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Saturday, November 7, 2015

Redemption? Lazy-Ass Panhandlers in Scioto County

To people like me, panhandlers ruffle our feathers. According to the Daily Times, the abundance of these beggars in Scioto County has raised the ire of many citizens and now, even the concern of the county commissioners. Although we may honestly feel the need to help those less fortunate, we question the validity of their desperate pleas for help. Are their needs legitimate or are they dishonest scams? Or, maybe we are upset about a simple reality of our own environment.

Yes, the panhandlers seem to be everywhere in some kind of coordinated effort to collect and share donations. Frank Lewis of the Times explains:

"I recently drove up Gay Street and at the corner of 11th and Gay a panhandler had a sign about being homeless. across the street on the other corner was a guy with an elaborate set-up including umbrella and a chair, and even a dog. One block north, another man held a similar sign. I turned left on 12th Street and at the corner of 12th and Chillicothe, there was another guy, again holding a much more sophisticated, professionally produced sign.

"It is becoming increasingly difficult to drive anywhere in the downtown Portsmouth area without seeing these people. It is unsightly and not a very welcoming sight for people driving through town."

(Frank Lewis. "Panhandling – not going away any time soon."
Portsmouth Daily Times. November 06, 2015.)

And, Frank Lewis, being a good person, sincerely believes "we are our brother’s keeper." Yet, like him, I am beginning to believe many of the individuals have become "professionals at panhandling who collect fistfuls of untaxable dollars every day" who ruin acts of genuine charity for those who have legitimate needs.

And, yes, these panhandlers travel to places like Waverly and Chillicothe. They evidently know how to direct their activities to their best advantage. They become skilled at working the system.

So, seeking answers to what appears to be a vexing problem, a citizen recently asked the Scioto County Commissioners if they could do anything about the influx of panhandlers showing up around the area. Finding sympathy for the cause, that unnamed citizen discovered commissioners Doug Coleman and Bryan Davis were also "tired of seeing people standing on street corners asking for help." Coleman said ...

“I had people come in from Atlanta with my sister and it looked awful. Don’t think it (panhandlers) will not deter people away from starting a business here. We don’t need that and we need to fight this.”

But, after seeking advice from legal council, the commissioners learned they can’t do anything about it.

(Wayne Allen. "Commissioners can’t deal with panhandlers."
Portsmouth Daily Times. November 06, 2015.)

Clinical psychologist Jenna Baddeley explains a person's dilemma when considering helping a panhandler ...

"Panhandlers feed us nothing if not a story of being down on their luck, and not only do people stick around to hear it (if they didn't, panhandlers would tell a different story) but people actually pay up. Why? Because the story we are hearing is one in which there is but one small step between a needy person's bad situation and a good outcome.

"As personality psychologist Dan McAdams has observed, we Americans love redemption stories: narratives in which hardship and suffering yield to growth and happiness. What panhandlers are selling us is an opportunity to make that critical difference. A one-time payment of $5 is enough to help this person get back on their feet -- to single-handedly turn a hard-luck story into the kind of story that we love."

(Jenna Baddeley. "Panhandling for redemption." Psychology Today. February 24, 2009.)

And, who wouldn't want to help even one unfortunate soul find redemption by offering that person a dollar or two? Let's not forget our obligation to our fellow human beings, especially those in our own backyard. We all remember the words of John Bradford: "There but for the grace of God go I."

Attorney Amy L. Freeman, Development Director at Bethesda Cares, a program focused on ending homelessness in and around Bethesda, Maryland, says she had given money and items to panhandlers and "all those times, I was basically just reacting; man in trouble, want to help. I suspect I was thinking as much about what felt good to me as about what might do good for him."

Ouch! That does put the burden squarely upon our shoulders, doesn't it? We often give to others to make ourselves feel good. That seems undeniable. If the donation feeds our egos, we often engage.

Also, isn't it true that we can simple ignore these situations? Even when we see so many seemingly able-bodied panhandlers, we have absolutely no obligation to make a donation. The sight of a panhandler make irk us to no end, but we are reacting to a stark reality that temporarily disrupts our busy day, and we are the ones who are making the assumptions of illegitimacy. We can choose just to ignore the panhandler and the entire situation.

