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Sister, Can You Spare a Dime?

Friday, Jan. 4, 2013

The best college student comment on "Sister, Can You Spare a Dime?" wins a $100 Amazon gift certificate. Entries must be received by midnight, Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013. Finalists are selected by likes, so get your friends to like your comment. Subscribe to the blog (by RSS or by email in the right hand column) for updates.

Jack is a fixture of the neighborhood right outside the gates of a large, urban university. Homeless for the past 13 years, Jack carries all of his belongings in a shopping cart, to which he also hitches his faithful dog, Rufus. Every day, Jack takes up a position outside the fast food joint across the street from the campus, where he solicits passersby for change. Most nights, he sleeps in a nearby parking lot, but when it gets really cold, he has been known to sneak into the campus library and labs to keep warm. A veteran of the Gulf War, Jack obviously has his demons, and he can sometimes be seen drowning them in a bottle of wine half-concealed in a brown paper bag.

As a freshman at the university, Mandy encounters Jack in the second week she is on campus, when she goes off campus with fellow members of the water polo team for a late night snack. When she sees his cardboard sign— "Homeless Vet. Please Help"— Mandy throws a few quarters into the paper cup he holds out.

"Don't give him money," Jocelyn, a junior teammate warns her. "He'll just spend it on alcohol."

"If everybody would stop giving these freeloaders a handout, they would go hang out somewhere else," adds Ella. "They're scary."

"Oh, Jack's harmless," Meg, a senior, chimes in. "I give him something when I can."

"You just do that to salve your conscience," Jordan says. "Giving money to individual panhandlers doesn't do anything about the root causes of poverty in this country. You should join Students Act Against Homelessness if you really want to make a difference."

Do you think students have a responsibility to help the homeless? If so, should they give money to anyone who asks? Should they buy food for the panhandlers instead? Should they not give to individuals but make donations to charities instead? What can students do about the root causes of homelessness?

