Let me start off by saying this: I know that there are plenty of beggars in the frum community. I generally take it at face value that they are all for real. I know that there may be any number of fakers and phonies in the bunch, but I look at it from the other side - best to err on the side of "caution:" If he's fake, so he's cheated me out of a quarter or a dollar; I'll survive anyway. If he's real, then I've made a small difference for the better in their lives.
Furthermore, let me also state that I'm talking about beggars, not charity collectors (many of whom, however, engage in the same kind of behavior that I describe for the beggars). I'll deal with them later in the blog.
That being said, in New York, there seems to be no shortage of frum beggars. You see them wherever you go: in shul in the morning, they make the rounds during minyan. They intercept you in the street and disturb your meals when you're eating out. They hold out their hands at weddings and bar mitzvahs. They knock on the door of your house and approach your car.
I am of two minds about this phenomenon, and I go back and forth between the two. The first is that these people are unfortunate and need money to survive. I don't know what kind of a living you can eke out asking for quarters in the street or making the rounds at morning minyan, but, (assuming that they are genuine, of course) they have needs. I know that if, God forbid, my family were starving and we had no other means of support, I would do whatever I needed to to get food on the table (or at least I'd try -- I'm really not the pushy type. I don't think I'd survive as a beggar). If it meant disturbing people during their daily routine a bit, I can certainly understand that.
But, on the other hand, there is the fact that I don't *want* to be disturbed. For example, I have a limited amount of time for lunch. If I stopped and gave to every person asking for money on the streets of Manhattan that I see during my lunch period, it turns into a significant bother. In addition, I, like most people, would like to eat without being disturbed. Maybe I'm more sensitive than most in this, but when I sit down to eat by myself, I don't want anyone to bother me short of telling me there is a fire in the building. When someone comes to my table asking me for charity, I've got two issues to deal with: 1. I don't want to be disturbed and 2. I find myself feeling slightly guilty because I have and the other person doesn't (even though those feelings of guilt are completely unwarranted). I should have the right to be reasonably free from unwanted disturbances in my daily life.
Of course, the idea is to find a balance between the two - between the fact that the beggar needs to survive and my desire to not be overly bothered. How to reconcile the two? Where does one draw the line? When you go to minyan in the morning, how many people have to approach you before you feel justified in telling the next one "I'm sorry..." How many times do you have to be interrupted at an affair before being able to justify saying to the next one "I'm sorry...."
There are those who would say none; that a beggar has no inherent "right" to disturb you. To some extent, that is certainly true. But, on the other hand, one must (IMHO) take into consideration the fact that these are desperate people and should not be turned away without good reason. In addition, it's a good reminder that there are those less fortunate and that it is our duty to help them.
On the other hand, there are also those who state that we should help everyone who comes along. While that is certainly noble, and for anyone who is willing to and able to do so, it is a wonderful and meritorious thing, it should not be made binding on everyone. For a while, I made it a habit that when I went to a certain shul for shacharis, I would bring along a small pack of singles (usually between five and eight). When a beggar approached, I'd give one. When I ran out of those singles, I ran out... it didn't make a difference if I had more money in my pocket - that was it, no one else would get. One is certainly not obligated to give all his money to charity and a person is also free to give his charity to the people/organizations of his or her choice. I'm not required to give my money to beggars any more than I'm required to give it to Tomche Shabbos, Hatzoloh or any other organization. And, after a certain point, I think that people have earned the "right" to be free from such disturbance. Of course, the beggar has no way of knowing how many beggars came before him, so I suppose this is not really practical, but nonetheless, we shouldn't have to put up with the constant barrage.
So, what's the solution? Where do we find the middle-ground? Of course, in the end, everyone has to make that decision for themselves - there is no "one size fits all" answer. But there should be some general guidelines that we, as a community, can come up with.