Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Panhandling

Recently, on my drive home from work, I passed a guy standing on the corner by the traffic lights. He was holding a sign that said "Male model experiencing hard times, please help". Had I been prepared I would have given him some money in return for the chuckle he gave me. I did feel a little unkind that I laughed, and perhaps with a shave, shower, haircut and clean clothes that actually fitted him, he might have looked the part. But without that attention he looked like any other unfortunate homeless panhandler seen on the streets of any city. I resolved to tuck a few dollars in my cup holder in case I ever do see him again.

O'Connell Street Bridge in Dublin
I used to be a very easy touch for the panhandlers in Dublin when I was growing up. Of course, we didn't call them panhandlers, they were beggars, tinkers, knackers, itinerants, travellers or gypsies. Tinkers because once upon a time they worked on tin pots and pans, mending and selling them door to door, traveling from town to town in horse drawn caravans. Knackers dealt in horses, breeding and selling them, the story goes, to be slaughtered for meat. Read more here.

In fact, when I was very young they used to go door to door, I guess that might have been left over from the tinker era. There was one woman who called regularly to our house selling balloons. My mother always brought her into the kitchen and gave her something to eat with a cup of hot tea and bought her balloons. We referred to her as 'Mammy's beggar lady'. And I remember another occasion when a boy (probably about 10 years old) called to the door. It was pouring rain and he was soaking wet and shivering with the cold. My mother brought him in, put him in a hot bath, gave him some of my brother's clothes and a hot meal. I suspect that is where I learned to be compassionate towards beggars.

On one occasions, I was on my way to the bus stop, going home from school, when a beggar asked me for 'a little help' and I have him my bus fare and walked home. My sister assured me that I was not helping him at all because he would more than likely use my bus fare to buy drink. I told her I didn't care, if I was in his position I would want someone to give me money for a drink if that was all it took to make me happy, and he didn't look like he had anything to be happy about.

ready for the tourists

The horsedrawn caravans of the early travellers gave way to more modern trailers pulled by motorized vehicles though many of them still deal in horses. And the colorful wooden caravans I remember the tinkers pulling behind a horse then became tourist attractions as replicas appeared for rent as a vacation alternative (see here for information)


My husband, way back in time, after he graduated school, lived on the streets in San Francisco for a short while, he was being a hippie, and supported himself by panhandling. He told me he made a good living, in fact rarely had to sleep outside, but could afford to get a motel room most nights. He encouraged me not to give to panhandlers, but frequently I give in. And should I see the unfortunate male model again, I will give to him.