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Jasmin said on Jan 7, 2013
I have got to say I used to give every homeless person I saw a dollor or any change I had in my pocket. I simply knew that I would forgo treating myself to dinner, to make these donations meet my budget. However, as the cynicism from my parents and society have begun to enter my mind, I have begun to worry where my money is going and if I should make more of an effort to in the bigger scheme of things. Through the many classes I have taken at SCU that have touched on Homelessness I know this issue is a double edged sword. You could donate to charities, but many misuse the funds and or have qualifications for people to access their resources. Also, in rural communities charities and homeless resources are scarce/few and far between. Do I think I am really doing a diservice by giving a few dollars? Doubtful. But I do believe its important to look at the systemic issues. As the saying goes think globally, act locally. - Like - 5 people like this.
Cesar Fletes said on Jan 7, 2013
You can never trust a homeless person's intent with the money they asking for. Watching numerous documentaries on tv, you start to realize that most of these homeless will use their money for other things then food. Growing up in the Bay Area we tend to run into a lot of homeless and my first reaction when seeing one is what are his intentions with with what he wants. And the best part for me is, those who ask me "spare some change for food", with my response being "would you like me to buy you some food" (usually this occurs near jack in the box) as I live near San Jose State). Most of the times the replies I get is, "spare change would be better" which shocks me. I would much rather buy them a burger that will cost me a $1 then give them a $1 for who knows what. I do not think we are responsible to help the homeless because most of us are living in their situation with barely having any food to eat, paying this ridiculous payments for schools, and struggling with daily tasks. I think the best thing to do, as I do this myself, is to not donate money but donate your time to soup kitchens, or any other volunteer opportunities. It is very effective, and you are personally making a difference in these people's lives. Many of us college students can't afford to donate our spare change, but we sure can donate our spare time. - Like - 12 people like this.
Peter said on Jan 9, 2013
When my family first came to the US, my dad worked at Costco cutting up sausages to hand out to customers (we love them haha). My mom would clean houses while we were in school. We lived in a beat up apartment in San Jose. One day, I went grocery shopping with my mom to a local Luckys store (yes they were around then). We went in to buy a few things and when we came out, we saw a homeless man sitting in between the grocery store and the liquor store. We jumped in the car ready to take off. My mom stopped, reached for her purse and ran back into the store. A few minutes later, out she comes with a sandwich and hands it to the man. I was proud of her as i knew that the sandwich she just bought was worth 1.5 hours of my dads time at Costco. We back out of the parking spot and there is a line to exit onto the main street. We look back at the man and we see him toss the sandwich into the trash can. Never opened it, didn't take a bite, simply threw it away. Right then and there, I vowed to never give anything to someone like that. We have been extremely blessed since those days and now any donations i personally make are to organizations that help people and families in need. I fully realize that not every $ goes to aid as there are overhead costs, but at least i know my hard earned money is not being thrown away because that homeless person doesn't need money to buy food, but rather, booze. - Like - 2 people like this.
Lucas P. said on Jan 11, 2013
There have been many philosophers who believed that all humans have a moral obligation to sacrifice their own self-interest in order to help others. Whether one agrees with this philosophy or not is a matter of preference rather than ethical/moral disposition. Friedrich Nietzsche was amongst the famous philosophers who disagreed that other people?s interests are more important than our own. He believed that helping others at our expense would hinder our self-development and excellence, though he did assert a duty to help those ?weaker? than ourselves. This raises two interesting questions: What does it mean to help, and what do we consider ?weaker? to mean? For argument?s sake, I will permit myself to assume that homeless individuals are in fact weaker than college students. My definition of ?weakness? is centered around lifestyle and survival potential. So in this case, the average homeless person is at the very bottom of Maslow?s hierarchy of needs pyramid, because they cannot fulfill their basic psychological needs (food, water, sleep, etc.) nor their safety needs (security of body, property, resources). Their daily life is a struggle that takes a toll on them both psychologically and physically. In regards to what it means to ?help? the homeless, Mandy and Meg would likely consider giving them money to be a form of help. This is interesting, because their action derives from the assumption that this individual is homeless due to financial circumstances. The reasons for their actions could be quite complicated ranging from simply wanting to offer the homeless individual some form of temporary relief (ex. hope that he will buy food or necessities with the money) to feeling guilty that they have more in life, however, regardless, they do not consider that various other potential factors that have resulted in this man becoming homeless. According to recent statistics based on self reported data by homeless individuals, only about 50% claim to be homeless due to financial reasons followed by family problems (13%) and then medical problems (8%). Considering that Jack is a veteran of the Gulf War, it is possible that he suffers from mental illness such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that has caused him to drink excessively, which in turn could have landed him in trouble with authorities or his family. Even if we were to assume that Jack is homeless due to financial reasons, a savvy individual knows how to save money and can pick themselves back up when they fall even if it means living in poverty. Jack has been homeless for 13 years during which he could have easily saved up and restarted his life if there were no other underlying issues. In fact, there statistics suggesting that panhandlers on freeway ramps can make between $100-300 a day. If we take 52 work weeks in a year, multiply by 7 days in a week, and then multiply that by 100-300, this sets an annual tax free range of $26,000- 78,000. If other factors were not involved, this is plenty of opportunity to start over for Jack. However, let?s assume that Jack has a mental illness and is an alcoholic (likely case). In this case, Mandy and Meg?s money is only fueling his alcoholism and their perceived ?help? could actually be doing more harm than good to Jack, not to mention that by offering money to a homeless person, they are essentially giving a handout like Ella said, and this is problematic, because it is positive reinforcement for Jack?s behavior. Imagine that no one ever gave Jack anything. Jack would have no reason to hang around the