Home Featured Urban Male Chronicles: Why Should I Give You My Money?

Urban Male Chronicles: Why Should I Give You My Money?

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“I’m not giving you money.”

It’s crazy how many times I say this a day living in a city like New York — more specifically in Harlem. Around just about every corner in neighborhoods with people that look like me is someone jockeying for change, professionally panhandling and asking for whatever I have in my pocket or a swipe of the card. Sometimes it’s to get into the train station. Other times it’s because they want me to absorb a fee, break a bill, and part with a fraction of what’s left.

I hear cautiously compelling stories told on the train every day. I say cautiously compelling because when you hear the same person saying they lost their mother last week a month later, it’s hard not to be cynical. It’s hard not to look at the man, eyes red, in the subway station every day with what appears to be his daughter and not ask “Why are you here? What is your life about that you need to have this child with you? What are you on?” What other question would I ask when I see another man not too far down the same platform that’s been rocking the same three stations with his son while rocking back and forth, hands trembling and unable to enunciate his words. These are the things I look for now when asked for something. I can’t be every brother’s keeper. But my thought has been that if you show me that you’re really trying to be about something else, then maybe we can be family. But if at all possible and your cause is your vice, just leave the children out of it.

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Callous as it is, that’s the reality that’s become. It’s tough for me to look in the mirror and say that’s who I am. I just think it’s the other side of being a product of your environment.   The more you’re asked, the more you check for before parting with the smallest amount of your hardly earned cash. Let’s be real. How many of us waste time during the day when we’re supposed to be on the proverbial clock contributing to someone’s bottom line?

I’ve been subconsciously trained to expect something significant for a dollar. A dollar I’d normally spend on a pack of skittles or a bottle of Poland Springs. You could argue that water is the key to survival. And to a certain degree, it is. But so is money. There aren’t many things you can do when you’re completely broke other than ask questions. So that’s what they do. They ask what can be spared. I make an evaluation before they say a word, then listen for them to say exactly what I expected them to say. Another reason for me to say no.

When I see kids on the train that’ve perfected their backflips or hat tricks, I’m more inclined to reach into my pocket. They don’t look like they’re going to use my money to buy crack. They don’t look like they’re going to put a dollar in a bottle and watch their liver float away. I guess you could say it’s a form of age discrimination. I think they still have a chance. Dancing is better than addiction. Even if it’s 2:30 in the afternoon in the middle of September and I feel like they should be somewhere else.

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But as of late, I’ve been focusing on self-awareness. I guess that’s the basis of this article. I’ve been paying more attention to how I react to people that I see when going about my life.

A few hours before I wrote this, I was walking toward a Taco Bell in some slacks and a collared shirt when I saw a man, thirty years old at the most, adorning a doo-rag, some ripped jeans and an old basketball jersey, lingering outside the door. I instinctively thought about how I’d say no since I knew I’d see him on the way out. Then he spoke.

Hey brother. Can you spare a–

I reached in my pocket, shrugged and handed him a quarter before making my way into Taco Bell and casually saying over my shoulder “That’s all I got in change.” It wasn’t until I got a few steps in that I realized the way I looked, the way he looked at me and then heard the rest of his sentence:

Hey brother. Can you spare a dollar or two, I’m locked out my apartment and just want something to eat. Even a taco would be cool.

Whether he was being truthful or not, I didn’t know. But there was something about the way he looked at me. It was like a mirror of assumption highlighting one of my many flaws. I’m cool with most of them, but something about this one made me feel particularly ugly. I turned around and went back outside.

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Hey man. What type of taco do you want?

A dorito taco would be cool. Really appreciate it. 

That taco was $1.39. I handed it to him on the way out, headed across the street then glanced back to see if he tossed it to the ground (Hey, I’ve seen people do it before). By the time I looked back, he was about thirty feet from that door and headed down the street toward a bunch of apartment buildings. I felt silly. Whether he was locked out of his apartment or not, I didn’t care. I just didn’t want him to look at everybody that looks like me the way I probably looked at him. $1.39 probably didn’t change his life, but at least it may have changed the potential perception I created. I know it changed mine.

Comment(34)

  1. Yes – Won't NY do it to you?

    I'm from the South and I've had to periodically check myself to make sure that these NY Streets don't harden how I was raised. Once a guy was asking for change – Instead of give him money, I walked 3 blocks back to my school is 98degree NY weather and bought him a sandwich, and a large cold water. I then trekked back to find him, and told him I didn't have money but I did have food. And he looked me square in the face and said, "But you don't have no money?? I wanted money." O_O So that kind of did it for me.

