A friend of mine was recently accosted at the ATM by a local homeless man, asking him for money and going so far as to request that he find a store to break a $20 to give him money. The fellow continued to harangue my friend after he said no and started walking away.
Being accosted for change gets old fast. Alternating pity and entitlement, begging gets annoying. But that doesn’t change the fact that in and around Washington, DC, homelessness is a real problem. It’s not just about vagrants pissing in the street and following you down the sidewalk (although it is about that, too); it’s real men and women, frequently mentally ill, who have little more than a cardboard box to their names. But I still don’t want to give the dude on the corner a buck.
Why not? Well what’s the point of giving the dollar? To help him or ameliorate my guilt? I don’t feel guilty not handing over a dollar. And when it comes to giving away my money, I’m a paternalistic bastard.
So why not “bum money,” small denomination gift certificates good only at grocery stores and only for food products? Or perhaps food and hygiene products? I’d laugh at that myself, but I do recall charity drives to gather toiletries for the homeless. It’d basically be a form of civil society organized welfare, and probably more efficient than whatever services the state isn’t providing.