I’m an easy mark for panhandlers. One time, when visiting a friend in Chicago, I was waiting to meet her on a street corner when a single, fairly respectable hobo came up and asked for a dollar for some booze. This is the sort of honesty that speaks to me in a bum, so I gave it to him. Five minutes later, I was throwing all my bills into the air and weeping in despair as a cloud of homeless people swarmed about me, snatching the fluttering green pieces of paper from the air and shouting for more.
This is in direct parallel to Consumerist editor Ben Popken, who actually snarled “Get a job!” at some guy who asked him for a quarter when we met up for drinks a few weeks ago. My heart broke a little when the man earnestly replied, “I’m trying!” but Ben just laughed and laughed and laughed. I say this not to shame Ben, but rather because I am in awe of his prowess in dealing with the average beggar: if I had been alone, I would have ripped my fillings out with bloody, trembling fingers within thirty seconds and given them to the guy to sell.
So it looks like Akron is the town for me, because it’s introducing an ordinance that would require panhandlers to wear badges and register with the city. To a certain extent, I see the sense in this: some beggars can be extremely intimidating, so it would be nice to be able to get their badge number. Of course, those guys aren’t exactly going to walk around wearing bright yellow badges.
Another paragraph after the jump.
This comment from a supporter of the program gives me pause though: “A well-intentioned individual can be enabling someone with drug and alcohol abuse,” said the Rev. Ben Walker of Haven of Rest Ministries. Not to get into a whole thing here, but you aren’t taking responsibility for a person’s entire life when you decide to take pity on them. If someone comes up to me on the street and says they need money for a fix, I’m more likely to give it to them than if they lie to me about a cup of coffee. Those who are addicted have a need as genuine as food and water, one that (on the streets) could kill them if they were without. I can’t be the patron saint of someone’s life; I’m not that good a person. But if it’s a choice between giving someone a few bucks or them whoring themselves out or robbing someone for a fix? I can feel pretty good about that.