Dear Real Change,
I was very much impressed by your article “The Panhandling Dilemma” [Dec. 27]. As one who agonized for a number of years over precisely this issue, I am offering my own experience and thoughts on the subject as a possible aid to help you find your own solution.
Like you, I found it difficult to rid myself of the intellectual baggage regarding the poor and the homeless that is our common cultural heritage — including, of course, the centuries-old and all-pervading notion that people are homeless and destitute because they deserve to be. But I decided in 1997 to regard anyone who asked anything of me, including money, as a person in need, and to do my best to oblige him or her. I knew, of course, that this would not always be true, and that there would inevitably be some who would take advantage of this kind of largesse. But the choice really came down to doing no good, but little or no harm, or doing genuine harm by allowing someone to go hungry or shelterless when it was within my power to prevent it. After all, people accosting me on the street were strangers about whose lives or conditions I could really know nothing.
You write, “I know a junkie when I see one”; I, on the other hand, claim no such clairvoyant diagnostic ability; I see pain, despair, hopelessness and bitterness on many a face, but I believe all these can be the effects of other afflictions besides drug dependency. Again, you say “A dollar doesn’t make much difference. The problems go so much deeper than that. But sometimes it helps.” I think it helps at least a little practically all the time. If nothing else, it is a sign that somebody out there really cares; and that, I think, can count considerably in the life of a homeless and/or destitute person. Not long ago, in downtown Seattle, I gave a few of my coins to a woman who asked for help; the look of gratitude on her face was indescribable, and so was the hug she gave me.
Leslie Blanchard | Seattle
Panhandling: treat the problem
Dear Real Change,
When thinking about Seattle’s position to drive panhandlers out of the city, it is very difficult not to become incensed [“The Panhandling Dilemma,” Dec. 29]. This smacks of being one step closer to making it against the law to be poor. Perhaps we should just group them with the immigrants we have demonized in this fair nation of ours? Then we could just exile them all to another place and let them be someone else’s problem. Out of sight, out of mind, and if we can’t see them then they must not exist, right?
Clearly this is the result of the powerful downtown corporations that are afraid to have a smudge on their image. Or, could it be that these businesses are so greedy, that they would rather squeeze the last buck out of the consumers than share a small pittance of the revenue with the homeless.
It is true that a high percentage of this population is adversely affected by alcohol/drug abuse, mental illness, and physical disabilities, but these are treatable diseases. While it is uncomfortable to be approached by a panhandler, devising new and creative ways to avoid them only heightens the problem. Hey, at least they are not in these precious department stores stealing for their living.
Offering a pamphlet to panhandlers, or the general public, on available services for this population boils down to an exercise in futility for a couple of different reasons. First, the majority of this population already knows that these services exist. Accessing those resources takes a great deal of tenacity and time and their cadre of problems exists in real time. They need shelter and food now. Second, because of the problems associated with drug abuse and mental illness, many are too debilitated to navigate the system on their own. Education on the needs of this population is essential, and I applaud the attempt to put the information out there, but it is only effective when organizations like Real Change step in and see that it is followed up with action.
All populations consist of a mix of good and bad people, and the homeless population is no exception. In a time when we no longer require honesty of our leaders, perhaps we are focusing on the wrong group. Last year there were 538 law violations ranging from DUI, to assault, and to corruption and this was just by the members of our own Congress. How is it feasible that we have come to hold a population with very limited opportunities and resources to a higher standard than we hold those who govern us?
It is high time (no pun intended) that we treat the problem and not the symptom.
Rodney J. Purdy | Seattle
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For copy of actual issue, go to https://www.realchangenews.org/2007/01/17/jan-17-2007-entire-issue