Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Reader Questions How to Handle Begging

DEAR HARRIETTE: My mother told me that we should always share with those who have less than we do. To that end, I give to my church, and I occasionally give to people who beg on the street.

The other day, I was walking on a street near my home when two different men seemingly came out of nowhere begging for money. One of them was loud and insistent. I had just completed a meeting with a client, and I had no money in my pocket to spare. Well, the loud man got louder and started yelling at me for not giving him money. I thought this was excessive. He may have been mentally impaired. What should I have done in that situation? I just kept on walking. -- Paying the Homeless

DEAR PAYING THE HOMELESS: You are not obliged to give money to people who ask you for it. Sadly, there seem to be more homeless people on the street these days, and yes, many of them are mentally and emotionally challenged. That is likely why that man was so belligerent. In situations like that, it is probably safest for you to ignore the person. Engaging someone who is loud and aggressive is not a safe option.

In general, though, when someone asks you for money on the street, even if you choose not to give them anything, you can acknowledge them. I will say, “Good morning. Have a good day,” or something similar. If they press for money, I say, “I’m sorry. Not today.” Recognizing the humanity in others is an important part of life. I believe that some people who find themselves living on the street or otherwise in dire straits often feel invisible because passersby don’t even see them.