Panhandler gifts are best charity

October 20, 2010


Over the past few years, the city has increased its attempts to convince homeless people that Lawrence is not a good place to be. We have new laws regulating how the homeless may ask for money on the city streets, and city employees have destroyed a homeless “camp” on city property by the river. But in spite of these and other attempts to make Lawrence a less desirable place for the homeless to settle, they still are out there on Massachusetts Street every day reminding us that the poor are still with us and asking for a spare dime or quarter.

There’s the woman who sits with her small child asking for help. There’s the rather scholarly young woman who sits quietly reading a book most of the time but who occasionally also plays a sort of music on an instrument or two. There are the various buskers, some, perhaps, better off than others, who play violins, guitars and other things with an old coffee tin on the ground in front of them with a coin or two at the bottom for inspiration. No one can walk down Massachusetts Street without seeing our town’s beggars.

I grew up in New York City and, over the years, I’ve travelled to a fair number of cities around the United States and in Europe. By comparison to what I grew up with and what I have seen on my trips, Lawrence’s street people are quite decently dressed and behaved. Rarely, am I accosted in any sort of aggressive way here in Lawrence. For the most part, those who ask for money are polite and, indeed, even if you do not do what they ask, they generally still say “have a good day” or “God bless.”

I’m sure, however, that some of our city’s retail merchants feel quite differently. To them, our street people are inconvenient distractions. Certainly, they take up space on the sidewalk. Some shoppers undoubtedly try to avoid beggars. Others are put off by having to pass by them to enter a shop. Most would say that street people don’t add to the sophisticated ambience our retailers wish to create.

Recently, Lawrence’s downtown business community has issued a call to the general public asking that individuals refrain from giving money to beggars. Instead, we will be provided with “resource cards” giving our homeless poor information about where they can get help. I’m all for the cards. Great idea! I’m a bit less enthusiastic about the request to deny our street people the change they ask for.

Nobody has to give a beggar money. But some of us feel that these small exercises in charity, from one person to another, are what charity is all about. I am constantly being sent all sorts of advertising from charitable groups asking me to donate large sums to them. I give to sum, though never as much as they’d like. But I have to admit that I usually feel far better about giving a quarter to some poor, deserving mother with a child and a sign saying that she is unemployed and looking for a job than I do about sending in my check to some multimillion dollar organization whose leaders earn hundreds of thousands of dollars each year.

I think that helping the poor by sparing them a few cents or even a dollar is the best kind of charity, the kind the Bible urges us to engage in. When I see poor folks on the street asking politely for some change I am reminded not only of the Bible, but also of Shakespeare and his famous statement: “The quality of mercy is not strained, It droppeth as the gentle rain from Heaven upon the place beneath…”

Sorry, retailers, as much as I support downtown economic development, I cannot support this initiative. I’m still going to help folks with spare change when I can. It’s good for the soul and, I think, it’s good for the city as well.

— Mike Hoeflich, a distinguished professor in the Kansas University School of Law, writes a regular column for the Journal-World. Read his “Grumpy Professor” blog at www2.ljworld.com/search/vertical/weblogs.entry/?q=Hoeflich.


ruette 7 years, 7 months ago

Good essay, but I take issue with the inclusion of buskers! Street performers are not beggars! They offer a service, adding to the ambiance of the downtown scene, and should not be cast into the same category as those who simply ask for money.

justforfun 7 years, 7 months ago

No matter how well spoken Mike may be, they are still beggers lookin for change to pool up to get booze. Don't fool yourself!!! I've givin to 2 beggers in my life both saying they need money for food. I gave them each 5 bucks (enough for food) watched from a far and followed them to the liquer store. When they came out with a bottle of booze and I was standing outside they had the look of "what you think I was gonna do" So Keep givin do-gooders cause I support the don't give sector!

Liberty275 7 years, 7 months ago

LOL. Do all beggars Bush's fault now? I guess that means the 99.9% of all non-beggers do all are Bush's fault too.

Silly liberal.

rtwngr 7 years, 7 months ago

Yes, Mike, giving alms to the poor is biblical. It is called a "corporal work of mercy" in my church. The problem is there are so many beggars on Massachusetts street now. It's not as if there were one or two every block or so but they are practically lined up by the numbers between 7th and 9th streets. They sit in the middle of the sidewalk, they block doorways, and some have animals with them that who knows if the animal is safe or not. The situation is out of control but that begs the question, "What is the solution while still being compassionate?" The fact is they need to go.

gatekeeper 7 years, 7 months ago

"The fact is they need to go."

