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Updated 1:49pm - Aug 20, 2014

Home arrow Opinion arrow Columns arrow Coastal Voices: Giving to panhandlers makes matters worse

Coastal Voices: Giving to panhandlers makes matters worse

Last week, I was exiting the market and heading toward my vehicle when I heard someone calling out, “Excuse me, sir…” I turned around and saw a man who I did not know wanting to ask me a question. Surprise! He wanted some money.

I make a practice of never ignoring anyone, especially if the person wants to talk to me. He asked me for some spare change; I politely declined. I asked him if he was hungry. He said, “Yes, I’m hungry.”

I offered to buy him a cheeseburger. He declined. When he realized he wasn’t going to collect anything from me but some conversation, he walked away. 

It should surprise no one that I do not believe in giving money to panhandlers. For the obvious reasons it sets a practice that can only worsen the condition, stimulate more begging (because it works), and most certainly not solve the endemic problem.

If I was to give this man some money, would I be helping or hurting him? Are begging and homelessness related?

To better understand this issue, I called Crescent City Police Chief Doug Plack. He was cautious to advise me there are homeless people and there are beggars and often they are not the same people. I accept that premise.

When I returned to my office, I placed a call to Rural Human Services for some data. Here are the figures I learned from RHS: In February 2013, 78 people received some services. Twenty-six received  bags of essentials, which included eating utensils, can opener,  canned goods, and assorted other food products.

There were 39 single individuals, seven  more couples, five additional three-member families,  and other five groups of families of five more or more seeking various food packets. According to RHS, over the past 60 days, there were on average 700 distributions of some kind of food or service product. That figure does not include any contribution from the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), aka food stamps.

With Del Norte County Health and Human Services announcing it has been recognized by the state as No. 1 in maximizing eligible food stamp candidates, no one should go hungry in Del Norte.

There is no one in Del Norte County, California, or the United States who can reliably tell us just how many people are practicing this panhandling lifestyle. The numbers are simply a moving target, but one fact is certain. Begging is a big problem.

With dogs, gas cans, or even children by their sides, panhandlers stand on countless high traffic corners throughout Del Norte County using every method of solicitation in appealing to your compassion to give them some money. 

There is absolutely no reason for you to dig into your pocket or purse and provide financial assistance to someone who asks you to do so. There are no shortages of venues to receive food or housing assistance.

If you wish to assuage your conscience by giving money to a beggar, just know you are not helping that individual.  Many of those who beg have been identified as having drug and alcohol dependencies. Other panhandlers have been diagnosed as mentally ill.  

Allow me to recount an experience I had back in 1984 when I lived in Los Angeles County. It was mid-morning downtown and I had parked my car two blocks from my office destination. As I was walking behind two men, I overheard one of them utter, “So, how are you doing so far?” The partner said, “I have $75 and I’m waiting for the afternoon rush. I should clear about $150.”

That’s $150 a day for five days, $750 for the week, all tax-free. That’s a pretty decent day back in 1984. 

Allow Del Norte County to realize its full potential. Don’t give to beggars. Begging should never be tolerated or encouraged.

Roger Gitlin is Del Norte County supervisor for District 1. He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it  

 


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