Let’s pretend you were working in a national fast-food restaurant – say, McDonald’s, for example – and you’re out in the lobby (where the customers sit and eat, for those who’ve never been in a fast-food place) cleaning tables. During this time, you overhear a conversation between two grown men, old enough that they should and could be working but not old enough to look like they should be retired. What they’re talking about is bumming, swapping stories of cons they’ve pulled and bragging about how much more they earn than the average fast-food worker.
Unfortunately, I don’t need to pretend this one, because this was what did happen while working at McDonalds a few years back. It took everything within me NOT to beat them up, NOT to kick them out, NOT to respond to them. This isn’t the only time to be witness to some bum scams.
It was my first year riding the bus while living downtown, and I stopped at McDonalds on my way home off the last bus. (I stopped there because they were open – so I could sit and eat – cheap, and close enough to home to walk the rest of it.) This one black guy, a little older than me, thin and a big talker, came and sat down near me and gave me a sob story about how he needed food that night and how he needed to get home. Needless to say, I loaned him $25, on the condition of him meeting me to pay me back a week later.
He never made it there. The next time he saw me, he tried acting buddy-buddy, but when I mentioned the money, he pretended it was his twin cousin. (I’ve never been nice to him since, taking the few “racist” slurs I’d get because he was black and I’m white.)
I remember one time riding the bus, and I was talking with a guy who seemed interesting. He ended up getting off at Edgebrook. That bus driver was quick to warn me, a few blocks after dropping him, of the con game he plays bumming people in that area.
There was also the time when a friend of mine and I were leaving Uncle Nicks, and a guy we had seen harassing people for money was getting standing up putting his wheelchair into the back of a nice grey car.
This is the time of year where people typically give out their money to needy people. These people bank on it, and thrive off of the sympathy lines they throw off on people. Unfortunately, many people are stupid enough to fall for it, thinking they’re doing that “kind old person” a favor.
If you want to help these people, The one thing you should do, above all else, is Watch the people approaching you. If they are harassing multiple people and – especially – if you see them get money from someone before they approach you, they are probably fake scammers who do not deserve your money.
Also, donate your money and/or your services to a reputable service that helps those that are really homeless. It doesn’t matter which one you choose, only that you choose one to help.
Beyond that, do one – or more – of these:
1. If they’re scamming, just say no. If you live in a city (such as Rockford, IL) with laws that make panhandling and begging illegal, warn them about it being illegal. If they persist, threaten to call the police and – if necessary – call them. (Chances are good it won’t be necessary if it’s in front of an open business, as the business owners will call the police to get them off their property.)
2. Offer to buy them the food they are asking for. (Or, if they’re asking you for money to get someplace, offer to pay for their bus fare.) If they’re serious about the help they’re asking, they won’t refuse.
3. Point those who ask in the direction of the nearest shelter or food station. If they’re serious about needing the help, they won’t have to ask too many people for help.
A few places in the downtown area have pamphlets that you can get to hand out to people who harass you for money; Many business owners will drive them off so you won’t be harassed too much. Whatever you do, if you want to help them, DO NOT GIVE OUT YOUR MONEY!
Now back to your regularly schedule program…