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Got a buck? No. How ’bout a burger? Click.

Like most of us, I get hit on by panhandlers. Like most of us, I don’t enjoy it. But I also want to do the right thing. Nowadays, I’ve been donating to the Buffalo City Mission the amount that I would have given to panhandlers in a calendar year had I said yes every time. Nevertheless, I feel guilty when I say no to panhandlers. 

Maybe there’s a way to provide direct assistance using a mobile app. Here’s how it would work.

Imagine that Harry the homeless guy approaches me, saying that he is hungry.  If I take him at his word, I could give him cash. But I am reluctant to do that because it requires pulling out my wallet, and I am aware that as a woman alone on the street, Harry could be a mugger who claimed he was hungry as a pretext to separate me from my wallet. 

And, as a woman, I am often at the mercy of apparel designers who have decided that I neither want nor need functional pockets. 

Or maybe I never carry cash around.

Or if Harry is under the influence, I prefer not to support an addiction.

Or I could head over to the nearest eatery, order take out, and bring it back to Harry, which is not possible if I need to get to work on time. And Harry could have moved on by the time I get out of the restaurant.

What if I could open Yelp or one of its competitors, choose the nearest eatery, click through a few screens, send a $15 credit to Caffe Aroma or Panara with the code name Harry for him to redeem it, and tell him to head over there for lunch?

He’d have an hour or two to use the credit before it expired, so that if he doesn’t show up, because he was actually hoping for cash to buy intoxicants, then he forfeits the credit and I am not charged.

If he does appear and orders only $12.95 worth of food & drink, the balance is returned to me or a homeless services organization, whichever I choose. There should be a cost recovery fee to whoever offered this app.  Not too big or it looks like the developers are trying to profit from poverty & homelessness.

This system could also be used to get Harry shoes, clothing, toiletries, haircuts, and any other necessities.

Possible hazard: Harry is a mugger who’ll go for my cell phone if I whip that out instead of a wallet.

Who wants to take this project on?

Photo: ArielleJay

Written by Cynthia Van Ness

Cynthia Van Ness

Cynthia has an Master of Library Science (MLS) degree from the University at Buffalo and a BA in art history from SUNY/Empire State College. After library school, she worked at the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library for 13 years, half of were in the Grosvenor Room, the local history & genealogy collection, where she developed research and reference expertise in the people, places, things, and events Buffalo history. She was appointed Director of Library & Archives at The Buffalo History Museum in 2007. On her own time, she is the author of Victorian Buffalo (1999), Quotable Buffalo (2011), and the creator of, a guide to researching ancestors, buildings, and companies in Buffalo.

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