It’s not my imagination. There are more people on more corners asking for more money than there were last year. And I’m reading this: With Charity for All by Ken Stern.
The panhandling makes me sad and ashamed. Well, isn’t that the right word for the feeling of not being able to look someone in the eye? Isn’t it the right sentiment for idling next to a problem you can’t solve?
Oh. Did you think I meant the problem of panhandlers and that their “ask” makes me uncomfortable? It’s a little that and a lot embarrassment for their predicament, for my comparative opulence. It’s embarrassment for living in a world where we haven’t yet figured out how to really help people and eradicate unmet need and want.
I keep avoiding eye contact and driving on and overcompensating in my own way, donating more to charity, caring for other people’s children, praying it will go away. To be clear, when I say, go away, I mean the needs will be met, not just that the need will disappear from my sight because it makes me uncomfortable. I should feel uncomfortable in the face of need.
And then I read With Charity for All, fascinated by the notion that the nonprofit industry is failing us with programs that make us feel good but don’t make a real difference, discouraged that donors are failing the nonprofit industry by devaluing infrastructure, administration, and marketing, surprised that state and local governments award contracts based on rules requiring they distribute contracts with a number of nonprofits rather than providing funding to the nonprofit organizations that work best.
And then I listen to my professor who is a nonprofit expert telling my class about research showing that for impoverished areas, we would do more good giving people cash than sending in experts to do assessments, make recommendations, and mobilize nonprofit resources around the problem.
And I KNOW. I know my five bucks won’t do any good put into the hand of the pan handler. I want it to do better in the hands of a nonprofit but I’m more skeptical about that now. I’d still rather put it into the hands of a nonprofit organization and it’s okay with me if they spend it on paper. You can’t cure homelessness or end poverty without paper. And I want my five dollars or five hundred dollars to count, to make a difference.
I’m like that, idealistic, hopeful. I’ll keep giving. But if one of you (my three faithful readers) has a system of giving that works, that makes a difference, that feels right, I’m all ears.