    I don't give money to people begging. And I basically dry-heave at people begging with their children.

    But the kids selling the candy and the subway dancers – They might get $5 from me on a good day because they actually took the time to WORK on that stuff.

    **I also NEVER give money to young white men. I actually frown at them. There's a particular few that have set up shop near my 72nd St Trader Joes that like to have their sign, and expect people to throw money in their jar while they are sitting on the sidewalk reading "Catcher in the Rye.." But I suppose that's another topic for another day.

    Thank you as always. LOVE YOU SBM!!!

  2. I'm exactly opposite of you. I felt as if it was my duty as a person to help the human being next to me. When it came to money I have to be honest, I have no real concept of 'this is my hard earned money' because I was always sustained by someone else's. When I worked I thought I was supposed to care for others as I was cared for and I always felt like, if I have it and you need it than you have it too. and for someone experiencing hardship and a low moment, when everyone in their world is overly critical and moving about as if they don't even exist, all you need is for someone to show you that you're here and you matter as a person. The suprise and emotion of how truly special it is to feel kindness — most aren't setting out to change lives but when you're a human being to a human being that commonly happens. The sheer joy, that burden lifted even if just for a moment. Selfnessness is another's freedom.

    1. The money aspect, I tended to help with bills and tuition and transportation (teens, young adults). It's hard enough paying for that kind of stuff when you're doing alright let alone when you and/or your family hits a rought spot; so, I have no apprehension to help out. The thing about me though, I'll give a complete stranger the coat off my back in a blizzard and I priortize people in need above myself until they're doing okay for themselves. That's a womanly, community nurturer kinda thing that I go overboard with though. Men are more practical, I think…..probably. My father only helps family. He supports a couple households, contributes to a few more, completely hazes anyone (within the family) asking for money. I think he just likes to know where his money is going and that the person is serious in what they're doing. I think it's a man thing to be stingy at first but the key here is he has noqualms about helping those in need.

  3. I actually have a stash in the car for fuel attendants and guys that watch my car as i park. Helping the poor is something i view as my Christian duty, i know these guys lie alot but thats not for me to judge- im called to help. Our church encourages us to keep snacks in the car- like biscuits or chips so that you can hand that out if you dont want to give money. Some people really need the help and others not so much- but i dont like to turn away from a person who does and help them restore some hope in humanity.

    Great post!

    Ps: im visiting NY later in the year- cant wait to experience my share of subway tales!!

  4. I enjoy reading everyone's perspective here and appreciate the authenticity that is offered about this. Based on the fact that many homeless people have untreated addictions (many times by choice) and a combination of mental illnesses that are resistant to treatment (denial) I will use my discretion when I see someone who is homeless: it's not just about how I work very hard for my own money, it's also about who I can see is needing something and how what I give may just create a shift or change in their own life: I often give to those I can sense are hanging on a thread and need a moment of relief and hope to shift their awareness. I have walked with a $20 in Chicago until I can "feel" the person who it will make a difference to-I will not give it to a strung out addict as until someone has hit their bottom they are not connected to their own potential to change. I have bought extra mallorcas in Puerto Rico and walked about my day until I "feel" person it will truly benefit, given my uneaten Chinese take out and fresh fruit from the market to a man in San Francisco who looked starved and was just sitting at the gas station, drove up and asked if he was hungry? He said yes and once he saw all the fresh strawberries he said "that's too much" and I said they will keep yet for days and gave him it all….I seek out giving with an intention to help someone who I "feel" it will make a change in their life . I don't give to those asking unless I " feel" their intention…..those ready to make a change deserve to be given Grace…as I connect with my own moments of hardship and humility it allows me to choose when I wish to create that space with another being-just 1 way that I choose to "be the change".

  5. I'm mad skeptical but I've been on public transportation so much in NYC and DC that I can spot gimmicks a mile away. I reward honesty and I also reward when I really don't care about the money. A guy asked me if I had any spare change outside of a bar one time and I gave him $5 and my friends looked at me like I was stunting. I looked at them and said, "Listen, i'm going to waste at least $5 on a drink in there I don't need and there's no chance of changing that, giving it to him, whether it's crack or food, that was a sunk cost." I refuse to give money to that lady with the card talking about how she is trying to feed her children. I OD chastised a coworker for doing that one time and told them I thought she might not be in the right line of work.

    She has a card that asks for money to feed her children that she passes out on a 6 car train. She makes approximately $4-5 per car and walks from car to car in about 6 stops. That's $30. However, she does that all day long. I guarantee you this woman is making $300 a day. It's pure mathematics of how long it takes her to do this and how long she's willing to be on the train.