And, I will be the first to confess, when it comes to handing out precious funds knowing I have very limited discretionary resources, I tend to be overly selfish about the personal benefits. Yep ... usually if the charity makes me feel good as well as help others, then I give. That actually is charity with stipulation.

Freeman addresses panhandling ...

"Like most of us, I want to help people in distress. With panhandlers, though, I never knew whether the person was truly in need. I worried that my money would fuel some addiction, rather than funding food or shelter. I worried that I was being scammed.

"Was I right?

"Well, sometimes. Statistics show that fewer than half of panhandlers are living unsheltered, but some are. Others are housed but living below the poverty line, with basic needs unmet. Many panhandlers are, though, straight-up hustlers; others -- whether or not housed -- will indeed take your money and spend it on vices.

"So how do you know which panhandler is 'legit'?

"Trick question! The answer is: it doesn't matter. By giving money to any panhandler, you are enabling him, not helping him.

"Look at it this way: he doesn't need a fish for a day. He needs to learn to fish. If defeating poverty, homelessness or hunger is important to you, if you want to help that panhandler, don't give him money. Give it to a local group working on housing, on job training, on mental health issues. Organizations tackle those issues as efficiently and effectively as possible; it's what we do, it's our entire raison d'etre. (justification for existence)"

(Amy L. Freeman. "How -- Not Whether -- to Help a Panhandler."
Huffington Post. July 07, 2013.)

Freeman speaks of real solutions ...

"Want to know what the solution for homelessness is?


"The cure for unemployment?


"You get the idea. The cure is never your .75. That gift may satisfy you for that moment, but it will not solve that panhandler's problems. It will, though, encourage him to keep soliciting."

(Amy L. Freeman. "How -- Not Whether -- to Help a Panhandler."
Huffington Post. July 07, 2013.)

What do I take away from this uproar about panhandling? It is natural to question the reasons people beg for money. Why? Because we are all selfish; some of us to a fault. Should we give only to  individuals in need and to those organizations which help the needy the most? I believe so.

But ...

When we judge others at a glance without knowing the honest details of their struggles, there is always the danger of misinterpreting what we see. We hate to be scammed, but too much premature evaluation can cause us to take on the persona of Ebenezer Scrooge.

And, that makes me think about charity during the holiday season. Isn't it odd how our hearts seem to open so much more during this time of year? Who can deny guilt and the personal happiness from freely giving drive our many holiday donations? We choose how and to whom we want to be charitable. No one makes us part with our hard-earned money. The true spirit of helping others should involve expecting absolutely nothing in return -- be it Christmas or be it any other day of the year.

I'm not picking on the commissioners, but, perhaps, they should concentrate on helping the needy, the homeless, and the jobless with some firsthand action -- even on a very small scale. Panhandlers are going to deter prospective businesses from coming to the area? I say let's fix the big things that "look awful" and surely "deter business" and let the little stuff go. Why? The stigma associated with being poor defeats vital community involvement in social change. We live in a very poor, very unhealthy environment. Where else would we expect to encounter droves of panhandlers? Are they not a symptom of the real diseases?

No one wants to throw money at those who abuse the donations -- they may drink or drug it away, or as recorded in one famous local photo, use it to buy a luxury like a big screen television at WalMart.  At the same time, the very fact that more panhandlers now beg here supports the understanding that they do collect enough money from people who freely and willingly give to remain a fixture on our streets and roadways. Otherwise, these panhandlers would simply move on to other more profitable locations.

To close, you good people who struggle and work so hard to make ends meet, panhandlers will still bother the hell out of you. You will be so pissed when you see them with their homemade "Desperate For Help" signs that you will want to scream out, "Get a job, you lazy bastards!" Just remember -- to give or not to give, it's all up to you.

I, however, am going to attempt to make a change and keep my blood pressure low, especially since I know officials cannot do much to drive them away. I am simply going to say to myself, "I got this. You are not going to ruin my day." I may even roll my car window down, put on an Instamatic smile, and politely repeat the cliché platitude: "Have a nice day!"

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