How Panhandlers use Free Credit Cards

Have you ever been reluctant to give money to a homeless person? I know I’ve been reluctant on several occasions. But why? My gut reaction is to think they’ll just use it for booze or drugs. But a recent test of that theory gets debunked…sort of.

In a story published by the Toronto Star in August the author, Jim Rankin, decided to see for himself how the homeless would use a credit card if given the chance.

Over the past two weeks, I wandered Toronto’s downtown core with five prepaid Visa and MasterCard gift cards, in $50 and $75 denominations, waiting for people to ask for money.

I think this is important. He waited until someone asked first. I know I’d be suspicious if someone walked up to me with a “free” credit card. Yeah right.

So, what happened when someone did ask for money?

When they did, I asked them what they needed. A meal at a restaurant, groceries, a new pair of pants, they said. I handed out the cards and asked that they give them back when they’d finished shopping.

He didn’t follow them around. He extended money but, more importantly, he extended trust. Even though it was part of his experiment, I think it lends an aire of dignity to the story.

How was his invitation received?

Some were unbelieving at first. All were grateful. Some declined the offer. Some who accepted didn’t come back, but those that did had stories to tell.

He then proceeds to hand out the card to four people. A 28 year old man. Another man sitting on a suitcase (no age given). Marc, another man who looked to be in his early 30s. And Joanne, aged 60, and mother and grandmother.

They each have their own story about what they did, or did not, buy with the card (click through to read this amazing story).

But before you do. I wanted to share what I got out of this story.

Number one: I’ve been amazingly blessed my entire life. I’ve always had a roof over my head, cash in the bank, and a job (or business). I’ve never missed a meal because I didn’t have anything to eat.

Number two: I have an incredibly supportive family that would do anything for me. Joanne’s plight is what got me thinking the most. Here’s a 60 year old woman. She has a daughter and a granddaughter. Where are they? Are they themselves barely making it? I think of my own mother and my heart breaks. I don’t have a good relationship with my father but I would let him live with me rather than the street. But, that’s another story that will probably never be told.


4 Responses to “How Panhandlers use Free Credit Cards”

  1. Tweak October 10, 2010 at 5:44 am #

    Very nice post..

  2. Jacob November 10, 2010 at 1:53 pm #

    Fascinating story! B/c as a culture we basically push the homeless out our minds, It’s always a shock to the system once they are “humanized” again in our minds.

  3. Jerret November 11, 2010 at 11:36 am #

    Yes, it’s a very amazing story. I guess we think the homeless are some how less, as you said. That they don’t have principles or standards. Yet, one man in the story gave the card back because he was suspicious. Truly remarkable.


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