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The Panhandling Dilemma

For many homeless folk: “To panhandle or not to panhandle? That is the question."
Stolid citizens of Sacramento ask themselves: “Is it best to abruptly deny panhandlers their requests?”
SN&R News Editor Raheem F. Hosseini takes a helpful dash into the question of homeless people panhandling in this week’s edition [for  11/22/17] of the alternative weekly, which I’ll use to try to flesh out a further examination of the merits and demerits for solid citizens and needy desperate homeless citizens who put money in a hand or put out a hand for money.
Hosseini tells us that new laws took effect on Nov. 24 in the city that can damper down what success panhandlers can expect, since the money seekers are, for the most part, subject to punishment if their efforts to get some cash are perceived as aggressive, or, even, forthright – but in a circumstance that is no longer deemed lawful .
Regarding the new laws, Hosseini writes,
Under the new laws, anyone deemed to be causing a disturbance in a park can be cited with an infraction for failing to leave. If that person is cited three times in six months, he or she can be charged with a misdemeanor.
The more controversial law is the city’s new policy against “aggressive panhandling, “ which was drafted and approved without actual data about how often aggressive panhandling occurs. A city staff report says that the Police Department “has received complaints from residents, visitors, and businesses about aggressive or intrusive solicitations,” but provided no figures or statistics.
By the city’s definition, aggressive or intrusive solicitation can mean simply approaching a pedestrian, or asking for money when some citizen is a captive audience, which now pertains to when citizens are near banks or ATMs, bus- and light-rail stops, gas stations and outdoor dining areas. It’s now also illegal to solicit on roadway median strips, and near the driveways of shopping centers, retail and other business establishments.
I have no doubt that most people who see themselves as homeless advocates are aghast by the new laws.
As for me, my preference is that government and charities meet the most-basic needs for homeless people in Sacramento city and county. SNAP and EBT cards are readily provided to needy people to meet most of their need for food. More shelters and campgrounds need to be established to provide sleep space for all the people without a roof.  Food is being provided for people at Loaves & Fishes and at many, if not most, of the shelters, and that is going to continue to be the case.
I don’t want people to be panhandling. I don’t think that there is a “freedom of speech” right attached to panhandling. A person begging for money is seeking a one-way transaction: “I put out my hand; you put money into it.” That’s NOT an exchange. I don’t think that average citizens should be in situations where others are ogling their money. And I don’t think that poor people should count on panhandling as an income source.
The fix is, simply, that government needs to have a fully adequate program that guarantees the health and care of all poor people in its jurisdiction.
Meantime, poor people should seek, as most do, to improve their lot in life by getting job training and by pursuing jobs and quasi-volunteer positions where they are paid for their contributions to the effort of the organization where they work. Or, they should seek to improve their job skills to be better prepared for opportunities that might come along.
As for the new seemingly draconian laws that Hosseini describes, I think they could wither away if both average citizens and homeless people cease participating in money-for-nothing transactions.
I write all this, but I do understand that situations occur where it appears some poor person has soiled clothes and is on the ground with nothing good going for him or her.  In one way or another, these people need to be rescued. Giving money to someone who is a mess, and is directly in front of you, is a good-hearted thing to do.
I believe there are times when giving some poor messed-up person a fiver is salvific for the receiver, and it is a momentous thing that changes the direction of a life. Both the giver and the receiver of the money will never know that something wonderful happened. It will just have been very important without ever having been recognized, remembered or written down. I am not suggesting that God intervened. It is just a fortuitous happenstance. Or, dumb luck, if you want to call it that. One of those things that occur infrequently, in defiance of all the craziness, noise and tumult that dominates our walking-around and trying-to-get-things-done existence. 


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