Homeless: Will Work For Food

Driving around Greensboro the last few months, I've noticed a marked increase in the number of people standing on street corners, holding signs that indicate they are homeless. "Anything will help. God Bless," read many of these signs.

I remember the first time I saw a person holding one of these signs. We were living in Ohio and I was maybe 9 or 10. I was in the car with my mom and we drove by a woman standing on a corner with a 15-year-old girl. The woman held a cardboard sign that read, "Homeless: Will work for food."

"Oh my God! Oh my God!" said my mom. She swung the car around and stopped in front of the woman, handing her whatever money was in her wallet. The woman thanked her and they spoke for a few minutes. I remember watching my mom blink back tears as we drove off.

Nowadays, it's unfortunately an everyday occurrence to see the homeless with their signs. Driving in Greensboro yesterday, I passed people standing at the corner of Battleground and Brassfield, Battleground and New Garden Rd., Battleground in front of Earth Fare, the corner of Lawndale and Cornwallis, and on Lawdale in front of Panera.

I never quite know what to do. Sometimes I give a couple of dollars. More often than not, I simply drive by, feeling slightly guilty for all that I have. There is one gentleman who "works" the corner in front of Earth Fare and Starbucks on Battleground, and he and I have a nodding acquaintance. 

What's the answer? Is it better to give money to the non-profits and shelters that help this population than to give handouts to individuals? Or do you give directly? I've heard some people opine that they never give to indivduals, as they don't know if the money might be going for drugs or alcohol or maybe the person is a con artist and really isn't homeless. (There was a man in Greensboro, years ago, that it was reported he had a nice house and made his money by standing on a street corner panhandling.) 

That all may be true, but I still think standing outside for 8-10 hours a day in wind, rain, freezing temperatures or drop-dead humidity is still a mighty hard way to make a buck, regardless of what you spend it on. 

Then there's the other end of the spectrum. A friend was telling me just the other day that he pulled a five out of his wallet to hand to a man outside his car. 

"Oh man, that all you got? Can't you give me more than that?" asked the guy. 

My friend just held eye contact with the man as he raised his window and withdrew the money. The guy cursed at him until he pulled away when the light changed.

So, I'm curious. Do you have guidelines on when/how you give? Do you make or avoid eye contact when you pull alongside someone standing outside your car with a homeless sign? What, in your opinion, is the best way to help?