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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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  • Andy Wulf

    A nice idea at its core, but good luck finding restaurants willing to roll out the red carpet for a bunch of homeless people to hanging out in their dining room. Not to put too fine a point on it, and I’m not saying it’s right, but it does tend to be considered as bad for business.

    • Bringing back Buffalo

      Ummmm good point.

  • BufChester

    One could always pick a restaurant, make an arrangement in advance with management and then just give Harry a “gift certificate” he could use within a set period of time. If Harry used the certificate the restaurant would call you for payment, or they could have your credit card information on file and just charge it if he came in.

  • 300miles

    sometimes, especially during winter when I have larger coat pockets, I’ll keep a chewy granola bar with me in case someone says they have nothing to eat. They’re individually wrapped, they don’t expire quickly, and don’t require I pull out my wallet or phone. (only problem is that I end up eating them myself when I get the munchies)

  • J. Richmond

    Reach out to the team at

    Could be something in their wheelhouse.

  • OldFirstWard

    Or one could find Harry a Sally.

    • Bringing back Buffalo

      Then he’d be really broke.

  • Hugh Jarvis

    I finally stopped giving handouts because it just encourages them not to find a better solution. Sounds like a great idea. It empowers them to do the right thing with zero risk to you. And if they truly are hungry, they get a meal!

  • Wally Balls

    There’s several cool websites like this that already exist. One is called “INDEED.” Another is called “MONSTER.” After using these services, Harry can buy his own Panera bread.

    • Wise Profit

      Oh look he tried to make a funny. Try taking your cold POS hat off for a minute and put on your thinking cap for just a second.
      People like you and me could lose our jobs but at the end of the day we still have savings accounts, unemployment benefits and so on that could help during the time that we look for a new job. I’ve heard people say “I’m broke” meaning they have no extra money, UNTIL they get their next paycheck. When a homeless person say “I’m broke”, they are truly broke. They are looking for an amount of money that we would keep in change in our cars. Or in a jar at home, or just the few bucks you might have in your wallet. I bet most people have more money sitting in gift cards in their wallet than most homeless people have to their name.
      And when we get called for an interview for the new job we can hop in our shower, shave, brush our teeth and get suited up to kill it at the interview. Where does a homeless person do these things to put their best foot forward at an interview? Where do they get the money for security deposit on an apartment? Will a landlord even rent to someone with no job? What if the person has no wardrobe? No shirt and tie? No dress shoes and pants? Do they just show up smelling and in clothes they have worn for maybe days and expect to get the job?

      • BlackRockLifer

        Well said, good to see common sense and basic decency on this issue.

      • Wally Balls

        Hey Fool — I lived downtown in two different loft buildings for almost a decade. You know what I noticed about the “homeless” guys asking for change? They are all the same guys. Day in, day out — same dudes always asking for change. Pretty much shoots your theory of “they just need a few bucks to get them by” all to pieces. I’ll give one of them $100 tomorrow if that were the case, but its not. A large portion of them are scam artists, with elaborate stories, like “I just got out of jail and I’m trying to get back to Rochester.” I’ve heard that one about 8 times. The one white guy who forgets who he tells his lies to and his story of “I ran out of gas and i need some change to buy a tank of gas.” Gas is $2.50 a gallon, you’re going to be standing out here for a little while if thats the best lie you can think of. Four years ago, I was approached by a man who said he lost his job, etc. At the time, my company was hiring a shipper — bascially someone to pack boxes and put tape on them. I offered him the job on the spot and you know what he did? Walked away. Not homeless, just lazy. Stop being taken in by these people, force them to get off their duff and get a job, or, my personal favorite — call the police and wait there until they show up. Vagrancy and begging is a crime.

        • BlackRockLifer

          Maybe the con men tend to congregate downtown but in the neighborhoods there are many true down and out types that have real problems. In my experience far more panhandlers are mentally ill or traumatized in some way and not just con men. Whenever the person is obviously not right or clearly disheveled I have no problem giving them some change.
          I will agree about the stories though, I have heard many over the years including the “ran out of gas”, “my kid is sick in whatever city” and “I need money for diapers or baby formula”. These are the cons and I can usually spot them right away.

  • Cool V

    Or something like this??

  • geeeno

    there’s a reason that you feel guilty–you’re ignoring a fellow human being. i keep $5 free floating in my pocket for panhandlers and i tell em not to buy booze. that’s it.

    • Wally Balls

      No, you don’t.

  • Bringing back Buffalo

    They want money for booze that’s all. I once ran into a guy outside of Mightly Taco on Chippewa that said he was hungry and needed some money for food, so I went into Mighty and bought him a burrrrritto. When I came out to give it to him he goes, “what am I going to do with that?” #truestory

    • ITakeAcidAndIVote

      I once got hit up by a guy after a Dead show who said “Do you have any spare change you can give me so I can get some drugs?” I loved his honesty.

      • BlackRockLifer

        I saw a guy in Denver with a sign that said “saving for a hooker”

    • BlackRockLifer

      Actually some want money for booze, some for drugs, some are mentally ill and some are just down on their luck.

    • OldFirstWard

      I’ve seen people on BRO ask readers to donate money to them so they can start a business.

  • BlackRockLifer

    I have lived in Black Rock and worked downtown for most of my life and have had my share of encounters with homeless people. My wife is also a Social Worker in health care and works on occasion with the homeless. Their stories are varied as is the case with any group. I even know some of them personally from growing up in the neighborhood. Some are just looking to buy drugs or alcohol but most have had serious issues that led to their situation. Many with substance abuse problems have been victims of post traumatic stress, sexual abuse or physical abuse. Others are mentally ill or have depression and anxiety. There are of course a small subset of con men just out to make a buck but in my experience this group is a minority.
    It’s easy to broad brush the homeless but the devil is in the details, the more we know about the individual the less likely we are to judge.

  • Bflo Anderson

    A great idea Cynthia. There are restaurants in other cities that allow people to pay what they can. Additionally some people on this post need a bit more compassion for fellow humans.

    • Wally Balls

      Can you Venmo me $5 please?

  • Dale Zuchlewski

    I sat on a task force on panhandlers as Executive Director of the Homeless Alliance. We found that there are very few panhandlers who are homeless. I can tell you that there is a crack dealer that supposedly “trains” people to panhandle. People have witnessed “shift” changes at some spots with people passing off their signs to someone else. I had one conversation with a homeless person who did panhandle and he told me he and a friend made $70,000 in 10 months and most of it went to feed an addiction. The good news is he wasn’t committing a crime to feed his addiction and it’s beyond a “choice” for drugs when they are addicted; their body is telling them they require it. Alcoholics can actually die if they suddenly withdraw from their addiction so somebody using their money for booze isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The number of people who live on the streets has been drastically reduced over the past few years so the problem isn’t caused by homelessness. I can tell you with about 99% certainty that if someone is holding a sign that say “homeless Vet” they are not homeless and chances are they probably are not a Veteran. Some people who do panhandle are homeless, down on their luck and do need some short term help so I guess it’s a matter of personal choice how to help them. Please do not demonize them. No matter what the reason is for their panhandling they are still people and still need some type of help.

  • Tara Taylor