Don’t Create a Culture of Begging: Quit Handing out Money to our Struggling Neighbors

By Mandy Cloninger
Executive Director, Trinity Cafe

I’m often asked about my opinions of panhandling in our community. I have strong opinions. Quit giving money to people on our streets. It creates a culture of begging in our community that is aggressive, highly visible and does not promote dignity, respect or the self-worth of our neighbors who are begging.

I’ve known Michael for years. He often has a sign on the corner of the on-ramp to 275 and Florida or Tampa Street that says he loves fried chicken. Many years ago, when I first started serving our homeless neighbors, I picked him up fried chicken from Publix, some chocolate cake and a few other items and went back to talk to him. He loves movies, frequenting the Ybor cinema, and at the time he was living in a pod, a storage unit. He has been on that corner for at least five years. He has a beautiful smile and a pleasant demeanor. I’ve frequently carried manna bags, Zip-lock bags filled with Scriptures, information on community resources, healthy snacks, sunscreen and a pair of socks, in my car from my church, Hyde Park United Methodist, and hand them out. I’ve offered a free meal card to one of Trinity Cafe’s locations and shared what we do. I’ve rolled down my window, introduced myself, asked the person’s name, and asked how I can pray for him or her.

I’ve had a homeless neighbor bang on my window on Armenia Ave and scare me, when I smiled at him, then turned the other direction, but didn’t roll down my window because something felt off to me. I’ve looked away, avoiding eye contact. I’ve given money too, when I felt like the spirit moved me, and I had listened to the request.

I’ve done it all. I struggle too. But I don’t give out money anymore.

It’s not just that we serve others, it’s how we serve. When we give money, it comes from a place of power and authority. It makes us feel good. It does not offer the other person dignity and respect. We are created in the image of God, and I do not believe, that God’s plan for any of our struggling neighbors, involves begging on the street.

What can you do?

1. Invest your limited philanthropic resources wisely. Give your money and your time to worthy organizations who build relationships and work daily with those struggling with homelessness, poverty and unemployment. There are great organizations in our community to support: Abe Brown Ministries, Love, Inc., Metropolitan Ministries, Trinity Cafe, and more, that help people restore their dignity by building relationships with those in need.

2. Tell your legislators that we need more resources for our homeless and struggling neighbors including: employment and training services that offer a living wage, affordable housing, health care, including mental health services, counseling, case management and quality of life services.

3. See your struggling neighbor. Smile and make eye contact, offer a prayer for the neighbor in need that you see.

4. Build a relationship and be a friend to someone who is struggling. Walk with them through their struggle, pray, offer advice, introductions, connections, and help them to make their own decisions that improve their self-sufficiency.

But please, quit giving out money on our streets.

Mandy Cloninger (pictured above with long-time, loyal volunteer Ed) serves as Executive Director of Trinity Cafe
She and her team can be found #DishingDignity everyday to those who are hungry and homeless in the Tampa Bay area.