Somebody Asks You for Money. How Do You React?

Jan 29, 2014

Downtown Syracuse
Credit Mark Bialczak

I think the request startled me.

"Can you give me a dollar?" said the man coming down South Salina Street from the opposite direction.

Young guy. Clean. Not anybody I'd seen doing this previously.

I was not in the mood, nevertheless.

"No," I replied, continuing my early afternoon stride through downtown Syracuse, instantly turning my thoughts back toward my own life.

Then I heard him bellow.

"Come on!" the guy responded, aggressively I felt, to my refusal.

I reacted from the gut.

"You come on. I'm unemployed," I replied.

This apparently satisfied him. He continued down the street.

My mind raced. I was confused, conflicted, concerned.

And, as I made my way into Lee's Chinese Garden Express to pick up my bargain-priced lunch, I felt guilty.

First off, unemployed was a loose-fitting term. That statement came to my lips so much easier than: I have my own worries. I was laid off from my 30-year career 11 months ago, and have been slowly and painstakingly piecing my professional life back together.

Secondly, there I was going into a restaurant for lunch.

I reconciled my reaction, too. I had just come from the Onondaga County Public Library, where I'd checked out two books. I figured they'd give me two weeks of free entertainment.

And, inside Lee's, I'd flash the VIP card they'd given me back when I regularly visited for lunch while I still worked two block away, across Clinton Square. It gave me 10 percent off, bringing this every-other-week lunch treat for a total price of $5.42.

I had made it about me, and this allowed me to feel better about myself.

What about that other guy, though?

I will never know the reason why he asked me for my dollar.

Did he need it for bus fare home? That's a usual request when you're walking in downtown Syracuse during business hours.

Was he trying to collect enough for a much-needed meal?

Or was he going to buy a bottle to feed another need?

I'm not going to avoid downtown Syracuse. I will be asked for money again, as I have been many times. Sometimes I've handed over a buck, or whatever change I had in my pocket.

It's been random.

Do I need a personal policy?

Brent Crane, a social services provider in Utah, in October wrote a list of things to keep in mind when dealing with panhandlers. Here's a synopsis of what Crane suggested in his piece for Utah Valley Magazine:

Listen to your gut instinct and use common sense. Keep cards that list phone numbers and addresses of local services that can help with food or housing to distribute. Work within the law yourself. Realize that no two situations are exactly alike. Follow your conscience.

In Syracuse, a good place to start for referrals is the Rescue Mission, on Gifford Street. Its phone number is 315-472-6251, and it works on the problems of homelessness and hunger.

This is a complicated issue, and it's not going away.

Next time, I will not react so strongly to any negative responses.

What do you do when a stranger asks you for money? You can click comment to share your thoughts