Are we wrong to enable panhandling?

Below is a viral video of a homeless New Yorker who lives off panhandling and sleeping with different women every night.

I recently posted a link to this video on the Facebook newsfeed of a friend who is a social worker in New York City that works with the homeless. I drew attention to the fact that this individual was making $150 dollars a day from panhandling. Personally, I felt that the behavior being exhibited by this individual was immoral and cast those struggling with homelessness and poverty in a negative light. He appears to me to be abusing the goodwill of others.

This is what my friend had to say in response to my sentiments of this being what’s wrong with some homeless individuals-

Lol, its not “whats wrong” with homeless people! They do what they must to get their needs met and panhandling is very profitable for the homeless AND the not homeless people who pretend to be homeless. I am totally against giving money to the homeless, I tell people this all the time. Give them food or buy them food, but do not give money.

Its a huge challenge in my line of work, because those that give my homeless clients money, enable them and make them want to stay in the streets because they are getting their needs met. They have no interest in coming inside and unfortunately, a majority of the time the money they make is used for drugs and alcohol, which makes the work so much more difficult because these homeless folks can’t sober up enough to work towards housing.

I have literally been in the streets with clients, watching them panhandle and have asked people not to give them money. So actually, the real problem, what’s really “wrong” is the people that give the homeless a dollar or quarter here and there. They think they’re doing a good deed, they’re helping the homeless, now they can pat themselves on the back for helping a homeless person. Then they get upset when the subways are full of beggars and the streets are lined with homeless people and they blame the system and lack of services in NYC. When in reality, they are part of the problem. Sometimes I feel like saying “good job sir, you just helped this man get his next pint of vodka and remain homeless!”

After reading these remarks I now realize that my belief that there are homeless individuals who abuse the kindness of others is a bit off. It’s not so much that they are using those of us who give them money as it us enabling their behavior. It’s like my friend says, they are getting their needs met and don’t know any better. It’s up to society-at-large and the professionals who work in the streets with the homeless everyday to show them the way.

Photo by Ed Yourdon

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