely correct!!!

    These "charitable" people are CONSTANTLY at an intersection I drive through daily - selling M&Ms and Pixy Stix. One of them approached my car once (when my window was fully up) - when I shook my head to indicate "no thanks" he proceeded to scream and curse at me. I was just pulling out my cell phone to dial 911 when the light turned green and I could pull away. I still kick myself for not following through & calling the police.
  • the knights of Columbus and the Lions Club always wear those bright yellow vests and make you feel guilty for punching the gas pedal and moving past them. Then there are the firemen colllecting for the burn center with the boot extended for your convenience in dropping change. Clever. I know it sounds harsh and cruel but I don't drop change there either since the expose' on the state's burn center director absconding with hundreds of thousands. And I quit giving to United Way years ago when I saw the director at the Holiday Inn bar treating a large party of guests on the United Way tab. I've been told that St. Jude Children's Hospital in Memphis is either owned by or has as their charity arm an organization named ALSAC, which is American, Lebanese, Syrian Associated Charities. Somebody please correct me on that if I am wrong. These things don't start or end at street corners. Maybe that's just the most visible.
  • Marc, I say you did the right thing. At least you know that 100% of your contribution went to the end user, unlike most charities where a small fraction actually finds its way to the end user.

    Now, as to what these sidewalk solicitors do with the contribution, it's their business. The same thing is true with charities when they get your money. They say "thank you" (maybe) and that's it.

    I buy groceries (year 'round) and Christmas presents for a single mom with two kids. She has drinking and gambling addictions. Am I an enabler? Yeah, maybe. But they get some decent food and a decent Christmas in spite of some personal weaknesses. So be it. I am NOT a moral judge.

    Charity should be unconditional. WWJD is more than just a bracelet.
  • Forgive me for disagreeing, but charity (of the type we're discussing) should NOT always be unconditional. I have no problem helping you - IF you are doing everything in your power to improve your situation, but are just having a tough time.

    Why should I hand over my hard-earned money to someone who has no intention of trying to help themselves? Why should I buy that person alcohol or drugs or gambling money?

    As to WWJD - I frankly think he'd pull the guy up & walk him to the nearest shelter or employment agency. He HELPED people. There's a difference between generosity and allowing yourself to be a doormat.
  • "What Would Jesus Do" - it's a popular bracelet for many people.
  • An alternate version is WWDD.
  • Wouldn't you just love that! Maybe Tiffany & Co. would be interested in marketing such an item x;-)
  • Marc, I would have done the same thing. Regardless of his reason, he is less fortunate. It may be out of addiction, ignorance, lazziness, or disability; but nonetheless, he was less fortunate. He may be 'that way' through his own device, but it doesn't matter.

    It may be considered foolish by all, but I still would have given the quarters.
  • [font size="1" color="#FF0000"]LAST EDITED ON 05-19-04 AT 03:14PM (CST)[/font][br][br]This thread has made me very sad. It reminded me of my husband's uncle.

    Uncle's dad and brother died of alcoholism. Uncle couldn't keep a job (for obvious reasons). At first family members tried to help him and took him in. But then they would come home one day and discover him gone, along with something else like the tv. After awhile, only his mother would take him in. Then she died.

    One day my husband and I were sitting at a McDonalds having lunch. I noticed a man acting a little peculiar. He sat down at a table that someone had just left (and left the remains of their meal). This man sat there for awhile and then when he appeared to think it was safe, he began to eat the remains of the meal.

    Appalled, I mentioned him to my husband. When he turned to look he had a big surprise. It was Uncle. I hadn't recognized him.

    We offerred to buy Uncle a meal. He accepted. He asked what we would buy so hubby replied, "Anything you want." Uncle had a Big-Mac, the largest size chicken nuggets, the largest fry, and the largest drink.

    One winter things got very cold and Uncle was found in the street. He survived, but lost both his legs. While in the hospital he told my mother-in-law that he had never been happier. Unfortunately, they couldn't keep him. Once back out on the street he couldn't resist the alcohol.

    Remember, many homeless shelters have time limits or won't help someone who can't help themselves. There are too many out there they consider more deserving. Uncle was on the street because he couldn't resist the alcohol so no shelter would take him.

    Whatever charity you give your money to, you always run the risk that someone will steal it or take advantage of you. But not giving runs the risk that someone in serious need will do without something important (like food or medicine) because you were afraid of being taken advantage of. My philosophy is that their stealing is their problem. They will have to answer for it one day. I will have to answer for my actions too. I remember what the Bible says about helping strangers. I give when I feel it is appropriate, and don't worry about it after that. That doesn't mean that I close my eyes to possible rip-offs, but I don't ban a charity because of one person's wrong doing either.

    As far as I know, Uncle is still alive...if you can call it that. I am thankful for what I have, and share it whenever possible.
  • That is a sad story - it's too bad that your Uncle won't allow those who care about him to help. I hope wherever he is - he's doing well.

