A Baseball Bat Named “Spare Change”

Eyes scrunched and unwelcoming, I walk fast to clear the pissoff in my head. A panhandler has been in my face again. I came off badly, as one does when one tells off a panhandler. I should have slowed down, and let him have the rant I’m about to fling netwards.

A few things can happen when a citizen encounters a panhandler. The following list is not inclusive:

  1. The handlee can give, and be one of those good folks who also give to agencies like Sisters or CCC. The only fault here is that giving to a panhandler encourages more panhandling.
  2. The handlee can give, and go forward knowing they did all they can do. In this case, not only is panhandling encouraged, but agencies who should be getting that feel-good money are hurt.
  3. The handlee can get really pissed off, and not give a damned dime to anybody. Lose-lose.

Panhandlers hurt the city by driving people away. They don’t make me afraid, but they do make me resentful. I’m a rare bird–a lot of people are intimidated by panhandlers, and avoid the downtown area because of them. This makes us poorer on many levels.

Personal encounters with panhandlers often leave people with a bad impression–they see an able-bodied person begging for money, and think, dang, all homeless people must be like this. Fuck ’em. Not only are panhandlers not representative of the homeless as a group, appearances can be deceiving. They aren’t making a killing, and they aren’t out there on the streets because it’s fun.

Stereotypes are true and not true. Are all panhandlers feeding a drug habit? No, but many are. It’s up to you if you want to support it or not. Are all panhandlers con artists? Absolutely not. But you can bet a few are. Again, up to you if you want to take the chance, or think you can tell the difference.

What sticks in my craw the most is that panhandlers hurt the homeless by diverting funds from the agencies that help them, damaging the economy of a city, and encouraging the populace to enact draconian laws that make it harder for everyone to get along.

So what the hell should we do? My opinion: if you aren’t willing to walk away from panhandlers, give meal vouchers. Personally, I don’t give because panhandlers make the city a minefield. I don’t like people in my face–not anyone. So agencies get my money exclusively.

Various factors have led to a recent increase in panhandling, but only one thing will stop it: don’t give. Make sure the homeless have help by giving to the agencies that can really make a difference. Everybody wins.

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