Monday, June 11, 2012

Parking lot panhandling

My heart hurts for people who are going through hard times. My family is amazingly blessed and I try to pay it forward whenever possible. I don't usually hand money to the guy holding a sign on the street corner, but if I have a snack or a drink I haven't opened, I am glad to share. I am compassionate to a fault, according to my husband. I get suckered into things that make him roll his eyes. Yup, we're that family that buys something from every kid that knocks on our door and hands us a fundraiser packet. I can't help it (neither can he but shhhh, don't tell him I said so).

That said, I hope the following paragraphs don't come off as too harsh, because I really am struggling here. Our town has about 66k people and is the hub for an area population of about 300,000. Our homeless population is in the hundreds. One side of town has a median income around $31k while the other side has a median income of around $54k. There are definitely people struggling. In Houston and Austin, you see people panhandling out on every major intersection in certain parts of town. Here, you only see that every once in awhile. When I lived in those bigger cities, intersection panhandling bothered me a bit. I was raised by cautious parents who taught me to be kind, but cautious. I was mostly alone in my car and having a man I didn't know walking around my car was always a little unnerving.

Here, though, we have a whole different breed of panhandler. We have people who hang out in parking lots and walk up to you while you're getting into or out of your car. Most of the time these people are men, of every age and race. Most of them keep a fairly respectable distance, a few have walked right up on me. They always have a story and need money for something. Last week a guy wanted to follow me to the gas station and have me put gas in his truck. Today a guy approached me as I was getting out if my car wanting to sell me something (he said he didn't feel right taking hand outs). I always listen politely, tell them I don't have any cash, and continue on. Most of the time, they are polite and walk away. One guy got nasty but thank goodness he was one that approached my husband and me together.

My problem is this. I am a mother, who doesn't ever leave my youngest at home. I always have at least one child with me. And I am almost always alone with them. I hate it when these men just come walking out from between cars and start talking to me. Part of it is the stigma, I will admit it. Particularly the guy today - he was either not quite all there mentally, or he was on something. People are unpredictable and can be downright crazy. As a mom, it is my job to keep my kids safe, and stranger danger definitely screams in my head when these situations come up.

What do you do? Carry something for self defense? Call the police? Call the store and report them? It's so hard to imagine doing any of those things, because in my heart I feel compassion and pity for someone who has come to this method of trying to get what they need. But it is a war inside of me, because I have these beautiful, innocent children. I believe they are the reason I get approached - either people see I am a mom and hope I have a big heart, or they play on a mother's fear of having strangers around her chidren. My husband is a concealed carry license holder and wants me to go that route. I don't have the guts for it, although I may invest in pepper spray. I don't want to be afraid of these people, I want to live and let live, but I am afraid that a first time of someone being aggressive about it is probably still one time too many.

Tonight I will be saying extra prayers for those people out on the street. I pray they will have enough food to not be hungry and that they find a comfortable place to lay their heads. But, starting tomorrow, I am probably going to start calling stores and warning them when they have guys approaching people in the parking lot. I hope that doesn't make me a terrible person.


  1. I'm very cautious when people, man or woman, walk up to me asking for money. I tell them politely that I don't have any change and keep walking. If my kids are with me, I hold their hand a little tighter. You just never know these days. Not saying that they will do something to you, but still I'm just cautious.

  2. Gosh I give you credit! I have a hard time when we walk into Walmart and the bell dingers stand there as usually I don't have extra, let a lone a stranger walking up to me. I will pray for them also. I can't imagine having to live like that!

  3. I carry pepper spray with me mostly because of the office I work in, but because parking lot pan handlers have started coming up and knocking on my car window. I do not carry cash 99.9% of the time. When I do and have come across someone in an intersection, I have been known to hand out my cash, but when you approach me and invade my personal space, that is when I get defensive (and that goes for anyone!)

  4. Honestly - I do NOT feel as much compassion. We all struggle. When I was a kid, my mom was as dirt poor as you can get. She did NOT waste her time begging for money, or harrassing strangers. She made crafts from supplies she got at Goodwill, and sold them at church fairs. She went to every social service provider in our area and was grateful for all of the help that they gave us. She worked her ass off, went back to school while doing all that and raising 4 kids under 6 - with no working vehicle, only the city bus. She is amazing and so inspiring.

    When you are motivated to improve, you'll find a way. When you give up and decide to wander parking lots asking moms to give their money to you, you have a problem.

    Every community as things that can help. I do not like having strangers approach me, and unfortunately I am not as nice, since so many are on drugs or mentally unstable {which is why they are on the street, and not taking a more responsible approach to improving their circumstances...} - and you're right, they can be very unpredictable. When someone wanders towards me, I say respectfully but forcefully that I want them to back away, I do not have any resources to spare, and do not want them to come any closer to me and my child.... And it's scary that too many do not listen.

    And the fact that they don't respect my statement to not approach me shows me that giving them my money is not going to truly help them....

  5. I used to always give money, food, whatever I could. I even carried care packages to hand out. My kids were always with me and I was teaching them to be a "giver" like I've been.

    However, since moving to the city, I am sick of all of the people on the side of the road with their pathetic sob stories on their signs. I sat and watched a woman mess her hair up, tear her jeans, and fold and refold a piece of cardboard to make it look old... and then stand up there and ask for money.

    I saw a man park his car and WALK to the corner to stand there and say he was homeless and hungry. His car was nicer than any I've ever owned.

    I realize people need help. I volunteer my time and money to organizations that help people. Beyond that, they're out of luck with me because I am done being taken advantage of. I'm very low income and don't need to be giving them $$ when they have MORE than I do.

    Sorry, rant over. :) You're not a horrible person!

  6. Oh my heavens, I can't imagine if people around here approached my kids and I in a parking lot. Yikes!

    If that was the case, I'd stay home A LOT more often - and if/when I went out, I would definitely require my husband be with me.

  7. I can honestly say we don't have any "public" homeless here. I am sure we do have them we just don't see them like this. I understand your frustration and concern for your children. When I am alone in parking lots in the dark I carry my keys spread out in between my fingers. If someone were to try to attack me I don't know if I would do this but one swipe my hand with the keys would do some damage. Not sure where I learned that but I've done since the day I could drive - forever years ago.

  8. I have been very cautious since I became a single mother and have my son with me all the time. I have not come across any homeless in the parking lot though with the economy we will see it soon enough. Stay safe my friend!


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