We were told, at least in this situation, that people who operate in Oxford near the shopping district and universities are 'professional panhandlers.' They sit on the sidewalk all day collecting money, and then get their Lexus (it was always a Lexus) out of the parking garage and drive back to their stately home. This was an image that was pounded into my head by not only people associated with my school, but by locals I befriended over the course of the semester.
Personally, I'd rather go to a regular job than sit on a sidewalk all day, but I'm sure that the story that I was told can't be the whole story.
Certainly I've encountered panhandlers in other situation as well and I don't think I've ever given them anything. There are tons of professional beggars all over the major cities in Europe, and if they pick you out as a tourist, they're actually rather rude if you don't give them anything. I almost gave leftovers from a restaurant to a man in Washington DC, but I was worried that that would seem condescending.
Since the economy has been in this downward spiral, with Rhode Island hit particularly hard on the unemployment front, I've seen more and more people out at intersections holding signs and saying 'anything helps.' I always feel guilty and avert my eyes, but I also had it drilled into my head by my Republican mother that if you give people who are down and out cash, they just spend it on booze. So what to do in these situations?
I want to give something, but I almost never carry any cash, and I also don't want to be an enabler/ get taken advantage of. I feel very bad for people outside in all weather just asking for help. I can't imagine that it's very easy, psychologically, to stand up and beg for help, but maybe I'm just thinking like a sucker. I'd rather give food than cash, because I'm sure that even if they're going to a soup kitchen, they're still probably hungry, but is that a rude thing to do? I'm genuinely curious--do other people give? Sometimes? All the time? What's your personal philosophy when it comes to people with signs and a hard luck story?