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Women walk by a panhandler along Madison Avenue, one of Manhattan's premier shopping and residential streets.
For every creative cardboard sign drawn by a beggar there is a creative city ordinance to try to deal with beggars. This week, a Las Vegas county official introduced a new restriction to vex panhandlers. The ordinance would ban pets on the Strip in Vegas, because more beggars are using animals for sympathy donations. "Panhandlers aren't blind to the effect a sad-faced puppy or little kitten has on a passer-by," reported the Las Vegas Sun.
With new bans, come new workarounds. The city of Tampa, Florida criminalized begging just two months ago. Now the homeless and poor sell a weekly newspaper on the streets instead. In some cities, such as New York, they just require that panhandling be unobtrusive. As our listeners know, with sparse foot traffic in Los Angeles, off-ramps and street corners are solicitation hot-spots.
Depending on how much you're out and about, you might feel overwhelmed by the infinite need. Then there are the anecdotal surveys suggesting some just pretend to be hard-up for cash. Police, the "professional homeless," and journalists who've gone undercover-poor say you can make up to $300 a day in a prime spot.
How do you react when someone asks you for money? Do you make judgments based on the out-reached hand, or do you have a blanket rule? Do you factor in your other charity giving? Does it matter to you how your spare change might be spent? Why do we sometimes feel guilty even after we give?
Randy Cohen, Author of the forthcoming "Be Good: How to Navigate the Ethics of Everything" to be published by Chronicle this fall. For 12 years, Cohen wrote "The Ethicist" weekly column for "The New York Times Magazine"