Living and driving the streets of LA for the past 40-years it seems to me that panhandling, nice word for begging, has reached an all-time high. Maybe it was the economic downturn of 2008 or in my opinion the deep cuts in mental health programs that have put more mentally ill on the streets. According to a study in the journal of the Canadian Medical Association, ” 70% of beggars stated that they would prefer a minimum-wage job, citing a desire for getting off the street. However, many felt they could not handle conventional jobs because of mental illness.” I don’t pretend to know the reason but it is noticeable to me on almost every busy intersection that I come to a stop at, walking downtown, or basically any public place with foot or auto traffic. Beggars have existed in human society since before the dawn of recorded history and happens in most societies around the world. The question now becomes how to handle it when confronted. The easiest way is to just say no every time you are confronted. This seems to be a popular opinion as the rational is that the money will just be used to buy alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs. I really can’t argue with that, I have seen beggars go straight to the liquor store after collecting money from me. I have also offered food to the homeless only to be turned down and asked for money which really took me by surprise. Of every 10 beggars that we offered food to only 2 or 3 wanted any. I was a bit disheartened after that but I still am a sucker for giving money to people I deem to be desperately in need of some kind of help. I am particularly susceptible to women panhandlers, I will almost always give them at least $1.00 and more if they have children with them. I don’t know if it’s a set-up but I still figure any woman who uses their kids to beg for money is in need of help. I am constantly conflicted over what is the right thing to do. You could go broke if you were to give to every panhandler that crossed your path, yet I feel a tinge of guilt when I just walk by and do nothing. I did find some answers that takes a little work but is an alternative to dishing out money everytime. There are cheap things that you can give to the homeless that will help in their survival such as clean socks, food gift cards, bandages, nail clippers, disposable razors, small bars of soap. This takes effort on my part and I am curious of the reaction you would get from a beggar if you handed him a clean pair of socks. The “I am a Vet ” also pulls at my heart strings but I would be curious how many of those sign holders are actually vets. Those in wheelchairs or obviously physically disabled will usually get money from me. Another solution is to donate to Homeless Shelters or Mental Illness philanthropies. Yet another alternative is to do nothing, which the majority of people seem to choose. You are not obligated to spend a penny on the homeless, particularly if your name is Scrooge.
The one positive I find from begging is the creativity of some of the cardboard signs I see, My wife has been kidnapped – I’m 99 cents short of ransom, Will eat for food, Money needed for alcohol research, Visa accepted, Why lie?, I need a Mercedes, Father killed by ninjas-need money for karate classes, My liver is evil and must be destroyed, Granny needs a tattoo removed, and Spaceship broken-need parts. These people are creative in their sign making but I rarely give to them as they seem together enough to come out with thought out signs. It would be nice to know of a reputable charity to donate money to where the money actually reaches the homeless and not some con artist’s pockets. Young men begging for money also irks me as it seems they have the capabilities to get some type of work on their own. Older men seem to be the type to head directly to the liquor store. So, I’ve basically narrowed down my donations to women, vets, the disabled and lastly people in such pathetic looking situations I know my guilt would overcome me if I didn’t help out in some way. Begging can also be very bothersome to the public, particularly when you face 8-10 beggars within a couple of blocks of walking. I have learned that establishing eye contact will seal your fate. Once your eyes meet it is only a matter of seconds before the words follow…Can you spare some change? Beggars that scare most people are those that are on the street corner yelling at the top of their voice. These fall under the mentally ill category and just isn’t safe in my opinion to walk up and offer money to. The police will generally step in if someone is making a being a total public nuisance, but will turn the other cheek if they are quietly panhandling. Besides, the cost of booking and jailing a beggar just isn’t worth it. Well begging has been around from the beginning of mankind and certainly isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. I hope that we can at least establish help for the mentally ill so they can have a chance of getting some work and off the streets.