Posts Tagged ‘Orlando’

Should You Give Money to Panhandlers? ‘Mouthwash Dave’ Offers Lesson

March 27, 2014

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By Michael Joe Murphy

“Mouthwash Dave” didn’t earn his nickname because he sought to enhance his oral hygiene.

Dave panhandled on the streets of Orlando, politely asking the kindhearted, one at a time, for 25 cents. When he’d collect four quarters, he’d make a beehive to the nearest Dollar Store to buy a big jug of mouthwash.

He didn’t have money for beer or wine, so he got his fix with an alcohol-based mouthwash.

When panhandlers stop you on a downtown street, do you feel compelled to reach into your pocket to hand over a buck or pocketful change? Or do “will-work-for-food” signs at intersections tug your heartstrings and spur a reflexive hand-out-the-window donation to the beggar?

You might be doing them more harm than good.

Dawn Neff was one of the founding volunteers at Compassion Corner, a “listening ministry” for the homeless in downtown Orlando.

She will never forget meeting “Mouthwash Dave, a “really sweet guy” and gentle spirit, in the autumn of 2001.

Dave had no sooner introduced himself that he convulsed in seizures, trembling and shaking, Neff recalls, and “I’d never seen that before. I called 911.”

Neff sat with Dave in the hospital emergency room, watching in horror when as more intense spasms of pain wracked his body. He was detoxifying.

In the summer of 2000, Orlando banned begging anywhere outside of blue-dotted lines painted on the sidewalk at 25 locations concentrated downtown. But the 3-by-15 foot “panhandling zones” didn’t confine “Mouthwash Dave.”

He wasn’t aggressive. And neither are most casual panhandlers today.

In cities of any size, it’s likely you’ll be approached for a handout.

Before you’re tempted to help someone on the street who seeks money, ask yourself: What’s my motivation? Am I trying to do something immediately to appease the panhandler so he’ll move on and you can get on your way? Or do you want to help in a meaningful way?

Neff, who ministered to the homeless in downtown Orlando for almost 12 years, offers this advice: “Check your motivations. It’s not necessarily bad to give money to the homeless or to panhandlers. But there might be better alternatives for you – and the person you’d like to help.”

According to many studies, most of the homeless suffer from drug abuse, alcoholism or mental retardation. “The last thing you’d want to do is fuel addiction,” Neff says.

Not all panhandlers are homeless. It might be that the person who’s asking for cash needs it for food or medicine or bus fare to get to work.

“If someone at corner looks famished and you can’t stop to chat, consider going to the closest barbecue joint or McDonald’s, buying a sandwich and fries to take back to the panhandler,” Neff says. “Many times it may not be food that they really want, but you’ll be wiser doing that than giving away money.”

If you’re motivated and have the time, Neff says, “Check out ‘the rest of the story,’ particularly if you’ve seen person on the street or you’ve talked before – if you feel confident they’ll do the right thing. If someone just approaches you for some coins, take the time to get to know them. It doesn’t take much to get a conversation started.”

Neff has given money to homeless people in downtown Orlando, “but those handouts have been very seldom. And when I have, I’ve donated to people I’ve really known, who have no dependency issues, who want $2 only to pay for one night’s stay at a homeless center.”

Neff offers one more thought: “Keep in mind that homeless people are prideful, too.”

The same can’t be said for all panhandlers.

Be wary. But also beware making hard-line decisions and adopting a one-approach-fits-all response when you’re asked to help.

Neff stayed with “Mouthwash Dave” throughout his detoxification at the emergency room, as he convulsed in even bigger seizures. A relationship was established.

Dave was a regular visitor among the homeless and the paupers at Compassion Corner for years.

He struggled with alcoholism until he succumbed to cancer.

A decade later, the ranks of men and women without a roof over their heads in downtown Orlando remain.

So do those “blue boxes” painted on sidewalks.

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Michael Joe Murphy

Michael Joe Murphy

Michael Joe Murphy, a volunteer for the Polis Institute, can be reached at Consider signing up for Dignity Serves, a six-week course that helps you rethink the way we serve others in our community. It teaches you to see problems differently and respond in a way that empowers those you serve rather than just meeting their immediate needs.





Neighborhood Leading with LaDeitra: Determination and Patience

February 18, 2012

LaDeitra and Rebecca

By Rebecca Lujan Loveless

The Community Center at The Palms Trailer Park bustled with life on a recent cool Saturday morning. This was unusual because up until that week, the trailer that housed the Community Center was open only Monday through Friday. This Saturday, the residents came in and out, using the computers, sitting to chat with neighbors over cups of coffee, and I felt a deep sense of gratitude for the spirit of “togetherness” in this overlooked but much under-rated community.

The Palms Trailer Park is located between two highways on Orange Blossom Trail – “OBT” as it is affectionately referred to. OBT is notorious for the business of buying and selling women. So whenever I tell people where my office is located – in a trailer park on OBT – I am generally met with some kind of a joke about “working the Trail.” And while my work involves befriending women who do, in fact, “work the Trail,” it also involves listening to the hopes and concerns of other people, too:

  • The former inmate who is unemployable because of his past.
  • The older woman who has never worked a day in her life because of her crippling disabilities.
  • The young, single mom who is passionate about her children having a chance to succeed with opportunities she never had.

Recently, I have become friends with a young, single mom who has taught me so much about determination and quiet patience. LaDeitra is curious and funny. She is hopeful yet cautious. She leads people with ease and yet is hesitant to be called a “leader.” She cares about her neighborhood and wants to be a part of creating a place where her kids can play safely, where she knows her neighbors well enough to understand their needs.

When I first met her at the Community Center, LaDeitra was shy and quiet. She would come to use the computers and then leave as quietly as she came in. But over time she began to pick up on some of the conversations around her. As people would visit the Community Center, we would talk about their ideas to improve the neighborhood. LaDeitra grew curious. Eventually she started contributing to these informal conversations. Finally, after several months of listening and observing she asked if she could come to the weekly meeting for our volunteer Hosts of the Community Center.

Once LaDeitra was trained as a Community Center Host, there was no stopping her. She began talking to her neighbors, listening to them dream about “what could be” at The Palms. She convenes people for Neighborhood Meetings, and it was her organization and determination that allowed the center to start opening on Saturdays.

The work of Asset Based Community Development can be very lonely. Am I the only one who thinks this neighborhood is great? Does everyone (including the residents here) think this place is a joke? These are admittedly my dismal thoughts on days when I feel heavy-laden with the reality of generational poverty.

But LaDeitra reminds me, “Things take time.” She reminds me that there are others who care about this forgotten part of Orlando. She confirms my deep suspicion that when the talents of the poor are properly engaged, their well-being improves. She engages my talents of leadership and organization and, in turn, allows me – even invites me – to engage her talents to influence her neighbors toward change.

Each Saturday, if you stop by The Palms Trailer Park, you will see LaDeitra with her notebook open, listening to the dreams of her neighbors. She writes them down, showing that what her neighbors have to say is important. She talks to others about these ideas and invites people to find ways to empower them.

LaDeitra is hesitant to be called a “leader,” and yet each week she leads me to believe that change – even in the most unlikely place – is possible.

Consider signing up for Dignity Serves, a six-week course that helps you rethink the way we serve others in our community. It teaches you to see problems differently and respond in a way that empowers those you serve rather than just meeting their immediate needs.