What should I do about panhandlers?

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[This is from February and not posted for some reason I have since forgot.]

My thoughts and feelings about panhandlers have shifted over time. When I was your age, I never had any money anyway, so the question of handing out money was outside of consideration.

A couple of times when I felt physically threatened and was trying to just get out of the situation, I just handed over some cash. Another time, a woman stopped me in a drive-thru when I had cash in hand and offered to sing me a song if I gave her a dollar. I would have given her five bucks for her smile and the perfection of her craft.

Most of the time, all I offered them was a thousand-yard stare or, if pressed, I would question them, challenging their statements. Where is your baby? How old is your baby? Really?

Good grief!! Who made me the homeless police anyway?

This morning, I was stopped by a young man who was obviously in some chronic distress. He had a bruise under one of his bleary eyes and a timid and polite approach. It was cold and windy. I had a dollar in my hand at the time, so he was clearly paying attention to where he was. If I had to, I would panhandle at a Starbucks too, I bet.

I gave him the dollar, but I felt an urge to do more. I wanted to have a place to direct him to get out of the weather, but I had no idea where he should go–not one.

When I left, he was still outside, huddled out of sight of the store’s employees, asking softly for change from anyone who passed. I handed him a sandwich and told him to take care of himself.

That’s the difference between what I used to do and what I do now. It’s tiny, but I have to believe that handing someone a bottle of water or a little food or showing some minor humanity is better than trying to pretend they don’t exist.

I am still trying to find out if there’s a cold-weather shelter or non-emergency assistance line to call for these folks.

It’s easy to report a crime or a stray animal, but not a stray person.

We should fix that.




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