Thursday, June 02, 2005

Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends...

My beautiful wife Kelli and I were on our way downtown to take the dogs for a walk when we saw an odd sight on the way. While stopped at a street light we saw this old bearded gnarly-looking guy with an army jacket standing on the corner holding his arms out as if he had his hands on an imaginary steering wheel.

“What is he doing?” Kelli asked.

“Uh, dunno,” I replied with the eloquence of soliloquy for which I am famous.

Then Kelli got it. He was panhandling but he had no sign so he was hold up his hands as if there was a sign. He was a panhandling MIME.

Oh for the love of dog.

Two cars ahead of us, someone was giving him money. This was just so absurd; we were laughing our heads off. We even gave him a wave on our way by.


It’s at this point I’ll mention that I hate panhandling. I advise all my friends and family to NEVER give money to panhandlers. I was appalled to hear that some local preachers have given sermons on giving to the homeless in an “alms to the poor” aim. I'd advise the parishoners to give money to social service organizations instead.

The panhandlers on the streets of my fair city are, for the most part, homeless alcoholics. The reason they are not in shelters or taking advantage of the many social programs we have available is that each of those shelters and programs makes it a condition of aid that the participants not drink alcohol.

Well, one has the right to refuse assistance, one has the right to drink alcohol, and one has the right to beg for money to buy the alcohol. I support all three rights. I will not support them with money, though.

Plus, it looks so crappy to have every large intersection in town occupied by at least one panhandler. We survive on tourism dollars. Nothing says “World Class City on the outskirts of the majestic Last Frontier” than a bunch of the unwashed with cardboard signs flagging traffic for busloads of tourists to see.

And it’s so organized. There are panhandling co-ops. All you need are the following players: a) a short Native guy or gal, preferably wind-burned and sorrowful-looking b) a designated buyer of alcohol (one who hasn’t been drinking in a while, since liquor stores will usually not sell to actively intoxicated individuals). A group of five or six works best. Two rotating sign holders, the rest rotate into sobriety for the liquor runs. They can make themselves a nice little “on deck circle” in the nearby bushes. In the winter those big electrical boxes give off a decent amount of heat so they can stay there all day.

A day of panhandling can net a group or hearty individual between $150-200.
The panhandlers themselves freely tell reports and police that they make more money panhandling than they could doing day-labor or the other non-skilled jobs out there. And they can drink alcohol while doing it.

I remember when there was only one, this one old guy sitting outside Sears with a “will work for food” sign. He was an embarrassment but he was also so pathetic that plenty of folks gave him money and food. He was there for years with no competition. Then they sprang up everywhere. It’s a whole underground industry.

And it’s gotten out of hand. I remember taking a call from an exasperated woman who had bought a condominium along a greenbelt by one of the creeks that run through town. It seemed like an ideal location for a single mother. After she moved in she found out there was a huge number of homeless folks living in the woods near the creek. The bike trail that looked so inviting was a handy area for homeless block-parties. She had to walk her daughter to and from the bus stop right in front of her condo to protect the girl from rude comments and the possibility of physical harm. That was bad enough but the final straw, the scene which made her burst into tears with frustration, was looking outside onto the tennis courts to see that the homeless had washed their clothes in the creek and hung them on the tennis nets to dry.

What to do? I believe very strongly in the right of free speech. This includes begging. I will defend these rights with all the tools at my disposal, but I will not encourage more begging by giving them the least bit of money. I know this is only a tiny gesture but I don’t believe in being rude to these folks – yelling at them or such as I drive by. I also don’t believe we need any new laws on the subject – the police have enough to do that they cannot be tasked with patrolling corners for beggars. I can only encourage all of you to never give money to panhandlers, no matter how sad their stories or how pitiful they look.

I do enjoy a good show, though, so I applaud the homeless mime. No money, but a friendly wave. I don’t agree with your lifestyle, brother, but I like your style.


Jaws said...

I will never forget one day in Phillie with my dad as a young girl I saw my first homeless person. He was begging for money. My Dad gave him a dollar. Hmm... a day later I go outside and play. Got all dirty rubbed dirt in my pants and walked up to my dad and asked him for a dollar.

Wha? It worked for the old guy!

Jaws said...

Since I have been blogging I have found so mnay Kelli's I am a Kelli.. Spelled that way even.

Anonymous said...

In Portland, there was a newspaper article a few months back that detailed the begging co-op. Also, it was detailing that some of these people are making in excess of $100,000 a year while begging, tax free. They also use free public assistance, city services, tie up traffic, cause accidents, and send the wrong message to our young people.
Sure, too lazy or strung out on meth? Just hang out on the corner and beg.

What really gets me is the ones with dogs.
Poor decrepit mal nourished unbathed muddy shaggy mangy dog. Poor dog.

It isn't like the dog can go find a job somewhere.

While I know that many may suffer from mental defects or diseases that inhibit their normal integration into the working class, I don't ever give them money. In fact, I don't give anyone my money, except my favorite charity, *ME*.

I will, however, take a homeless person to lunch.

When I moved to Portland, from Anchorage, I was pretty naive. There simply isn't a huge homeless population in Alaska. My friends and I used to call them "Street-sicles". Usually you could count on someone getting into a dumpster in the winter time and freezing to death from the combination of cold weather, cold metal box of death, and their imperception that the cold is really deadly cold.

Living in Portland, where I see green grass, even in January, by contrast, has a huge homeless. Most of them are rock monsters. (meth). When I've been hit up, I'll simply drag them to fast food, or something equally quick, they can tell me a story and eat, and I know the money is spent on a worth while cause.

I have a lengthy story about my homeless expeiences in Portland, I'll tell that later.....