Friday, April 18, 2008

"just say no"

Michael Haynes over at Metro Pulse has a modest proposal:

Say "No" to Panhandling in Downtown

He makes several good points. Beggars are different from panhandlers. Panhandlers are not necessarily homeless. Giving money out on the street encourages repeat behavior, and copycat behavior.

I've come to a similar conclusion walking the sidewalks of Knoxville. I don't give money out anymore. At first I felt guilty. But one of the funny things is that, living and working downtown, I get to recognize the regular panhandlers. They don't recognize me; they think I'm another tourist. But I remember their stories. Sometimes I've even given them names in my head, like "Crocodile Dundee" who used to hang out on Market Square and mumble to himself. These regulars stick to the same stories- babies who need formula never grow up, bus tickets are never bought, guys have remained just out of Iraq for over a year. I realized that I wasn't helping anything by giving out cash to them. So I started saying "no."

The best thing that illustrated this to me happened at DTGB one afternoon. I was sitting having lunch with some friends in the outside patio and a guy came and panhandled across the fence. He said he was starving and needed some money to get something to eat (yeah, right). We politely declined, but I felt a pang of guilt. What if this guy really was hungry? Was I being callous to another human being's need? I've been to third world countries and have seen real starvation, so I'm a soft touch to the hunger thing. I offered him my hamburger. Instantly, you could tell that he wanted to be somewhere else. I had inadvertently called his bluff. He took the burger, but it wasn't what he wanted. He wanted cash, the thing they take in exchange for Colt 45 at Ghetto Weigels. He walked down the street and laid the hamburger down on top of a newspaper stand. Where we could still see him. He didn't care. He was off to his next panhandle.

I haven't given money out since then. Let's try Haynes's suggestion. Next time a panhandler comes up to you, tell them you don't give money out on the street. Take the money you would of given and save it. Put your change in a jar at home. It'll add up. In a year, donate that to a Knoxville homeless shelter. The tourists will still give out money, but if downtown residents and workers stop giving hand outs, word will get around. Aggressive panhandling will decline. If a whole town decides to stop giving out easy money, they'll stop and go elsewhere for it. Maybe Farragut.


Anonymous said...

Farragut with panhandlers!!

Can't you just hear the screech of SUV tires?

The automatic locks being engaged?

The rattle to a cell phone caller...."OMG, something smelly just asked me for!"

(sorry, i got on a tangent.)

stan said...

the hamburger story is unbelievable. why did he even take it in the first place if he was going to set it down IN FRONT of you? that could have been some amazing leftovers.

but one more thought, i'm not sure you should refer to the writer's idea as a "modest proposal." it might send out the wrong signals .

ck said...

krisha- it would be hilarious.

stan- i hadn't thought of the literary connotation... though eating all the panhandlers might achieve the same result more quickly. and it would be ironic.

Mickey said...

I almost never have cash on me. Saves me from the guilt.

Guy once tried to sell me an old electric razor on Market Square. It was clearly something he had found. He was a persistent salesman, actually. Someone like that should really be selling furniture or mattresses for real money.

I wasn't buying, by the way. I already had one.

stan said...

i've been offered several really nice mountain bikes in the past. but i wasn't buying either.

those homeless really know where to get great bikes at wholesale prices!

samuel said...

I watched a customer at Urban actually bring a panhandler inside and to the bar so that he could get change to give the guy money. I think I pulled my eye rolling muscles at that one.

Robert said...

Yeah, after living in a couple of really big cities - with well established infrastructure, I am officially off giving money to homeless - primarily for the "giving money to the homeless is counterproductive in the long run, by not pushing them to government/private organizations so that they can better THEMSELVES" reason.

Also, question: with the proliferation of homeless in Knoxville, are there any programs/organizations in place to help these people? Does anyone have a default place they direct the permanently displaced Iraqi vets?

Anonymous said...

Don't worry they make their way down to Farragut to panhandle. I know because I live in downtown but grew up in Farragut.

stan said...

the salvation army is good for women or families, knox area rescues ministries and volunteer ministries are both good as well. i usually send guys to KARM though. i'm not as familiar with volunteer.

there are also several churches that offer food kitchens--Redeemer (17th and highland) has a walk in pantry on Wed. at lunch. And Lost Sheep ministries meets every Wed. under the overpass behind the salvation army for a sit-down meal. they also give out clothes and other necessary items.

as great as all these places are, they really serve as a more short-term solution. the actually started a discussion on this a few months ago.

The Modern Gal said...

Modest proposal, he he he.

Oh, the hamburger thing is so irritating. I had one lady come up to me one time and tell me she need money for tampons. I begrudgingly gave in cause I didn't want to hear the details.

J. Molinaro said...

Is panhandling illegal in Knoxville? I know it is in Atlanta, and that usually if you tell them you know this they'll leave you alone.

Anonymous said...

panhandling is illegal and myself and some other dtown residents have start aggressively fighting panhandling...even going so far as to firmly tell tourists and non-downtowners to not give them money if we catch someone panhandling.