    Now i'm walking pass the McDonald's and there's a guy near the National Mall, a good place to ask tourists for spare cash since DC has made it known nationally that homelessness is a huge problem in our city. This homeless guy had a sign and a whole group of people walked by and didn't give him a cent, he threw down the sign and said, "DOES ANYBODY HAVE ANY SPARE CHANGE I'M TRYING TO GET ME A COLD ASS BEER?!" I walked over and gave him a dollar right away, that was honesty at its best.

    Watch out for the new gimmick though it's the dude in the club or bar who says he can't afford a drink but he doesn't want to look wack or he's trying to impress his girl. It's people who grow up not ever feeling there's anything with asking for anything in life. They will ask you to buy them a drink in the club and you'll feel bad. I am rude as hell to those people, stay home. If you ain't got it, you ain't got it.

    1. Dang, gotta love dude's honesty. I'm with you though. Just be honest and more than likely I'll help you out. Don't say you need money for food and when you get a sandwich complain about not getting the money.
      My recent post Murci, Murci Me

      1. Yeah, that bugs me to death. You get someone a bite to eat and they actually complain. Like really though?? I do agree, if you keep it 100%, I will definitely be more inclined to give money.

  6. Back home, the only time I ran into panhandlers was outside of a restaurant or two and that was only on Sundays and it was rare. It's strange to me here how I run into them everyday. They're on the side of the ramps coming off of the highway and everything and don't let me go downtown, that's every corner. I give what I can when I can. One time to be sure that the person wouldn't buy something dumb with my money I bought a meal and gave it him (his sign said homeless and hungry), only to notice that he didn't have any teeth to eat it so I won't do that anymore. I don't give to every one but my friend told me that it's all a scam and that I shouldn't give at all. I can't control what they do with the money but I can control my intent. If I intend to help a person that I percieve is in need, then that's all I can worry about.

  7. As a new Yorker, on your morning commute you pass so many people asking for money that you become numb to it. Once in a while if I have it to spare I give change. I remember one time I was on the train and this guy came on and told this story about how him, his girl and their new born were living in the family shelter and he needed money for diapers. Nobody gave him money and he began to curse out everyone on the train. What made me mad is that he assumed that everyone on the train had money, a good amount of the people other than the tourist on the train are apart of the working class poor, lower middle class, just makin it, pay check to pay check or just might not have it to spare. Some days I don’t have it to spare some days I do. I wish the city would focus more on providing shelter and food for the homeless in NYC so they wouldn’t have to beg on the subways and streets.

    As far as the kids and adults  who sell candy and sing, I give of I’m really entertained. One thing I noticed with the group of guys that dance is the youngest kid in the group is the crowd pleaser, but he usually doesn’t get a good cut from the older

  8. I almost never give to beggars. If I do, I will give them food. I remember one time a man asked if I had any change. I said no, but I was on my way to Subway and I'd get him a sub. He replies, "Oh no! I don't need food", and he pulls out of his bag one of those giant sandwiches from the grocery store. He says, "I want to buy some smokes!". I was peeved. Although there are many reasons I don't smoke, one of them is that it's an expensive habit. Why would I fund your habit if I'm not willing to fund my own.

    Another reason I don't give is because there is somewhere to have your needs met – if you want them met. There are soup kitchens, food banks, and many organizations for clothes and other help. (I'm from Canada)

  9. The real issue, is that once a person gains help – tries to turn their life around, it becomes a very lonely road. I mean, usually this person is on the streets because they had no one to turn to. Once they get the help, head off to a half-way house, many become lonely, depressed and have great difficulty re-integrating into society.

    At least on the streets they were part of a community. At the end of the day these people need a friend, they need a community. A dollar won't change their life – just make their struggled life a little easier for one day.

  10. My motto is if I have it then I'll give it. Like Slim said living in NYC its pretty normal to run into the same panhandlers daily. It doesn't bother me at all, they usually get me for my food. ..lol I'll have a good sammich all prepped up and made in my bag and give it away. Im saying they be looking hungry as hell. Basically I'm big ass softy..lol I use to put a 5 or 10 in homeless peoples pocket if I saw them sleeping. Its gotta be pretty cool to wake up with some money in ya bag right?! I run off the theme that money wont come to you unless you share what you have. #mommataughtme

  11. Born and raised in NYC I learned fast. Add I grew up in the hey day of crack, so bringing the kids along doesn’t move me. I’ve seen mothers do some foul shit for a hit.