    Just so I'm not seen as the heartless witch of the Forum - I don't ban any particular charity because of one person's wrongdoing (as you say).

    I give what I can, when I can to those people and organizations I choose. My particular choice is to give to those who have no way to help themselves - children's organizations or those helping people with horrible disease. I choose to not give to random beggars on the street.

    My bigger issue is having religion and/or Jesus thrown in my face when someone doesn't agree with my views on charity. I personally don't feel that I will be judged because I chose to give to certain charities over others.

    Give as you will and I'll do the same. Thanks for adding your experience to the discussion, NaeNae.
  • I'm with you there Yahoo. I do what I can, give what I can and refuse to be made to feel guilty when I either can not or will not donate to a particular person or cause. The unions in my company have partnerships with domestic violence shelters and regularly collect personal hygeine items for the shelters as well as school supplies for the children living in shelters. I belong to a women's employee group and just donated suits I no longer wear, some never worn, for needy women to wear on a job interview. I donate my time for book collections and give money to the various "walks" that take place through out the year (my company matches my donation). I sponsor underpriviliged children at Christmas time and buy them presents. I don't think this makes me little Miss Wonderful. I know I am fortunate and share what I can. I'll be d*mned if someone tries to make me feel guilty for not giving a begger on the street a dollar towards a bottle of Mad Dog.

    NaeNae, my heart goes out to your family. I too have the hopeless uncle who is addicted to everything but alcohol. The only reason he is not homeless is that my grandmother is alive and he has never stolen from anyone in the family so she sees no reason to throw him out. But I'll tell you, he needed money once to get his car out of tow. I said sure, and went to the tow yard myself. I wasn't taking any chances.
  • Back when our offices were in downtown Nashville (we're in the burbs now), I was frequently approached by people claiming they had run out of gas and needed money to buy enough to get home. The trick was that the story and the amount and usually the appearance of the person asking were just within the range of plausibility. It seemed they were always from a town about 45 miles away. They always asked for an odd amount like $3 or $4.50. They didn't look hardcore homeless, but like they might actually have a car. The car was always about three blocks away, for some reason. Frequently they even carried a plastic milk jug, as if they planned to fill it up with gasoline.

    I suspect it was a very successful ploy, successful enough that it attracted copycats.

    Maybe one of them has moved to Reno.

    Brad Forrister
    Director of Publishing
    M. Lee Smith Publishers

  • In Houston I don't roll down my window for anyone. I sat at an intersection one day and saw a pitiful looking person with a sign that said "ran out of gas, must get home" and parked next to him at the corner gas station was a battered pickup. While I sat there he collected a few times from other drivers. The next day I was at the same intersection and there he was again. I have also seen kids dressed in sports uniforms with the balls cut open for donations. My husband and I saw a group of basketball kids with the balls raising donations in a business district area. We stopped for lunch at a burger joint when the group walked in and began counting out change for everyone's lunch. That's the second reason I never give money. Sometimes it's hard to look away, but I have found that most of them are making a living that way.
  • >Sometimes it's hard to look away, but I have
    >found that most of them are making a living that

    Marc: I think karenosi hit on the note that makes being randomly charitable today very uncomfortable. Most of us work very hard for our money and, though giving to others less fortunate is something we really want to do, we are leary because of those who are just out there begging as a way to make a living off us instead of getting a job themselves.

    While it's true and has been pointed out nicely above, that some people can't do this due to addictions or handicaps, I know that I still don't want to be taken advantage of. And the fear of this keeps me from giving like I know that I should. The bible says "perfect love casts out fear" so I guess that I need to keep trusting in God and then help whenever I am impressed to do so.

    Cheryl C.
  • Here in Riverside City, the freeway offramps are where the many homeless hang out waiting for handouts, some with signs, some without . Then you see vendors selling flowers, oranges, candies at the offramps. Sometimes I will pass a buck to someone waiting for a handout - just an instinct as who to give it to. But I never buy anything from the vendors walking the offramps.

  • The bible says "perfect love
    >casts out fear" so I guess that I need to keep
    >trusting in God and then help whenever I am
    >impressed to do so.

    Cheryl, I would certainly never try to offend one who quotes the Bible. I grew up strict Baptist and know most of the Bible, or have forgotten it. However, I'm not sure what that passage means. I would not interpret it to mean 'trust blindly in the Lord and interract with the homeless and walk without fear among the dangerous.' I can't relate that Bible verse to freely handing over my cash to those who make poor choices. And I find that fear has nothing to do with it. Please correct me or guide me otherwise. Thanks. x:-)

  • I was thinking more of Matt 25:35-40. No where does this refer to blind trust or walking among the dangerous without fear. It simply relates to Marc and others who would have done the same in giving away the four quarters.
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