There is a solution to the panhandling problem that plagues downtown businesses that doesn’t involve arresting people, new laws or any government intervention at all. This is a problem that can be solved completely by the people involved: the panhandler and the panhandlee.
People, many of them homeless, panhandle because people give them money. Some reportedly make more money panhandling than they could make working at a regular job.
Plus, panhandlers get to set their own hours. No one yells at them if they’re late for work, leave early or don’t come in at all.
It reportedly is a steady source of income with nothing taken out for taxes and you get paid in cash. Once a panhandler has made enough for a day, he or she can quit and do whatever they want for the rest of the day.
But the key is that panhandlers are out asking for money because it is profitable. There is no upfront investment, so everything they take in is profit.
So if you want to see the end of panhandling, stop giving to people who ask you for money on the sidewalk or by the side of the road.
If you want to help them, donate money to one of the many charitable organizations in Greensboro who work with those in need: Urban Ministries, The Salvation Army and the Interactive Resource Center are three credible institutions that work with the homeless and others in need of assistance, but there are many more.
If you donate money to a reputable organization, you can be assured that the money will not go to buy drugs or alcohol but will be used to provide food, shelter, clothing and assistance for those in need.
Or you could even choose to help one person, not by handing them money, but by helping them find a job and a place to live. Or if that is too much and giving money to charities is not enough, get involved in an organization that helps people in need.
There are lots of ways to help people, and handing out money to random people on the street is not one of them.
It’s easy to think that giving a dollar here and five dollars there isn’t going to make a difference, but it does. If half the people who now regularly hand out money to panhandlers stopped, the number of panhandlers would be reduced, and some of those who had made their living panhandling might be forced by circumstances to stop living on the streets.
There are plenty of places in Greensboro for people in need to get free meals and there are homeless shelters for those who choose to live in them, but many don’t. People don’t really need to panhandle to eat, unless they are tired of the food handed out for free. But that is a choice, not a need.
I, by accident, tried this in reverse a number of years ago when The Rhinoceros Times was in the Southeastern Building on East Market Street. I decided I would give $1 to every panhandler that asked.
After a few weeks of this I had attracted such a collection of panhandlers to the building that some of our employees were scared to go to their cars at the end of the day. They convinced me that I had to stop handing out money to everyone because it wasn’t fair to them to have to walk through a gauntlet of panhandlers every day when they left the building. So I stopped.
It actually turned out to be more expensive than I had imagined when I handed out a dollar or two a day.
When I stopped handing out money, the panhandlers pretty much disappeared. Sometimes one would come back who had been away for a while, and once or twice I was asked if I wasn’t the fellow who gave everybody a dollar. But things quickly quieted down and we went back to having the occasional panhandler outside our door.
We also had an employee who didn’t want to give panhandlers money because she was afraid they would use it to buy alcohol and she had had problems with alcohol in her life. So she went to the trouble of packing brown paper lunch bags for panhandlers with prepackaged snacks and a bottle of water.
She stopped when she handed one out the car window to a panhandler and he looked in the bag and then threw it back at her. Fortunately, his aim was bad and it hit the car instead of her.
Panhandlers don’t want goodies or food – that’s why they are asking for money. If people would make an effort not to give in to guilt or fear and not hand out money to panhandlers, many would quit asking.
Panhandling is a business, and people are in the business because it is profitable. If the profitability is taken away then, like any other business, it will diminish.
This would not eliminate all panhandlers, but it would cause a lot of those who are after easy money to choose to spend their time doing something else.
Once, when I lived in Washington, DC, a woman came up to me on a cold day with a blanket bundled in her arms that she rocked back and forth and asked for money to buy milk for her sick baby. I gave her all the cash I had, which wasn’t much, but it was all I had. She didn’t think much of my donation and when she walked away she made a point of throwing the blanket over her shoulder so that I could see that there was no baby, just a blanket. I appreciated the stagecraft, but I still felt like I had been had.
I have to admit that although I try not to exacerbate the panhandling problem by giving money to panhandlers, it’s hard to say no and my resolve is not so strong that I don’t occasionally hand over some cash.
I like good stories and if a panhandler takes the time to tell a good tale, sometimes I’ll pay for that. But I justify that by telling myself I’m paying for the story.
However, if there was an organized effort of some kind not to give money to panhandlers, I think I could even refrain from paying for a good story.