Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Panhandling Columbia Style Part 4

“He’s becoming a regular.”

My colleagues and I were crossing Route 175 at Dobbin Road yesterday and I commented when I saw him in his regular spot in the median. He wears a sort of olive green suit uniform and ball cap, He carries a sign saying he’s hungry or something to that regard and tries to make eye contact with drivers waiting at the traffic light. I believe his sign also says “God Bless You.”

He’s a big guy and moves with a pronounced limp.

I haven’t given him any money, yet. It gets harder to resist his entreaties as the weather turns colder and the holidays approach. I’m really not as hard hearted as I appear to be from some of my previous posts about loco panhandling. I often recall the line from the Tom Waits song, Cold Water, “beggin on the freeway’s bout as hard as it gets…”

I thought of olive uniform man this morning when I read this column by Petula Dvorak in The Washington Post about the “parade of broken humanity that's an in-your-face part of daily life in our region as the numbers of homeless and unemployed remain stubbornly high.

She also feels increasingly guilty this time of year.

“So what should we do when we encounter panhandlers? The constant assault of their woe is painful, and doing the dead fish gaze and ignoring them can be brutal on your humanity, especially during the holidays.”

There are no easy answers. Giving them money may assuage some guilt for us but it isn’t always the best course of action for the panhandler. Linda Kaufman, the executive director of Pathways to Housing, told Dvorak “Every study around says that cash handouts don't help, she said. The top uses when they get cash are always alcohol, tobacco and drugs."

Perhaps the simplest act of humanity is the best approach.

“Acknowledge is a word I heard a lot while talking to panhandlers in our region.” 
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