By W. Russell Neuman
It has probably happened to you recently on the street or perhaps in the subway. Someone has approached you for a handout. They let you know they’re hungry and homeless. What to do?
Perhaps you’ve mastered the art of avoiding eye contact. Those seeking help usually recognize the signal and turn to the next stranger who may be more responsive. As you walk on, you may not feel great about it, but three things are on your mind. First, you’re pressed for time. Second, you’ve heard the stories of panhandlers pulling down $60,000 a year from working the street and, as the legend goes, jumping into their bright red Fiat Spiders and driving off after hitting you up. Third, you wonder if they will really use the money for food or shelter. Fair enough. Let’s look at what the experts say.
It’s true that stopping in the middle of the street and fishing around in your pocketbook or wallet for something to give is awkward, time consuming, and puts you at some risk. So, be prepared. If you are inclined to respond to these appeals, have a little something ready in your pocket for just such an occasion.
Are the Welfare Queen and street-wise Fiat-owner narratives the norm? They’re probably not. A recent study in San Francisco, for example, revealed that the majority of the panhandlers there accumulate less than $25 a day. 94% report that they use the money they receive for desperately needed food.
You have some options. Some people like to hand out the Bowery Mission Card (bowery.org/media/uploads/7-3_media/7.3.5_resourcecards.jpg), which explains when and where food, shelter, clothing, showers, and medical care are available at 227 Bowery, just below East Houston Street. Some wrap a dollar or two around the card. Others hand out the Department of Homeless Services Card with information on available services—http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/dhs/downloads/pdf/intake_drop_in_centers.pdf. Some like to have a grocery store or fast food store gift certificate for a modest amount at the ready to hand out. Others may provide a subway card with a single fare on it.
Starting February 2018, the West Village will have a new ‘safe haven’ facility for the homeless at 114 West 14th Street run by the independent nonprofit Center for Urban Community Services, the relatively small 24-hour facility designed for 75 visitors and beds for only 24. This facility might be appropriate for those on the street who are concerned about their security at the larger shelters.
If you believe a homeless person is in need of immediate assistance, dial 311 and the social services outreach team will be called to respond. If you feel threatened, dial 911 and walk into the nearest commercial establishment.
If you would like to help the West Village’s homeless in person, the Church of the Village at 7th Avenue and West 13th Street and St. Joseph’s Church on 6th Avenue and Washington Place have soup kitchens on Saturdays for all comers at 12:00 p.m. and 1:00 p.m. (respectively) and both seek volunteers to prepare and serve the food. Contact Teresa Conception at firstname.lastname@example.org or sign up on the St. Joseph’s Church website: sjsk.nyc. If you would simply prefer to donate, review the options at charitynavigator.org. A dime dropped in a paper cup doesn’t go very far these days. But we have other options.