    Let me drop these on you. I’ve seen dope feinds bet for cash sobb story and all-to only walk into Starbucks and plop down several bags of desiel and needle. Who remembers the last two big NYC homeless scams? I’ll refresh if you’ve forgotten or just didn’t realize. One was a group of old probably Eastern European women, hunched over cup and cane in hand. I was a messenger at the time. One day I made my run from 51st & Lex to Wall st. I saw what thought was the exact same woman. I thought nah but then how many times do you see the same homeless person 30 miles in the other direction? Soon enough it broke on the news it was a scam. There were dozens of these ladies. Same attire and props. I never gave em money call it a hunch. The next scam was the homeless organization. Replete with the water cooler bottle ID on neck but the whole thing was a fraud. They too got nothing from me. I feel people on the need to help but you probably wouldn’t help a stranger on the web right? Well same principle applies in the streets. I don’t know you like that you don’t get anything from me. In my life living in NYC I may helped people with cash maybe 10% of the time.

  12. A few months ago, I took my 7 year old cousin out on the town to the Smithsonian and such. She had found a quarter in my car and put it in her hand and held on to that thang like it was a prized possession. She refused to let me put it in my purse. She just balled her hand up in a fist and held onto the quarter through the train station and while on the train.

    So we get off the train, head to our first stop to get breakfast, this older homeless man steps into our path. And he asks for some spare change. And at first my cousin is kinda like back up off us! And then you can see the wheels turning in her head and she walks right up to him, opens her hand and says, "here! You can have my quarter." And I don't know how to adequately express the joy in his eye (like it was a mix of twinkle and genuine surprise) and the wide smile he had – it was like he had finally been seen. And then as we walked away my cousin said, "you know I didn't really need that quarter."

    I was never really one of those people who handed out my money to homeless folks all wily nily. But after witnessing that event, I don't know, my level of compassion has risen considerably. And maybe it's because I now work with ministers on a daily basis, so everything we touch is not work, but a ministry. And I just see so many people living right on the edge, so many people going through some ish they haven't told anyone about and they're just trying to make it through, so many people who just want to be seen and acknowledged. So now if I can, if I have it to give, then I open my hand and I do.
    My recent post Why America is Beautiful Wednesday

  13. I feel you on giving money away to the homeless; Sometimes you Hit or Miss with that. I’ve encountered lots- the Long Away from Homers, the Homeless w/Children, the Unemployed and Hungry, the Homeless that have Allergies to Soap, etc. I try to be a Good Samaritan, as I was Unemployed back in 08, but my Pride never let me Beg for Anything- Ask, Yes; Beg, No

  14. Having grown up in D.C., I was aware of poverty and took cues from my father. Although he was empathetic to starving/unfortunate children, probably stemming from his own experiences with poverty, he was rather indifferent when it came to grown adults. So an able bodied man with his hand out got more frowns than compassion.

    I used to work near the White House and everyone knows the parks between Farragut Square and Lafayette Park have always been havens for the homeless/unfortunate. I had to become disconnected in a sense because I've heard a lot of stories, from the community activist that went mad, to the Vietnam vet still waiting on his VA check, to the guy asking for change but deposits it in a bank account daily. It got to a point where I wouldn't give anything. Sad but then in bouts of generosity I would give a few pieces of food from my grocery take to the guy walking up and down the road. Much rather see someone eating than getting drunk or high. Some folks have real issues and con-artists ruin that for many. You know who I'm talking about…"Hey, Man I ran out of gas and I got to get to Baltimore…can you spare two dollars?" Funny…that happens 4 days a week at this same spot. Maybe you should relocate down here.

    1. "…"Hey, Man I ran out of gas and I got to get to Baltimore…can you spare two dollars?"

      I get that all the time. "I'm out of gas, I need to get home to Chicago." How did you get up here in the first place?

      "Some folks have real issues and con-artists ruin that for many."

      This. That is exactly why I give people food. I bought a woman a ten-piece bucket at KFC. But I very rarely give people money.

  15. I'm a born and raised NYer and I don't make it a habit to give money to strangers. Granted there may be some folks just down on there luck but I've rode to subway enough to know for some begging for change is their hustle. I have seen some of these people on the trains for YEARS! Enough to know which train lines you can spot them on at any given time. Don't get me started on the kids that "Aren't selling for no basketball team" its hard for me to feel inclined to give you money to stay off the street at 11am on a school day.

  16. I keep spare change/dollar bills in my car to give away as I feel led. I'm also more inclined to give something specific rather than money. For instance, a woman asked for money. I was with a group of people and we all ignored her. Then, she says, "I just need to get my baby some cold medicine and pampers. Can you at least buy them for me?" That's when I told her I'd go to the corner store and get them for her.

