Recentish Reading: Giving Panhandlers Pre-Paid Credit Cards

Multiple points of interest here: how people asking for money on the streets choose to spend it; trust and distrust of gifts; acceptance or non-acceptance of the invitation to engage in a relationship (donor-donee; journalist-storyteller) that goes slightly beyond the norm; the varied slice-of-life stories of people barely getting by; and of course, the judgments, assumptions and reactions of those of us who read the article.

How panhandlers use free credit cards — an informal study by Jim Rankin of the Toronto Star (reported 28 Aug. 2010):

“Over the past two weeks, I wandered Toronto’s downtown core with five prepaid Visa and MasterCard gift cards, in $50 and $75 denominations, waiting for people to ask for money.

“When they did, I asked them what they needed. A meal at a restaurant, groceries, a new pair of pants, they said. I handed out the cards and asked that they give them back when they’d finished shopping. I either waited at a coffee shop while they shopped or — in the case of those who could not buy what they needed nearby or were reticent about leaving their panhandling post — I said I’d return on another day to pick up the card. That’s when I would reveal that I was a journalist.

“Some were unbelieving at first. All were grateful. Some declined the offer. Some who accepted didn’t come back, but those that did had stories to tell.”

Laurie, for instance, is 44, couch-surfs with friends and lives on the streets, has diabetes, fibromyalgia, and bipolar disorder, and has two daughters in college and types 95 wpm with 98% accuracy.


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