Follow by Email

Monday, August 29, 2016

The face of homelessness in Howard County


      I have blogged before about the increasing amount of panhandlers in the Columbia area.  The question I posed in the subject of this blog is one that I know most of us have had when seeing a panhandler.  Recently I received a blog comment on my blog post saying this:

    "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."

   I decided that I would look for the person who had posted this comment to my blog to learn more about her story.   

     Recently I saw a woman panhandling near BJ's who looked like she could be a grandmother. This was one of those recent days with the heat index near 110.  I stopped and surprised her by asking her if she was the person who made a comment on my blog.  I was disappointed to have her say that she couldn't read blogs because she had no access to a computer. She didn't have a problem with my posting her picture but I have decided not to use her name.
    She freely told me about how her life changed dramatically when she lost a job.  She had worked at a number of jobs and had a stable life leaving with her daughter and grandchildren in an apartment that they shared.  Her loss of a job made the apartment unaffordable and she moved into her car and her daughter and grandchildren moved into a shelter.  She explained that she panhandled to afford to rent a room in a local motel so that she didn't have to sleep in her car.  She further told me of meeting the other people who panhandled and how one in panhandler educated her on how to panhandle.  She was told to only panhandle on private property so that the police couldn't stop you from panhandling.  She was also told to get the permission of the commercial property owner.
     When I asked her to describe the type of person who was most likely to give her money she quickly said that was African Americans both men and women.  Next was young people, especially young women.  The people most likely to ignore her were men, especially older men.  I guess she was talking about people like me.
     I asked her how she reacted to many people thinking that panhandlers were people with substance abusers and that giving them money would only go to supporting their habit.  She showed me her arms and asked me if she looked like an addict.  She also said if anyone thought that she would take a drug test to prove them wrong.
     I next asked her the other question that many people have about panhandlers.   Why don't you just take a minimum wage job rather than panhandle.  She said she tried that some but most of the jobs required her to be on her feet more than she was able.  She can take frequent breaks in her car to rest her feet while she panhandles.
      We talked about other panhandlers in our area and she mentioned that many of them knew each other.  She said that the young panhandler who tutored her on panhandling lived in the woods behind a shopping center in Columbia.  In fact there was a small village of homeless panhandlers living together at that site.  They had made being homeless and panhandling a conscious life style.  They were different from the other panhandlers like herself who saw their situation as temporary until they got their lives back together.  She excitedly told me about a job interview she had the next day that seemed to have the potential to get her back to her old life.  I wished her luck and told her how to contact me to let me now how she did with the interview.  I have not heard about how things turned out but will look for her again when I am in that area.   
     I hope to talk with more panhandlers in the coming weeks to give a face and story for most of us who just pass them by as we go about our daily activities.

     When I asked her about reaching out to local support services for the homeless she mentioned the support she had received from some of them and especially had praise for the Day Resource Center on Route 1.  If you have mixed feelings about giving money to panhandlers directly giving a contribution to the Day Resource Center is a good way to make a difference with homelessness in Howard County.  Here is a list of donated items they are in need of.


No comments: