PD Columnists Confuses Panhandlers and Homeless
We took Feagler to task for his recycled commentary about panhandlers, but forgot to comment on Connie Schultz's piece in the August 24th PD. First of all, Schultz does a good job of weaving together a story with a current event, and this piece is a thoughtful and well crafted piece of commentary. Why is she confined to the living section? I have never understood this section. Are you not allowed to talk about death in this entire section? Anyway, it was a good commentary, but she still makes the common mistake that homeless and panhandlers are synonymous. She slams the Downtown Alliance strategy of "Don't give to panhandlers" campaign saying that it will magically make these individuals disappear.
I really don't have a problem with the campaign, because it is not government passing a law. As long as government does not say that it is illegal to give or that it is illegal to ask, I am fine. It is an education campaign along the lines of: "the Surgeon General warns that smoking can be harmful to your health." We all know this, but some of us still give. We want to cut out the middle man of the agencies helping these guys. Hell, if agencies were so good at what they do then there would not be panhandlers on the street. How many "agencies" actually do outreach to panhandlers or those resistant to shelter or those who cannot follow the rules or those who voice concern about bizarre religious doctrines that get in the way of help? Actually, there are about 7 in our city. By the way, I am one of those who does not give, but I understand and have respect for those who do give.
Connie Schultz does a good job throwing water on this campaign and calls it what it actually is: a campaign to ignore poverty. I just wish she would not mix homeless people with panhandlers. It was nice that she talked to the National Coalition for the Homeless. People always trust groups and "experts" from outside the area. If only there were a Coalition for Panhandlers, so they could effectively advocate for themselves. Since a small number of homeless people do beg for money, it is up to the Homeless groups to go to bat for the panhandlers. My experience is that people who are in competition with each other have a hard time doing anything together and thus the reason for no Coalition for Panhandlers.
Ms. Schultz sums it all up with the "there but the grace of God go I" story of the woman who gives because her dad made plenty of mistakes and ended up destitute. "Most of us don't really spend much time thinking about how to help the homeless. What we really want is permission not to think of them at all," said Schultz. I hope that those posters hanging around downtown do not give people permission to forget about homeless people.
Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.