The local TV news featured a story on Lubbock’s panhandling last week, and if true, accurate, and representative of panhandling in general, it was a revealing story.
Panhandling, in Lubbock becomes illegal when the beggar steps off the curb into the street to accept the alms from passing motorists. That is my understanding of the comments made. However, as long as the bum remains on the sidewalk, this activity is still within legal limits.
Of course this doesn’t mean it is “okay” with law enforcement or the community at all. And I was amazed that the reporter generating this story found at least one beggar to confess on camera that he usually takes in about $200 a day from panhandling.
Wow! I had heard such figures rumored before, but this would seem to be a “credible source”.
I sense that the revelation of that dollar figure on the TV news causes people to chafe. It is the sense I get. Perhaps I am wrong about that. Perhaps, despite my best sense of it all, this very conservative, deeply Republican-voting community looks at that and thinks: “You go man! Make that money! Tax free too!”
But I bet not.
In fact the general tone of the report, along with the scrutiny by Lubbock’s police which also featured in the segment, suggests to me that this insight into panhandling drives a negative response. Especially, as the reporter revealed that most of Lubbock’s panhandlers use the alms they receive to support their drug habits. And this is likely accurate. If a homeless person is making anywhere near $200 a day and applying even half of that toward their living expenses with any measure of financial discipline, then they have no reason to be homeless!
Thus, the view of panhandling revealed in the report seems to confirm public suspicions and put it all in an even more negative light than it already was. And when the police officer directs the public through the media to NOT give alms to panhandlers, I see the powers-that-be in Lubbock coordinate together against the beggars. Though none of the local charities were interviewed for the particular segment I am referring to (which was a surprise to me), the report listed most of them off and rolled stock footage of them. This, as it was suggested that these people need to utilize these services rather than beg for alms on the side of the road.
The report (and certainly the officer interviewed) state that safety is the primary concern. But in my opinion, all the talk of money made and what it is spent on suggests other priorities.
Let’s face it. Begging is an ugly business.
Yes, I said UGLY.
It is humiliating to ask for money from strangers on the side of the road. Money for nothing, no less! And, of course, the bums doing this begging tend to LOOK THE PART. In fact, the humble appearance largely drives the almsgiving. If you stand there begging in a $500 suit and tie, people are likely to think you don’t need the alms you are begging for! It just doesn’t make sense for roadside begging. (However, it does make sense for too-big-to-fail government bailouts of banks and large corporations!) Thus, in a proud town like Lubbock, the specter of such humility on major street corners does not create the image we are going for.
It is my personal thought that the UGLY sight of beggars is the real thing that drives this negativity and the subsequent revelation of the news segment complete with police scrutiny and suggestion that these bums be funneled into the community services while effectively shaming those who give alms to the beggars. It is my opinion that we want to be a proud town, and this activity threatens that delicate image.
So, here is the Fat Beggar’s perspective:
The story revealed the limits of the law to completely stop this activity. (Thus setting the stage for a proposal in changing laws in the future?) Begging like this is legal up until the moment a bum steps off the curb, and the concern is for “safety”. If you, the average Lubbock citizen, have chafed at the sight of this activity and wondered why the cops don’t crack down, now you know. And if you ever suspected that these bums are actually making tons of money they don’t even need WHILE spending it on drugs in the process, then your suspicions are now confirmed. Thus maybe, just maybe, you are now armed with the kind of information that can effectively change the situation. You can contact a city council member, and pressure them for updates in the law.
You might feel justified now since it is clear that this activity is largely funding other illegal activities while Lubbock provides adequate services that any honest, decent people in need could/should access instead of begging on the corner! And all of this hifalutin thinking has a way of justifying Lubbock’s desire to present a proud image instead of this roadside humiliation.
But what is the real difference between panhandling and selling Lubbock newspapers on the major intersections all over town on Sundays? While not all of the people doing that job are homeless or addicted, a lot of them are! And this activity is deemed appropriate even though there is precious little functional difference. We have dozens, if not hundreds, of poor and homeless people selling papers to passing cars all over town every Sunday. They step off the curb to make the transaction too, and it isn’t any less dangerous than the panhandlers. And these paper sellers frequently generate much larger sums of money than the mere price of the paper! Some of them are making $200 a day too, but only one day a week.
In fact, I can’t see where this activity is anymore attractive than the straight begging. The little sign that says “News Paper $2.50” instead of “Homeless… Anything helps” somehow conveys a sense of legitimacy. Of okayness. Of pride in actual work. But that money is spent on drugs and booze too, AND many of the people providing this service are doing it for years on end! It is not a rung up a corporate ladder – not really. In fact, in my view, this is all a way of highly regulating the bums! And conservatives typically complain about too many regulations. But apparently only when they feel constrained by them and not when constraining the poor with them.
I only see a cosmetic difference there. Selling papers is not actually significantly different from panhandling, except that it presents the image of control of the poor and humiliated. It also looks like almsgiving, almost, but it also looks like work – earning the money rather than giving it freely. That is where the difference is, and that is much easier to swallow.
On the other hand, giving alms is a time-honored tradition. It’s been with us since the dawn of time, practically, and is authorized by Jesus. I am pleased to hear that in Lubbock a person can make $200 a day just for the asking! That is something to praise! Not to shame!!! The fact that much of that money gets used for drugs or other undesirable activities is neither the giver’s problem nor the exclusive domain of beggars. Plenty of corporate executives use their bail out money, their corporate welfare, or even their hard earned money on cocaine, call girls, and other excesses that break the law, destroy souls, and scourge humanity ALL THE TIME. Yet we continue to give our money to them every day!
As I see it, the only legitimate criticism against panhandling is MAYBE the idea that stepping off the curb is unsafe. And thus it could be more appropriate to designate safe places for the activity instead rather than discourage it altogether. And while I am grateful for the charities and community services Lubbock provides, this is a free country for the rest of us; why claim that for ourselves and deny it to the poor?
I ask Lubbock Christians to instead search your souls and humble yourselves before the Lord. There is nothing wrong with almsgiving. In fact, it is a directive straight from Jesus. There is NOTHING wrong with presenting a humble image, not even as a town. If our town is “Christian”, humility is our image, and we need not chafe at the sight of it on our street corners. And if this is a “Christian” town, then actually the cops are presuming too much authority when discouraging almsgiving to panhandlers since Jesus, our LORD, authorizes it.