Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Reader Unsure How to Handle Homeless Requests

DEAR HARRIETTE: I recently moved to New York City, and everything is so different from my hometown. One of the things that is most troubling for me is I don’t know what to do when people ask me for money. Just about every day as I am going to work or the grocery store or getting on or off the subway, somebody asks me for money. It’s all kinds of people, too, from young people to people who obviously have been on the street for a long time to people with dogs, in wheelchairs, you name it.

At first, I gave something to everybody who asked, but I ran out of change fast. Now I am more mindful, but it’s hard to deny people a dollar when they seem so in need. What can I do to help people without going broke or feeling overwhelmed? -- Want to Help, Brooklyn, New York

DEAR WANT TO HELP: There are thousands of homeless people in New York City, as well as others who have fallen upon hard times for a variety of reasons. Drugs, alcohol and mental illness affect many of them. Yes, they need help. On occasion, your dollar may make a difference. You may want to consider another option, though. Do your research and select a charity that supports homeless people, people with drug and alcohol addiction or people dealing with mental illness. Giving money to a program that is organized to support people in this type of need may be more manageable for you and your gift may be better honored by those who are administering the programs. Just make sure you select a program that has a good rating for using its resources for the people, not the staff.

(Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)

Read more in: Money | Etiquette & Ethics | Addiction | Mental Health