A story ran in the New York Times the other day about a cop who encountered a barefoot homeless man in Times Square.
“It was freezing out and you could see the blisters on the man’s feet,” [Officer Lawrence DePrimo] said in an interview. “I had two pairs of socks and I was still cold.”
In the course of their conversation, Officer DePrimo asked the older man his shoe size. The policeman left, then returned a few minutes later with socks and a new pair of boots.
Officer DePrimo’s kind act would likely have gone unnoticed if not for a passing tourist’s photograph.
Jennifer Foster via New York Times
The touching story reminded me of a debate I had last year with a dear friend. We were discussing the increase of homeless people in Paris. “I feel so bad for them,” I told her. “I probably dispense 10 euros in coins every day.”
Her response surprised me. “I never give them anything,” she said, “because it only perpetuates their suffering.” She told me that, while traveling in India, she saw a beggar get assaulted and robbed just moments after he accepted a few coins.
I’ve also heard the argument that most panhandlers will spend your money on drugs or alcohol — or that they’re not homeless at all, and it’s all a big scam.
Still, I continue to hand out my coins. Why? Not because I have the illusion that they’ll make a lasting positive difference in someone’s life. (For that, I donate to the shelters.) Rather, because it gives me an opportunity to look another person in the eye and acknowledge his or her humanity.
Of course, that’s just my philosophy — and there’s no easy answer. What are your thoughts? Do you think it’s better to give … or not to give?