    I wait for the tug on my heart strings/conscience first. Then, I give.

  17. If they ask for food I'll feed them but then only if they take what I give them. You have to be humble when you are asking others for help. I live in Harlem and some of these dudes be making requests as to were they want to eat and how much they need. Naw son, this not have it your way day because I got burned buying someone a meal to sit down and eat and get out the cold and he turned it down because he wanted to eat somewhere other then at the place I was in at the time buying food when he interrupted me in line to beg for something to eat.

  18. Ok I'm a newbie to this site (was introduced by a friend who recommended the blog about emotionally unavailable men that was written last year). So let me start by saying I am officially a fan 🙂 Anyway, here in Los Angeles it seems that panhandling is almost like something you major in in college. Its rampant, and because of that it makes it very hard to decipher who's in legitimate need and who's trying to score their next hit. As a social worker, I see/hear all kinds of things, and you would think that I'd be suffering from a bleeding heart and running around passing out money to every person on the street, but that's far from the case. I too, can pretty much tell who's full of need and who's just full of it. I do however double back and reach out to those who are out there with children because the kids didn't choose to be out there (and I'm also mandated by the state to do so). Great post, way to bring awareness to an obvious (and growing) problem.

  19. Im always skeptical of panhandlers and actually stopped giving them my money. I one saw a kid who was outside selling chocolates "for their basketball team". I saw him get $2 from a woman, then as she went in the store told his homeboy "2 more dollars closer to them new JORDANS!" shyt like that and seeing the same "homeless" person on the same corner daily asking for change, looking fresher than ME… Or the woman who needs $$ bec shes homeless and pregnant, yet shes been on the street 2 YEARS?!?!?! yeah im good.

    Id rather give $$ to street performers. The kid break dancing on the 6 train who can do full flips without hitting people sitting down or the ceiling is at least WORKING for the cash. I dont have to worry about a scam or the $$ going towards drugs.

    I sound wild uppity, but Im keepin it funky. God bless them if they really need it, but they aren't getting it from ME!
    My recent post [INFOGRAPHIC] A look at the @WWE and the past 999 Monday Night RAW episodes

  20. "seeing the same "homeless" person on the same corner daily asking for change, looking fresher than ME… "

    Truth.com

    NYC is the Ritz Carlton of poverty.

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  22. Times are hard. If your financial house is in order you’re one of the lucky ones. Consequently, I have all the sympathy in the world for those less fortunate. But here’s my pet peeve:

    If you’re out here begging, have the common courtesy to think up an original story. You gotta do better than the standard: “I’m hungry. Can you give me some change to get something to eat.”

    If I hear that one more time I’ll scream! Come on, dude, you’re a professional pan handler. Don’t tell me you’re too busy working on other projects to cook up something better.

    As a blog writer maybe I’m just too wary of clichés, done to death story lines. Dream up a fresh story, something to intrigue me, something to fire my imagination– then I’m much more likely to reach in my pocket.

    With that in mind, here are a few fresh off the presses pan handling spiels sure to increase your bottom line. Please feel free to utilize at your own risk.

    How about this one, where the poor man is doing it for the country:

    “Sir, I’ve just been notified that President Obama needs help re-righting the economy. I need cab fare to JFK where Air Force One is waiting on the tarmac to scoop me up and fly me to DC.”

    Or this one. How could you say no to someone admitting to past failings and attempting to right his life:

    “In one in a series of bad decisions, I escaped from a Federal Institution this morning. I’ve had a change of heart, and would like to return back to Leavenworth to complete paying my debt to society. If I hurry, I can sneak back inside before the midnight count. Regrettably, I left my wallet back in my cell. Would you be so kind as to contribute to my traveling expenses?”

    Or just honesty.

    “Look, man, I’m not going to lie to you. I’m a unrepentant wine head. I’m not going to pretend that this loot is going for food or shelter. As soon as you leave I’m going to take the dollar you give me, march into the liquor store across the street and treat myself to a pint of Night Train!”

    My recent post Will Dream Dude Change After Marriage?

  23. If I were living outside in NYC is for damn sure want a bottle of Thunderbird or Maddog to keep me warm at night, and from going batshit crazy although that seems unavoidable when you live on the streets.. If I were homeless I'd want to sit somewhere and have a decent conversation with like minded people over a little weed and/or a bottle of wine.. Come to think of it that sounds like a good time right now. Don't want to part with your money, share a little humanity at least.

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