New York Newb

While you were having a bagel in Washington Square Park, three people asked you for spare change in less than fifteen minutes of sitting down.  Did you notice that some of them had nicer shoes than you, and name-brand jackets.  It’s one of those “Welcome to New York” moments you should be prepared for.

Guides and Tips

Panhandling and the Homeless

There are plenty of homeless in New York, particularly during nice weather. Many of them have jobs, but aren’t able to afford or acquire housing. Each is in their current predicament for various reasons from bad luck to crazy. Whether you give directly to panhandlers or not, there are a few tips to keep in mind when being approached.

Real Thing vs. The Game

Not all panhandlers are in need. Professionals panhandle as a primary or secondary source of income. You can usually spot these people by their clothes, hygiene or less than respectful demeanor. Just because someone has messy hair or didn't shower doesn't mean they are destitute. Shoes or clean, name-brand clothes are dead giveaways that begging is more of an industry than an emergency for someone. Stories like "My house just burnt down" are just cons meant to garner sympathy and are commonly used to elicit response. You may decide to give money to these people, but more likely than not you're falling for a scam.

Homeless and Help

There are other ways to help the homeless in New York City that are more effective than just giving money to panhandlers. Soup kitchens, food banks and other homeless programs are a great way to volunteer your time and build humility while helping those in need. In particular, programs like YSOP provide homeless with meals and advantaged children with some real world understanding. YSOP is a project founded by the Quakers in 1983. More information can be learned at their website here.

Many panhandlers are very respectful and courteous. Polite beggars will not ask for something in addition to what you've already given. They won't be upset if you offer food or drink instead of money either. Generally, you'll find people are very appreciative of any benevolence offered. In safe situations with an open mind, you'll hear some incredible stories of people's lives.

Unfortunately, some people on the streets are not of sound mind. Usually clear to see, these individuals are beyond any assistance you can provide. They may only be wearing a garbage bag, or they might be publicly fighting a serious addiction to drugs. When you see people who are not sane, it's important to remember to steer clear of any confrontation or interaction. It is very sad to say, but there is nothing that one individual can do.

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