I did something a few weeks ago that I have never done before.
We have a phenomenon in Madison that the city officials are trying to disallow. There are certain intersections in the city that are often frequented by people who are asking for money. The panhandling occurs as cars are stopped for a red light.
The person who is doing the panhandling — man or woman — usually looks rather “rough.” A few belongings are seen nearby. He or she is holding up a hand printed cardboard sign asking for money and perhaps indicating something about their difficult circumstances (e.g., lost a job, can’t find work, homeless).
I have never seen a panhandler being aggressive toward a driver. They seem to stand silently in place in the median, letting their personal appearance and handmade sign speak for them.
One time, at one such intersection, I saw the driver in the car ahead of me roll down his window, stick his arm out, and hand the man a bill. That was the first time I had actually seen a driver do that — hand money over to the person in the median.
So what I did a few weeks ago was exactly that. I was stopped at a red light, and a woman was standing in the median right next to my car — belongings located at her feet, looking rough, holding her sign. I scrambled to get a $5 bill out of my wallet, rolled down the window, and called out to her. She took the money, looked me in the eye and said “God bless you, God bless you.”
Now, I don’t know what she’ll use the money for, I don’t know what her circumstances are, I don’t know if she ekes out a few dollars a day from her panhandling or (as some claim) hundreds of dollars a day. But it’s hard for me to imagine anyone standing out there, with their downtrodden and impoverished circumstances for everyone to see, unless they are genuinely desperate. In the moment, it felt like the right thing to do. Other thoughts?