Would You Help the Homeless You Meet in Mumbai or New York LaGuardia?

We already know that homeless live in Frankfurt airport. And they used to live at the Radisson JFK.

Of course, actual homeless shelters are even on TripAdvisor.

I’ll often do quite a bit of eating, trying a great variety, on my travels abroad. The goal there is to experience lots of things not to fill myself up. I won’t finish everything.

That’s rather striking in, say, Mumbai where there are so many street kids. They’re out there because begging is effective, and the most effective children aren’t just persistent but visibly disabled. I don’t really want to give money, that probably doesn’t benefit the kids as much as their handlers (though they could well have a quota..) but I will certainly give leftovers. That way I figure they’re more likely to actually eat than if I gave them money ostensibly for food.

Via Alan H. it turns out quite a few homeless live at New York LaGuardia as well.

In the Central Terminal there’s an American Express Centurion lounge. I actually wonder whether it might make sense to guest someone in. Unfortunately the LaGuardia lounge doesn’t have a shower. But they do have a buffet. I imagine American Express wouldn’t look too kindly on it.

Here’s the struggle. You can’t, as a drop-in, really do much for the homeless in any given instance. And you don’t actually know how your support would be used, although I think direct food aid is probably more effective than cash (and inviting the homeless into the lounge could create the sort of backlash that would wind up getting them kicked out of the airport altogether so maybe not the wisest move). There are charities that specialize in helping, although many o those are ineffective at best and small contributions usually just wind up encouraging the charity to solicit you more (spending more on soliciting you than you’ve given, hoping that you’re one of the folks who winds up upgrading to higher gifts in the future).

Which means that intractable problems are hard and it’s difficult to know what to do about them. There’s a moral sense that you ought to do something but often as a visitor there’s little you can do, a conflict between reality and emotion that most travelers eventually encounter.

How do you handle things, do you feel connected to the places you visit — be they foreign destinations, or domestic airports? And do you try to do anything to leave those places better off after you’ve left? If so, do you think you ever succeed? If not, why not?

I think this is actually really hard…

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. For about four years I’ve worked in downtown DC, after a long stent in Bethesda. DC hardens me to homeless since I see the same people are panhandling for many years. And DC provides a good bit of support to their homeless, like putting them up in hotels, or bussing them from shelters back downtown so they can panhandle…

    I think its better to support overall poverty programs which will be there to help people when they choose to get of the street, or just enter the homeless state, or prevent them from getting on the street in the first place. For that reason most of my support goes to the Arlington Food Bank AFAC…

    Unfortunately I don’t do the same when I travel.

  2. i was taught a very important lesson as a small child growing up in downtown washington dc; one afternoon as my father and i were walking down K street, i asked for some change to give to a particularly destitute panhandler. after giving him about 75 cents, we almost immediately encountered another homeless person a block away. i asked for more change and my father gently informed me, “you can’t help everyone all of the time.”

    if these things truly bother you, as they do me, the best actions you can take as an upwardly mobile member of society are to channel your prosperity and influence toward endeavors that target homelessness at its source.

    for example, here in new york, i try to volunteer with new york cares as often as my schedule allows. they have a wide variety of assignments available — from less hands-on stuff for those who aren’t sure of their commitment level, to really intensive outreach. in fact, soup kitchen duty is one of the most in demand assignments.

    also, i regularly (every six months or so) fire off a letter to my congressperson and city council rep. not always about homelessness and hunger but whatever happens to be concerning me at the time. we have to remember effective democracy requires active participation. i’m not naive enough to think my letters result in direct action, but at the very least i know i’m trying to make my voice heard.

    as for when you’re abroad — and india can be particularly hard on the conscience — i guess i would suggest looking into local charities or organizations that you could donate to. i’m sure even in mumbai there are quite a few. it’s not something i’ve really considered much, so thanks for this post.

  3. I always seek out local charities when I travel abroad especially when I’m in developing countries. I’ll usually contact them ahead of time and bring or buy school supplies or anything else they might need. A good source for local charities in a variety of countries is Pack for a Purpose. They show charities by country and each organization has a list of what is needed. Many times you can just leave the supplies with your hotel or a nearby one and they’ll make sure they’re delivered.

  4. My most recent trip abroad was to Kenya. We donated school supplies: pens, pencils, notebooks to a Maasai village’s school, which I thought was a nice way to give back, without purchasing little trinkets, etc.

    This way, we were able to give to cause we love (education) and see it being directed right to the kids. They were so fortunate. Who knew they had such an affinity for gel pens?

  5. Is there really a shortage of charity cases? Why do the homeless receive so much attention? Perhaps because they are visible and we are often forced to interact with them. For every homeless person you see, there are many other people who are unable to come out and hustle you for money. People with real disabilities and problems. It used to be that these street people were called hustlers. And are the hustlers really the most deserving of your charity? There are a few with mental problems, who deserve to be treated. Other than those, I look at homelessness as a lifestyle choice. While you are busy paying bills and have all the responsibilities of having a home, these people get to live a free lifestyle, free of responsibilities and bills. Don’t be fooled. For many, at least in the U.S., it is a lifestyle choice. I’m glad we have the freedom to let people choose that lifestyle. And when they come and ask for money, I see them for what they are: hustlers. How many time do we need to see able bodied men walk through one subway car, and receive donations from multiple people? Perhaps a dollar or two, for five minutes of work. And a subway train has 10 cars. You do the math. For those who are charity minded, please be more thoughtful of your charity and don’t waste it.

  6. After living in SF for over a year I no longer have sympathy for the homeless. Anyone who lives in the city can share any number of horror stories.

  7. @Mike – I can’t cite anything directly but have seen or read multiple reports by the homeless saying they don’t like living by the rules of shelters. In those cases, assuming no underlying mental illness, it sounds like a lifestyle choice to me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *