By Gustaf Berger / Special to the Gazette
After I interviewed 12 panhandlers for my article last month, I talked with JP residents, store managers, policemen, and others around the country to find out their perspectives on panhandling.
I asked 200 people, “Do you give to panhandlers?” Over 60 percent said yes. Women gave more often than men. Those under 30, less often. People who answered in the affirmative often qualified: giving only to women, veterans, the disabled, or giving food versus money.
JP store managers generally reported no problems. The exceptions are cafés. Panhandlers have annoyed patrons, messed up bathrooms, and shoplifted, including tip jars. One manager complained that the police don’t take his complaints seriously. Most panhandlers, however, seem to be orderly and peaceful.
I talked informally and off the record to a number of Boston police in JP. Most reported few problems. One seemed to have issues with panhandlers and, according to a few, he chases them off the street even when no law is being broken. (See summary of the law below.)
Many people sent me their opinions and experiences concerning panhandlers. After reading my article, one wrote, “No, my friend, I think you are too sympathetic. There are far, far, far too many with all kinds of sad stories that you can no longer see the real needy person. It has become a ‘way of life’.”
The following (edited) comments reflect the diversity of opinions:
I never give.
As in India, it’s a well-organized racket.
Many are not disabled; they go home to a beautiful house with a pool, etc. I refuse to give. Let them get a regular job.
One has to decide if a person is deserving and how the money will be used. I don’t have enough information to go beyond that. If I were tempted to help, I would support some organized effort and let the genuinely deserving seek help that way.
Generally, I find panhandlers unpleasant, and almost never give. It’s the wrong approach on so many levels. The process of panhandling creates resentment, distrust, and even hatred.
I saw an inveterate panhandler get out of an expensive TAXI and prepare himself for his daily “job” playing his “poverty gig.” Two people in 15 minutes gave him money. Audacity has no limits.
In Monterey, people give more than a dollar. I saw 5s, 10s and 20s being handed out the window. (Ah, the rich!)
Come to Pueblo and see thousands of healthy people with signs for handouts, smoking, doing drugs, having a dog with them. They shouldn’t be allowed to have dogs. I asked a young healthy couple if they’d like to make a good buck helping me on my ranch. They said, “We’re comfortable right here.” They’re Lazy!
I offered a panhandler 15 dollars to cut my front lawn. He laughed and said he makes 50 bucks per hour and won’t do physical labor.
Panhandlers totally lack pride. They receive food & lodging from the government. CVS and 7-11 lose customers having them shoving a paper cup under people’s noses. I will not pass them. Ever. And they play the lottery with bummed nickels and dimes – disgusting.
I’ve been without a job and know how it feels to be ‘invisible,’ so when folks ask for spare change, I at least engage them with a smile rather than looking away.
I give regularly. I try to give from the heart without judgment. It’s simple. I’m better off than they are. What they do with what I give is their business.
It is disappointing to see people who are unable to change their situation, despite the Mayor’s Office claims regarding progress in resolving chronic homelessness. Your piece goes a long way in helping understand better the situations that these people are facing.
I buy them food. I have given them socks and scarves when it’s cold. I don’t give money because I don’t know where it will go. I don’t give money to agencies because you have to “qualify” for assistance. Just because someone doesn’t “qualify” doesn’t mean that they should go hungry or cold.
I keep granola bars in my car and when I’m stopped by a panhandler at a light, I’ll offer one. About half of the time, they turn it down.
I give 20 percent of the time. When I don’t give, I avoid eye contact and cross the street. I get burned out by all the requests.
I usually give but not in the subway. Passengers are captive subjects, and I don’t want to encourage panhandling there.
We give due to our Christian obligation to respond. We don’t want to turn down legitimate needs because of those that misuse the gift.
There used to be a very aggressive panhandler in JP who accosted people and intimidated me. I reported him and haven’t seen him for a couple of years. I do give as I can to those in need.
Spoken or implied by many, “There but for the grace of God go I.”
The Law: Boston Ordinance 16-41 Regulating Manner and Place of Solicitation.
A brief summary: Panhandlers are allowed on sidewalks, but not on streets or parking lots, as long as they act in a non-aggressive manner. No physical contact without consent. No following. The list of places panhandling is forbidden includes: public buildings, bus stops, sidewalk cafes, and within 10 feet of bank or ATM.
(Comments: [email protected])
Gustaf Berger is a writer living in Jamaica Plain. He is the author of “Death Postponed.”