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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Panhandling in Columbia

I had an experience over the weekend that left me uncertain how to react. While waiting at the red light coming out of the Costco parking lot I had a young reasonably dressed woman come up the line of cars with a cup in her hand.   She held a sign indicating that she had lost her job, had a family and couldn't pay her rent.  Somehow she didn't fit the usual image of someone you would see panhandling.  I remember seeing other young women in long dresses on the corners of intersections along Route 175 panhandling in the past few months.  Are they substance abusers looking for money to support their habits? Are they members of some cult-like organization using them to support the organization? Was it some college student doing research for a sociology paper on begging? Seeing disheveled older men panhandling in Baltimore is easier to categorize.  But the stories behind these young women are harder to categorize.

As someone who wants to think of themselves as a giving person to let a person like this young woman pass by and not give her something left me feeling a little guilty. Is giving money to local organizations like Grassroots a better way to help a homeless person? Should we just give to every individual that approaches us with the knowledge that most will use it in ways that we would feel taken advantage of but that for some it might be truly needed? Should being charitable on a macro level justify ignoring charity on an individual level with panhandlers? Something that puzzles and troubles me as we enter this "season of giving." Anyone have any knowledge of the story behind these young woman panhandlers?

For anyone looking to reach out in this season of giving to someone in need in our community Grassroots, Community Action Council and the Salvation Army are local organizations that can identify ways to help individuals in our community.


Brent The Brewer said...

Sorry Duane, I don't know the background on these women, but I have seen them off and on for the last 6 months or so. I also found it odd that they were somewhat well dressed.

Personally, I don't give the people who stand at intersections asking for money the time of day. I don't treat them this way because I'm not sympathetic to them or their cause, but rather I think they pose a safety issue. With traffic coming and going at a lot of these busy intersections, drivers should be paying attention to the cars around them, not worrying about where that person asking for money is located relative to their car. In fact, having moved here from New England, you never saw this up there. When I moved down here, I couldn't believe that the police actually allow people to panhandle at intersections. This seems to be like a huge safety hazard.

Personally, I believe the organizations you've listed are the way to go when contributing. My CSA delivers fresh veggies to Grassroots every week and I've been able to see firsthand what a great organization they are...especially when it comes to getting families that are down on their luck back up on their feet. I haven't had any personal interaction with the CAC and SA, but I'm sure they are just as great.


Summer R said...

I struggle with this every day. I work in Baltimore and take MLK. At almost every intersection along that road, in the morning and in the afternoon, there is someone panhandling. My heart goes out to them and I want to help but I have many of the same reactions. How do I decide which one of the 20 to give to - and if I do that every day, that will very quickly add up. Not that they don't need the money more than I do (as evidenced by them being out in traffic). But I do struggle with 1) encouraging them to be out in traffic which I consider unsafe and 2) not knowing where the money will go and whether it will actually help in any real way. I also struggle with trying not to avoid eye contact (since that seems like a rude thing to do) but not wanting them to think I'm going to give them money. Very tough situation. I do plan to donate to one of the charities above though. Thanks for the suggestions!

duanestclair said...

Thanks for your comment and donating to one of the mentioned organizations. All of them are great organizations doing a lot of good work in our community.

Kattrina said...

I have wondered the exact same thing. I found it odd that it was all women that were begging near the intersection of Dobbin and 175, around the shopping center with the Target, and at the mall. I had actually seen some of the same women in all three places. I got a bad feeling that it was some kind of scam - similar to the magazine kids (the kids that are forced to sell magazines and are dropped off in neighborhoods) and hoped that the women weren't being forced to beg (because sometimes people are more willing to give to women than men). I also can't imagine that these women could ever get enough money to pay their rent from begging. I would be interested in finding out their stories.

Nikki said...

I know this is an old post, but I'd like to add to it because I feel like panhandlers are really starting to take over Columbia. When I moved here in 2009, they were all only down in Jessup. Now, they're all over Columbia--even in the shopping center parking lots.

Never feel guilty about not giving money to these people. Never.

I have a much more negative view on panhandlers. I never give them money because they almost always are just doing this because they WANT to be "homeless". Now the few times I've seen someone trying to buy food, I jump at the chance to help.

According to Howard County (and many other places), panhandling is "freedom of speech". Well, I'd like to ask if these people are claiming their income to the IRS. You know they aren't! But that's okay. Audit all the honest people and just ignore these panhandlers. They're cheats, liars, and degrading the image of Columbia.

I will be moving out of this area within 5 years. If HoCo wants to let the panhandlers have the town, go ahead. But I'm not sticking around to see Columbia turn into a mini Baltimore.

Unknown said...

People should NOT give money to anyone begging. You cannot verify their true need or intentions for your money. Don't feel guilty. You are justified in being a good steward of your money. It is also cruel and unsafe for the children of these women who bring babies around in their begging schemes and stand around for hours. If you pay them, you are enabling this behavior.

Stop paying them to beg, or they will continue. Give to charities that serve the poor.

Nick said...

I wish more people would NOT give money to these people. These panhandlers presense is bringing down the quality of Columbia. I doubt any of us want to be known as the town with all the beggars on the corners. As just said above in the other comment, DON'T GIVE THESE PEOPLE MONEY! Don't even give money to those guys in orange with buckets. They could be a scam too.

All this activity makes Columbia MD look like Manassas VA along 234. Next, our town will be littered in road-side memorials. It looks really sloppy and low.

I seriously wish HoCo would agree that this is an issue and put a stop to it. Instead, they say it's "free speech" or something ridiculous like that.

Kathleen Waltos said...

I am homeless not by choice but because of the riots in Baltimore city, after trying to find a new home for my 2 grandchildren and my 2 son's I lost my job, my landlord didn't have insurance so he decided not to fix the home since then I haven't been able to come up with a security deposit which means you are homeless. ,so I take offense to your narrow mind and hope you pass me and my grandson at bjs--'i hope it happens to you one day and people don't give you a penny

Unknown said...

What is wrong with you people?!

It doesn't matter what they do with the money once you give it to them. You don't get to decide how someone else spends money. If you give them money, that is because you are being generous to someone else, that is for your own good karma. That is for your own stance in the eyes of the Lord. If you hold back because they might not spend it in ways that you approve of, that means you don't actually want to help.

An alternative is that you can offer food or to buy some food for them. Someone truly in need will always appreciate it.

Nick said...

Doesn't it sound a bit...fake, for lake of better words to give money to someone to get your own good karma and improve your stance in the eyes of the Lord? That sounds as if you only do good things so that good things come your way, not because you truly want to help.

I have asked some homeless if they'd like food. I once was in DC by 30 food trucks as a woman was asking for food. I stopped and said she could choose a meal from any truck she wanted and I'd buy. You know what she said? She said no. She said she actually wanted money. So....don't ask for food!

Another man had a sign saying he would work for food/money. We offered him a job of simply cleaning up debris from a yard while we were rehabbing the inside. He sounded offended and said that he didn't actually want to work but would appreciate some money.

These couple of examples mean one thing. You can not help others who do not want the help. So why are we INVITING these types of people to Columbia/HoCo? Almost all of them WANT this lifestyle. And the woman recently standing on the corner in the Costco shopping center with her gas's just insulting to people's intelligence. Don't act like you're stuck there and just "need a couple of bucks for gas to get to the next town". You've been there for months now.

Columbia/HoCo is going to become more similar to Baltimore City in terms of safety. But hey, let's be kind and all that garbage. Give beggars money. Support their lies. Don't be the least bit upset by all the trash they leave on their corners. At least the Lord is seeing us in a favorable light. *rolls eyes*