school and would leave to search for another ?more generous? place. Jack?s behavior can be influenced by handouts. Each time he receives a handout in a certain spot, he is encouraged to remain there in the future. Also, if enough handouts are given (please see potential earnings for panhandlers), what motive is there to try and escape homelessness? Accordingly, and even though it may sound harsh, it is my understanding that abstaining from giving the homeless any kind of material (money, food, blankets, etc) assistance is a key component to fighting homelessness. I am sure we have all seen those ?do not feed the birds signs?. When we feed the birds, not only do the birds become dependent on our support to survive, they become a nuisance in the area. So what if there are other factors such as mental health issues, disability, drug abuse, etc keeping individual?s homeless? This is a complicated question to answer, but I think it is important to realize and understand that some situations cannot be reversed and for some it is a long process. Some individuals with mental health problems or other disabilities will likely never become contributing members of society and this must be accepted. The only way to deal with this humanely in my opinion is to provide shelters and services for these individuals to live out their lives and minimize their pain and suffering. There are already many programs, though underfunded, in place that offer various services like this. If one really wanted to help the homeless, volunteering at these centers would be a great way of doing that. For those with abuse problems, there are rehab centers and programs that are available to the homeless should they commit and chose to participate. There is only so far we can go to help someone, but ultimately that individual must want to help themself. Another thing that came to mind when thinking about helping the homeless was regarding education. Many homeless individuals lack education and skills that would help them land a job. As college students, if we would like to, we could talk to the homeless to find out what the reason for their homelessness is and try to help out by offering information and knowledge. This thought came to mind when I remembered a strange incident I had with a homeless lady on El Camino a year ago. I still have very mixed feelings about what I did for various reasons, but here is what happened. I was filling gas at a gas station and a homeless lady approached me and asked if I could ?spare some change.? I told her, ?No, sorry, I don?t give money.? She began walking away when I said, ??but I can teach you something to help you get more money.? She was naturally very fascinated and I explained to her the Pique Technique. Essentially the technique consists of an unusual request leading to higher compliance in situations in which the typical response to the request is refusal. So I told her that instead of asking people ?spare SOME change, spare a QUARTER, do you have a DOLLAR,? I told her to ask, ? do you have 47 cents, do you have 1.34, etc?? This catches people of guard and makes them actually think about the question rather than retorting with an immediate ?no? which is the default answer. Not to mention, it makes one wonder why this women needs exactly that much money, and if she comes up with a good excuse, one is likely to comply. I am sure you can see how my action is quite troubling to me; essentially I created a ?super-panhandler? who might get more reinforcement for her behavior now and thereby I have acted contrary to my philosophy. Naturally, this is a very complicated issue that is too broad to cover in such a narrow scope, however, I do think that as intelligent beings, as long as we think about our actions before we do them, we can weigh the options before acting and thereby find an appropriate solution to the problem on our own terms. - Like - 29 people like this.
Mike said on Jan 11, 2013
I think there is more to be done than just throwing a dollar at the man and his loyal dog... If he is always outside the campus, I personally think for one to provide a lasting solution as a student, one should just humble him/herself and get to know this man and his friendly dog. Get to know what he likes to eat (the dog also) and when you have that moment, drop by and give him that snack and spend whatever time you have with him, find out ways of helping him; find out if he has tried anything and how has it worked out for him etc. Don't be an investigative journalist, but be as casual and friendly as you can be,he will ultimately open up. You will find that apart from finacial, alcohol and all these problems, they are lonely, people pass them by on a daily like they are not there. The sad thing is that most people are dying to know them but are rather concerned about "what will people say.." So i think the best investment is friendship coupled with those few supplies and ultimately you can end up helping the man to find long lasting solutions to their problem than a dollar which is spent in a jiffy. That will do something in your life, true happiness is in helping these vulnerable people. - Like - 6 people like this.
Kaitlin said on Jan 15, 2013
I don?t believe that students have a financial obligation to help the homeless. Earning an education is expensive and while most students have pocket money, it?s difficult to determine which homeless deserve help and which don?t. Additionally, there is only so much that money can do. Because of the dangers encountered with homeless individuals, we learned to donate food to those sitting on the side of the road. It would be further unfair to give money to one and not another. I grew up in a family that would donate money to various charities where we knew the money provided hope whether it was in the form of clothing, food, or shelter. Students could look for ways to support low-cost housing or ways to help homeless individuals help out in the community in exchange for help. Over time, our society has come to assume that every homeless person sits on the side of the road and drinks alcohol all day. Many blame them for not trying hard enough, when often the problem is not the homeless, but no organizations willing to accept their help or participation. The best thing to do would be to find a homeless shelter and see if they have any work or volunteer opportunities that Jack could become involved in, in exchange for housing and food. - Like
Kristina Dudley said on Jan 17, 2013
It is not our business how the homeless spend the money they collect. There is a truth to self medication and only God knows if the money is truly needed or not. Many homeless people can not handle the strict rigors of a shelter. It and all the things that they have been through in life is more than their human psyche can take. Many people have addictions and these additions are only cured when the person themselves are ready and then only with the help of a "higher power." It is God's place to judge mankind and not man's. So please give as your heart dictates and do not listen to those who would discourage you. The ultimate judge of what you did is God and not the man trying to poo poo your help to the poor. What ever you give to him is still not enough for him to have all that you do. He has only the means to live day to day, so wheather it is physical pain or emotional pain that he fights with his alchol it is pain no the less and alchol is still a cheap pain killer. Please bless and pray for this man and always remember that many men are not as lucky as you are and that we all have an ethical responsability for each other whether they risked their lives for some misguided cause as serving this country or not. - Like - 1 person likes this.
Mikaila Read said on Jan 27, 2013
"It is not our business how the homeless spend the money they collect." I absolutely agree with you, and I think this is a strong enough point to stand on its own without appointing God as the ultimate judge of morality. I live in Spokane, and we have our fair share of homeless folk. I find it interesting so many of my peers can chide the homeless for spending their humble "income," on drugs or alcohol (which is completely unverified), but find spending their money to indulge in the same habits perfectly permissible. Saying their funds come from a "real job," seems insufficient as a justification for distinguishing their purchases from those of the homeless though. It's really quite arbitrary. And furthermore, who is to say certain spending habits of the affluent are warranted despite being more frivolous in principle. To criticize the homeless for indulging in the perhaps, questionable use of alcohol and drugs, but allowing the affluent to engage in even more frivolous spending (or the same spending) with the stamp of morality solely because they have a job boggles me, and calls for further distinctions-- consider a gentleman living off lottery winnings and interest: is he contributing to society via a "real job," or is he more akin to our homeless man with the exception of being granted the right to "morally," buy drugs or alcohol simply because he's not pestering us at the crosswalk? There's just so much inquiry and clarification to be made with regard to this issue, as is the case with every philosophical investigation. - Like - 1 person likes this.
Mikaila Read said on Jan 21, 2013
To address the obligations we may have to the homeless or even in a general sense, the obligations we may have to those less fortunate than us, we must first assume that being homeless is not a desirable state; not a state we would wish upon ourselves. On this notion, I?d be surprised to find an individual who disagreed. If we can assume that it?s not a desirable state, and we can assume that we would expect someone come to our aid in such a position, we may gather the conclusion that we have a moral obligation to aid those in states we would not wish upon ourself. The are of course a number of exceptions regarding our obligations to the less fortunate: 1) we are not obligated to extend so much aid to those in need that we wind up putting ourselves into a position of need, 2) we are not obligated to help the less fortunate if they employ coercive measures to acquire our aid. Surely, there are more to be made, but naming two illustrates well enough the complexity of the nature and demand for giving. Being panhandled is no new or unusual affair these days, but the term itself ?panhandle? carries with it a tremendous amount of (I?d say, unnecessarily) negative connotation. I?d quite willingly go out on a limb and guarantee one of the first things, if not the first, that comes to mind when solicited for ?spare change,? by a less-than-hygienic, underweight man or woman on the streets is: they?re just going to use it to buy drugs (or alcohol, which falls under the classification of drug). And perhaps, I am being naive in saying I don?t trust this to actually be the case in most circumstances, but I simply don?t. It?s high times, hard times, and the number of average Joe?s who probably never thought they?d be so down on their luck are turning out to be so. The immediate assumption that any and every ?panhandler? is some worthless junkie is an unwarranted and frankly ignorant assumption to hold. And furthermore, if I may venture out of my philosophical framework for just a moment, who is to say that a panhandler?s use of the charity they receive for a ?fix? is wrong? If I were living on the streets I?d certainly want whiskey for company-- but that?s an entirely different philosophical enquiry, and I must return to the former. In response to the question, ?should they (students) give money to anyone who asks?? I would say, probably not. Absolutes are a dangerous thing, and to adopt the perspective one should absolutely give money when they are asked for it is not a wise thing to do. As far as giving money goes, I personally tend to make the counteroffer of purchasing a meal for the asker, a reasonable and wise substitute to offering money. It offers givers the assurance their money is going towards promoting the panhandlers well-being in a way they find acceptable. Along this same line of reasoning, making donations to charities is another fine substitution to dropping dollars on the street. It?s important to note that while the mind tends to immediately direct itself towards the monetary in terms of donations, there are many ways to give-- the donation of one?s TIME is as good, if not better, than any monetary value, and more direct in addressing the root causes of homelessness, which I take to be a collection of unfortunate things: a lack of education, sheer bad luck, insufficient child rearing, etc. As far as the root cause of homelessness goes, it is difficult to isolate just ONE cause in itself. For, there are a vast number of contributing factor (as there are with any complex issue). While I am wary of identifying, let alone treating, the root cause of homelessness, I?d argue the recognition of one?s ability to do something to alleviate current suffering among the needy is ultimately a fair enough thought and practice to draw from our entire philosophical inquiry here. [Side Note: I think a fantastic resource for investigating this dilemma is Peter Singers, ?Famine, Affluence, and Morality.? ?Tis a very thorough and enjoyable read.] - Like
somi jha said on Jan 25, 2013
according to me, instead of giving money for free, one can do so by giving them some work and then give appropriate money for that work. In this way, they might get the habit of earning money insetad of begging it. - Like - 1 person likes this.
Gregory Brandt said on Jan 25, 2013
I wrote a book called "Homeless College Student." It's a nonfiction memoir starting when I dropped out of High School and ending when I graduate from the University of Texas in Austin. Each chapter has a different kind of homelessness. - Like - 1 person likes this.
DantheMan said on Jan 30, 2013
Why do you give the homeless man money in the first place? If you are attempting to help him SURVIVE at least one more day, what good will he do with that extra day? We do not know the consequences of our charity. Therefore, does our "good willing" for the homeless man only give him another day of being homeless? Or a chance to turn around and do good with the money he was so graciously given? Sounds like a personal problem. Don't give him spare change if you TRULY want to help the man. Give him adequate tools to do good in the world if you are able, not just help himself to another meal or beer (whichever the consequence may be) with some measly change. - Like - 1 person likes this.
The Big Q said on Feb 14, 2013
Congratulations to Lucas P, winner of this Big Q Contest! Thank you to all who submitted thoughtful responses, and please keep commenting on our bi-weekly contests for another chance to win! - Like
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