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 . . .
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?