I’ve been in San Francisco bunches this year, and as such, have been around quite a few panhandlers. Earlier today, I was approached by a maybe-homeless-definitely-panhandling woman.
She was friendly. She nodded at my friend and I as we passed her in a sure-feels-like-the-suburbs-large-strip-shopping area. We had a cart full of groceries. She looked as though her life had been a bit tough. We knew she was a panhandler. She knew that we knew she was, too. She said hello. We nodded. And we moved on. Personally, I don’t know anyone who responds to each and every panhandler, but I know I’m not one of them.
After shopping and then loading up the car with our bags of groceries, I proceeded to take the cart back to a drop-off spot when the panhandling woman kindly pointed to some paper products still on the bottom of my cart; she was reminding me not to forget them.
I told her she was kind. And the pitch began. A brilliant, natural marketer, if I’ve ever met one.
She started to walk with me as I walked the short distance back to the car.
She told me her name.
She told me she was friendly.
She told me she needed $4.49 to get a very specific meal off the menu of a very specific restaurant.
She asked for my help; even some change would be good, she told me. And she said that I could give her the money or come with her to get the meal. (Her offer of proof that her request for money for a specific meal at a specific restaurant was, indeed, genuine.)
By this time, I was back at the car. I asked her to hold on a minute while I put the “paper products” (that’s code for T.P, which is code for … ) oh, back to the story. Anyway, I gave her a few bucks and, unlike most panhandlers who then turn their attention to the next person they’re lining up for The Ask, she promptly left the parking lot and headed off in another direction; perhaps and most likely, to the restaurant she mentioned to get the specific meal she so wanted.
Now, there are lots of stories on the streets here. And lots of panhandlers. And lots of desperate cases. And more opportunities in a day than you’d think possible to open your wallet and pull out a few bucks. And, I’ve been approached often by people who need “just a little money” to catch a bus home, or whatever. I take each situation on a case by case basis. I don’t have hard-and-fast rules about who I give money to, or why. But this particular woman approached me in such a factual, gentle, specific way that I was impressed. I didn’t feel swindled or put upon. I didn’t feel pressured or guilty. She was a person asking a small favor, and I complied with ease.
As well, she reminded me of the value in being specific about how I ask for help and why.
And I do hope — and trust — she enjoyed her meal this evening very much.