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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Is Change In A Cup The Best Way To Help The Homeless?

A homeless person panhandles in the snow in Harvard Square, Cambridge, Mass. on Friday, Feb. 8, 2013.(Jesse Costa/WBUR)

A homeless person panhandles in the snow in Harvard Square, Cambridge, Mass. on Friday, Feb. 8, 2013.(Jesse Costa/WBUR)

So you come across a homeless person, hand outstretched, asking for money. What do you do?

Do you give money? Do you avert your eyes? Or do you march over to a re-purposed parking meter and put money there for the homeless, as you can do in about 20 cities now?

According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, homelessness has been on the rise over the past two decades. But it’s not because of deinstitutionalization, or even addiction.

One-third of homeless people these days are part of families with kids; that’s a nine percent increase since the recession hit.

Neil Donovan, executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, says that, like most people, he’s conflicted about whether to give money on the street.

But he thinks re-purposed parking meters aren’t the solution, and he says that cities that have banned panhandling are depriving givers and people in need of the opportunity to see and become more familiar with each other.

More often than not, Donovan says, a homeless person often just wants a simple “hello, how are you?” and a little human interaction.

What are your thoughts on how to help the homeless? Let us know on our Facebook page.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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