I feel embarrassed, but vindicated tonight. I'll explain, but my explanation is going to ramble a bit, so please forgive me.
First, it seems like the population of Dallas has doubled overnight with an influx of people from the disaster areas along the Gulf Coast. I started seeing the refugees this morning, and it's a very striking sight. Most of them seem to be walking around in a state of shock, as if they had just seen the wrath of God and lived to tell the tale.
Second, I gave up on giving money to panhandlers about four years ago back when I was working at Microsoft. I gave up because I found that a panhandler who I often saw in Salt Lake City begging for change outside of Temple Square happened to live in and pay for a $235,000 home in Ogden just down the street from me with the money he earned from panhandling. Since then, I donate to support organizations like the American Red Cross (link to Amazon.com donation page), and to local organizations dedicated to helping those in need. If I see someone in need, I'll help by buying them a meal or some food or a blanket...but I won't give money any more.
Third, there is a panhandler that comes out every night near the West End DART Station. He hit me up for the first time about three months ago. He said he had just gotten in via Greyhound from Oklaholma and was out of cash. He asked for a buck so he could get a Big Mac at the McDonald's two blocks away. I said, "You want food?" He said, "Yes." I said, "Okay, let's go." He quickly stammered, "Well, can I just get the cash?" I said, "Nope," flipped the bozo bit, and proceeded to ignore him. Since then, he's hit me up at least twice a week with the same story. Usually, I just ignore him.
Tonight was different, though. He came up to me and told me that he'd just gotten in from New Orleans. I didn't let him finish his spiel. I ripped into him for exploiting their tragedy for his own benefit. I literally yelled at him until I was hoarse. For five minutes, I slowly edged him away from the station while I vented all of my frustration on those who would exploit the kindness of others. I finally told him that if I ever saw him again, I would have him arrested for fraud and panhandling and he ran like crazy.
I will gladly help those who need help. Today, I donated $100 to the American Red Cross. It was all I could afford, but it was a start. That money could feed a Katrina refugee for a week.
If you want to help those whose lives were ruined by Katrina, donate to the American Red Cross. Don't fall prey to those who would exploit this tragedy for their own purposes. Put your money where it will do the most good.