It Looks Like the Homeless Aren’t “Going Square” Anytime Soon

By Jeremy Reynalds, Ph.D.

Founder  and CEO

Joy Junction Inc.

A Square credit card reader

A Square credit card reader

A You Tube video of a homeless man in Roswell, New Mexico apparently using a card reader to panhandle for donations has gotten thousands of hits.

A local news station in Albuquerque tracked down one of the young men who made the video, and asked him for a receipt for the donation shown in the video. However, he was unable to produce the receipt, and while claiming the video was genuine, with the panhandler saying it was a hoax, there seem to be doubts about its legitimacy.

Legitimate or not, I wondered what some of our Joy Junction guests thought about panhandlers moving full throttle into the electronic age to solicit donations. I had Denis Billy, our resident services manger, find out.

While none of those we asked had ever seen any panhandlers other than the man portrayed in the video using a credit card reader, the majority weren’t in favor. Here are some of their responses. I was surprised at the strong feelings expressed by a few.

One man said, “Society has become corrupt if we were to allow panhandlers to become a business. It’s unethical.”

One woman said she doesn’t think panhandlers should have a card reader, adding that “People who really need help probably don’t have one.”

Another woman added, “I think that if they can afford the card reader, then they shouldn’t be taking advantage of people’s kindness and generosity for their own greediness.”

Another woman kept on the same theme, saying “If they have a card reader, then they can afford a lot more than what they say that they don’t have. I wouldn’t trust someone that has one. Plus, I don’t have money like that to be giving other people. I barely get by with my husband and my kid.”

Others called the practice “outrageous and immoral,” and that there’s no reason at all for panhandlers using card readers. Someone else said while she thinks it’s a good idea, it “looks bad” for the homeless community.

One woman said that having a card reader on your phone for donations is a “bit much.” She added, “If they can afford a phone like that and a card reader, they probably aren’t hurting for money.”

Another woman said, “If they can do that, then they can get a job. Nobody needs my personal info.”

One guest was surprisingly judgmental, commenting “If a panhandler has enough money to afford a card reader, then they must be homeless by choice and by circumstance.”

A woman said she’s never seen a panhandler with a card reader. “If I should ever see one … my first impression would be that this person is a researcher.”

A man said he thinks a panhandler carrying a card reader is “cool,” because a lot of people don’t carry cash.

Another individual said that if a panhandler has a card reader, “then they’ve moved on with the times. Everything is going digital nowadays. If they can actually make money this way, then more power to them.”

So what about Joy Junction fans on Facebook? What did they think? I posed the question there.

Corinne said, “Since basically people’s donations are paying his phone, so what next? Insurance for a car?” This woman said she does give to help feed the homeless.

Michele said, “If you have the nuts to fund a smart phone and ask for ‘donations’ made by credit card, then you certainly are smart enough to get a job. I am a huge defender of the homeless, but all this guy’s getting from me is a sandwich. This (ticks) me off to no end.”

She added, “Makes me think of the guy I see EVERY DAY at the same corner for over a year. He’s there all … day every .. day. He is choosing his lifestyle, and so is the guy with the card reader. If you choose homelessness, please don’t ask me for money. If you are truly in need, please DO ask. I will share what little I have.”

Lucas said that God knows how much money this guy has, and will judge him accordingly.

He added, “I don’t know how you can have a $500 phone, a $100 card reader, an activated phone paying over $100 a month, an active bank account to transfer funds from the square app to your account and be homeless. Many people with jobs cannot afford that.”

Just for the record, it’s free to sign up for a Square account.

Lucas added with that being said, the video in his opinion looks “staged.”

Mike had a different opinion, writing that just because someone doesn’t mean they should have nothing.

He added, “To expect poor people to just toss away phones and sneakers and clothes that they had either before they were homeless or received as gifts, or … even BOUGHT themselves with donated money, why are we always so quick to call them liars and cheats because of it? Try being homeless, you judgmental jerks! Then see how quickly you judge a guy who figured out how to make it on the streets as cleverly as this man did.”

So what do I think? I was surprised by the judgmental attitude of some of our guests, and how quick they (and others) were to jump to condemnation. As with most things, the situation varies according to individual means, resources and abilities.

While some people used to be horrified about the homeless using cell phones, so doing has now become an acceptable thing for the homeless to do-especially with certain plans and phones being free or cheap. My guess is that it will eventually be acceptable for panhandlers to use card readers. What do you think?