Saturday, October 06, 2007

Panhandling: if beggars can't be choosers, why are they so picky?

I've noticed that there are many panhandlers in my new city . . . I drive past them every day. There are two who seem to take shifts near Target, and they hold their signs claiming embarrassment and God's blessings to me as I drive by. What do I do? I drive past them, wondering what their situations truly are. What do you do? Do you slow down and hand them money? Do you offer them jobs? Do you give them food? [Photo credit]

Some people think I am cold and lacking in compassion for my attitude toward these folks. But I didn't always respond in this way, and I am compassionate. But I refuse to be an enabler. Years ago, I would go home and make sandwiches to take back to people wanting to work for food, etc. I did that until I drove by and saw the food that I and others had brought left on the corner where a beggar sat earlier in the day. This man clearly didn't want our food . . . Which makes me strongly doubt that any money given to this man had been spent on food. Perhaps I'm wrong--maybe he was just a picky beggar. Maybe he was hoping to make enough to eat at Stanley and Seaforts that day. Yeah, I guess my attitude has grown a little jaded . . .

Then there was the time I drove past a panhandler on the way to an appointment with my doctor. This beggar was on the freeway exit by Fort Lewis in Tacoma. His sign read "Help a veteran - will work for food." At the time, I was the office manager at a large church, and I had many contacts and resources that I could offer this man. I had to get to my appointment, but I stopped and gave the man my business card. I told him that I could aid him in finding employment--I offered to help him. The man was gone when I drove by after my appointment, and I never heard from him. I guess he didn't really want to work for food. Maybe I'm wrong, but I seriously doubt that the man was a veteran.

Look, I want to help these people, but handing them money as I drive by isn't a good solution. It doesn't even qualify as "feeding a man for a day" instead of "teaching him to fish." And yes, I do realize that there are many homeless folks out there with mental illnesses, etc, who cannot work and do not have resources. But I highly doubt that these are the folks holding signs on the street corners asking for my money. Seriously. If a person has a serious mental illness and isn't taking his/her meds, I can't see them having the resources for panhandling . . . (BTW, in Washington State, people with serious mental illnesses cannot be forced to take their meds, and there is a serious problem with with folks suffering from mental illnesses living on the streets, but I digress). Again, perhaps I am wrong, and if I am, I still don't think my donations will solve such a huge problem.

So what else can I, or we, do to help? I don't really know . . . My ex-husband and I once took a homeless man out to breakfast in Salt Lake City, but that was merely feeding a man for a day. And that isn't something I would do now as a single mother. Call me heartless, but it's a safety issue.

Jamal Thalji of the St. Pertersburg Times wrote about panhandling in Tampa Bay last January:

"I never used the 'work' or 'homeless' signs," [Jim Tolbert] says.

He first panhandled with the beer sign at this very corner 18 months ago. He saw one like it years ago, hitchhiking through Montana.

His best haul: $120 in four hours. He's gotten 12-packs, wine, champagne and - he swears - Xanax. Read more . . .

[Photo credit]

Personally, I am in favor of panhandling laws.


Editorial (October 3, 2007): Panhandling ordinance, A law targeting charitable motorists seems extreme

What do you think?