Boy, you're real compassionate, aren't you. And you say you attend church? I am downtown all the time and yes there are beggars, but not lined up by the numbers. Stop exagerating and remember Leviticus 19:18.

PapaB 7 years, 7 months ago

I think we need to expand our giving to the homeless and poor, by teaching men to fish instead of just giving them a fish. I think this new initiative is doing just that, giving them the real help they need, instead giving them something for today - which they will probably spend on alcohol.

lawrencenerd 7 years, 7 months ago

Giving somebody a card telling them where the shelter is and Link is doesn't give somebody a job. It is just giving them what is ultimately a piece of litter. All the information on those cards I'm sure is already available elsewhere for people that want it.

PapaB 7 years, 7 months ago

They don't want jobs! They want handouts. There are plenty of services set up to help them get to the point where they can get a job. If they use them, they can become productive members of society.

Of course, there are exceptions to everything: people who lack the mental of physical capacity to get a job need to be taken care of. I'm all for the able-bodied and able-minded people given the services and programs needed to "teach them how to fish".

I'm not as much a fan of the cards, but I do agree that the handouts are enabling these people to get by without getting any real and lasting help.

lawrencenerd 7 years, 7 months ago

You say that, yet the unemployment rate is really high. There are people out there putting in applications all over the place who have a phone line and an address that can't find jobs. People that don't have a home, transportation, or a phone, are far more likely to not get hired. What services specifically are you talking about that get people jobs? I don't think telling somebody to go put in job applications is "teaching them to fish" if there aren't jobs to be had. Everybody I know that makes the dog biscuits through the shelter's program is still broke and still homeless as well, because there are so many folks that want to work there they only get a few hours a week. People do want jobs, the resources you speak of that help people get gainful employment don't seem to exist though.

PapaB 7 years, 7 months ago

There are jobs- just look the general jobs listing here on ljworld. The programs I speak of are opportunities to clean themselves up and get them ready to go after a job that wouldn't be "gainful" employment, but would be enough to live from. I question whether they want the jobs enough to pay the price to get them - they have to change and accept a job that probably sucks, but is an honest days work. From what I've seen downtown, panhandling enables them to take the easy way out and scrape along with what is given them.

Maddy Griffin 7 years, 7 months ago

Thank you Mr. Hoeflich. It's also very good for your Karma.

Oracle_of_Rhode 7 years, 7 months ago

I can't believe the Journal World allows a racist depiction of our president -- the first black US president portrayed as a crying "boy" -- to be used as an avatar.

Random56 7 years, 7 months ago

Racist how? I don't think you know what racism really is.

llama726 7 years, 7 months ago

How so? Because he says you should give to the poor? Get over yourself. What do you bring to the world, besides idle complaints on an Internet forum?

giveitback 7 years, 7 months ago

How about the Merchants sell give cards for a couple of dollars that would provide the panhandlers with something to eat or drink(coffee). That way we could buy the cards and give them to those who beg and both of the parties (Business and panhandlers) would benefit. I would use that idea so I knew that the GIFT I was giving didn't become a donation for drugs and alcohol. The cards could be for just a dollar or two and could only be used for food and drink.

justforfun 7 years, 7 months ago

How about we raise the mill levy and just hand out the cards to one and all!!!???? Just kidding of course~!!! Then they would sit outside the stores and say did you buy a card??? Can I have it???? Why don't you go back and buy one????

notajayhawk 7 years, 7 months ago

"How about the Merchants sell give cards for a couple of dollars that would provide the panhandlers with something to eat or drink(coffee)."

Because the merchants don't want the homeless coming into their stores to buy anything, either. They want them out of sight.

May Soo 7 years, 7 months ago

Good idea, but will the Merchants want the homeless to be in their stores?

cozy 7 years, 7 months ago

I have always thought that gift cards were the best thing to give them. You can get gift cards for many different places. While I want to give them ones to Walmart for clothes and necessities, I think it would be best to avoid places that have alcohol- just in case. Clothing store gift cards would be a good thing to give out. Maybe Dollar Store or Family Dollar, then they could get necessities and clothes without being able to purchase alcohol ( I do not think they sell it there).

Oracle_of_Rhode 7 years, 7 months ago

Bravo! Great letter, professor. This city's merchant class does itself no favor by promoting mean-spirited behavior towards those with the least among us.

Many of today's self-proclaimed Christians hate to be reminded of Jesus' most explicit instructions in the Sermon on the Mount: "Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away." Matthew 5:42

Mike Hoeflich 7 years, 7 months ago

My apologies to all buskers. Point well taken. Also, Giveitback, I think your idea is great. You should tell it to the City Commission.

Zachary Stoltenberg 7 years, 7 months ago

I would make the argument that not all homeless are beggars and not all beggars are homeless. The problem, professor, is that the idealistic picture you paint of the poor, out-of-work, mother with a hungry child isn't the norm. And even if it was, there is a long list of social service agencies lined up that would gladly offer her assistance without providing her the need to risk her health and safety and that of her children by begging on a bench downtown. The half drunk, pushy guy who hits me up for change then screams obscenities when I decline doesn't fit your argument so he is eliminated from the equation. This is the type of individual that actually represents a majority of the beggars down town and has created such a negative view of the homeless, spurning the actions taken by the city so far. I would actually argue that if you really do want to help, DON'T give. The sooner the coffers of free cigarettes and booze disappear, the sooner these saps on society move on. This would free up the funds to properly help those who truly need and deserve assistance. We wouldn't need a bigger shelter and we wouldn't be turning the fairytail "poor out of work family with kids" away if we weren't wasting 10 beds on those trying to sober up enough to beg some change to get drunk again. The inherent problem is the differentiation of someone actually in need and someone in a freeloading lifestyle by choice. I don't feel like I can make that judgment, but a service agency definitely can. The next time you meet that mother, offer to take her to your church, the women's shelter, or buy her a bus ticket to get to her nearest family. If you want to help, help, but giving cash is NOT the best way to help and will not improve their situation.

notajayhawk 7 years, 7 months ago

"And even if it was, there is a long list of social service agencies lined up that would gladly offer her assistance without providing her the need to risk her health and safety and that of her children by begging on a bench downtown."

Try it sometime. The "long list of social service agencies" have nothing to offer for most of the people we're talking about (since most of them aren't sitting there with children), they have limited resources, and it is often impossible to meet all the requirements one has to meet in order to qualify for assistance.

jafs 7 years, 7 months ago

That would suggest we should improve our social services.

Are you in favor of that?

lawrencenerd 7 years, 7 months ago

Better social services would be great. Did you know to apply for housing assistance (section 8 or HUD) you have to be on a waiting list for a minimum of 2 years regardless of your situation?

jafs 7 years, 7 months ago

I agree.

NAJ seems to have a peculiar combination of awareness and some empathy for folks, but he also advocates for less regulation, and he hasn't responded to any of my questions about social programs, leading me to believe he doesn't support them.

It doesn't make a lot of sense to me.

notajayhawk 7 years, 7 months ago

It's been that way in larger cities forever. I know people in the KC area that waited on the Section 8 list for as many as six years - and then got turned down.

pace 7 years, 7 months ago

I don't believe you. Yes there are limited resources but a woman sitting with two kids on a bench is putting her kids in a weird place. You handing that woman cash isn't buying her kids a better place. Offer her work, help her through the agencies. Don't hand the woman money for putting her kids on that bench. Too creepy of both, the panhandler and the glad hander.

independent_rebel 7 years, 7 months ago

Your post details much of what I've argued for years to those in our community who keep asking the rest of us to give more, more, more...but refuse to separate out those who we could truly help (and who we should direct assistance to) from those who are the career homeless moochers/troublemakers that deserve nothing. Great post.

Ricky_Vaughn 7 years, 7 months ago

People like you are the problem, sir. You even seem to recognize some of them. Maybe that's because they've been sitting in the same spot everyday for a year and begging for money.

Giving money to panhandlers just attracts more panhandlers, or at least gives the present panhandlers encouragement to stay right where they are.

notajayhawk 7 years, 7 months ago

Yeah, we know, Ricky, you wish you could spit on them. You've already stated as much. Now there's an attitude of really wanting to help, cretin.

Ricky_Vaughn 7 years, 7 months ago

Go get a job! I've been through some financial straits before. My first instinct wasn't "I know! I'll sit on Mass St and beg for money!"


notajayhawk 7 years, 7 months ago

Pssssst - hey Ricky: Jobs are hard to find. I'm surprised you hadn't heard, it was in all the papers.

Flap Doodle 7 years, 7 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

notajayhawk 7 years, 7 months ago

"Actually, money is an uninvolved way for the giver to immediately feel good without getting too involved in the issue."

Especially those who write a check to the United Way in the hope that it will solve the problem, and they won't actually have to see the people they're trying to "help".

notajayhawk 7 years, 7 months ago

I really wonder what happened to the lessons we were taught as children. Then again, I didn't grow up around here, so I don't know what lessons most of you learned - maybe they didn't teach compassion in Kansas.

I wonder what happened to such concepts as "There but for the grace of god go I," or "Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes." It appears most of the people here who want to sweep the homeless problem under the rug are just looking for excuses and justification to feel better about being heartless creeps.

lawrencenerd 7 years, 7 months ago

So when all the homeless leave downtown to stop panhandling we can send them to you for free room and board?

lawrencenerd 7 years, 7 months ago

No, I'm one that is nearly homeless because our economy is in the toilet. I don't get enough hours at my job, and I'm physically disabled to boot so I'm having a hell of a time finding a second job that I'm able to do. I don't have any money to give, and struggle to pay my own bills. I'm sure if I became homeless I'd be accused of being a worthless junkie who doesn't want to work, instead of offered work like everybody seems to claim they offer to homeless folks. If there are so many jobs for the homeless out there, why can't so many who aren't yet homeless find jobs?

notajayhawk 7 years, 7 months ago

Well aren't you just so gee whiz special none2! I'M the "co-dependent" one, and you're the one re-doing floors to put someone up in a house rent-free so they aren't "on the streets or in an institution"? They are actually - it's just a different flavor.

Tell us all about the screening process you used to make sure this person you're supporting isn't spending HIS money on drugs/cigarettes/booze, none2. Gonna' be a breathalyzer installed in the home, gonna' drop by regularly with a little plastic cup or cheek swabs?

Pretty sure I know a little more than you do about drug and alcohol problems, none. Including knowing what co-dependency is, for a start.

gatekeeper 7 years, 7 months ago

Thank you!!!! You summed it up in a much nicer way than I was going to. Compassion was taught in KS, but too many people now only believe in helping themselves. This has been a problem brewing for the last 30-40 years. It's always "me me me" and so few actually think about others. They say they believe in charity, but as you state only when it's out of site. It depresses them to actually see people in need. I guess I need to consider myself lucky that I was raised by much older parents that are from the Depression era and were heavily involved in the church and whole heartedly believe in charity and that charity comes from the heart. There are just so many heartless people in this world. When my mom saw on the news that Lawrence wasn't allowing beggars to even ask for money downtown, she gave me money to take and distribute to them. She knew some of it might be spent on booze or drugs, but she also knew that some would be put to good use and that her Christian upbringing taught her to not judge. Also being from a military family, we understand how many homeless vets there are and how many of them have drug, alcohol and mental issues and need help.

jafs 7 years, 7 months ago

There is no law prohibiting beggars from asking for money.

There is a law against "aggressive panhandling".

And, why not simply give to charities that don't enable people instead?

scribe 7 years, 7 months ago

It seems to me that most people here are using the term 'homeless' to describe a widely varying population of individuals. There are homeless people who have jobs and stay at a shelter or with friends. There are homeless people who don't work or don't want to work because they can make more money panhandling. There are newly homeless people who have lost their jobs and are accessing community services they used to support financially themselves. And there are other descriptions, I'm sure. 'Homeless' is too broad a brush to use in this discussion. Compassion is wonderful. Giving is charitable. No one can tell another person what to do with their money. I am thinking, though, that the population the merchants are speaking of are the chronically abusive individuals who harass shoppers for money on the sidewalks outside their shops. Lawrence is a wonderful place, even for people who are down on their luck and WANT a little help to get back on their feet. I wish we had something more for the chronically mentally ill, but the community does a great job in providing services for those who want to better their situations, none the less. I choose to support those organizations rather than give cash to scammers. I think the cards are a great idea to give those who need and want some help an idea of all the resources in Lawrence. Great idea!

notajayhawk 7 years, 7 months ago

Maybe the little cards the merchants are handing out specify which homeless people are okay to give money to?

notajayhawk 7 years, 7 months ago

Well, none2, at least you've demonstrated where your opinions come from - out of your posterior end, with no basis in fact or reality. You know nothing about me, not even what you could learn from just scanning a few of my posts. But that doesn't keep you from jumping to conclusions, conclusions that carry no more weight than your fantasy that all the homeless are drunks and druggies. Or maybe you've just been supporting the illicit drug industry a little too much yourself.

For the record, genius boy, I don't go to Lawrence very often, virtually never to downtown. And when I used to go there more often, I encountered a 'beggar' exactly - well, zero times. So I'm not exactly in a position to be frequently handing out money to the homeless of Lawrence.

And what I do, little one, is I am a licensed mental health professional. I've been in the social services field for decades, most of that specifically in the substance abuse area. So I know just a little bit about what you seem to think you're such an expert on.

For example, none, if your contention that all the homeless in Lawrence were drunks and druggies were true, then giving them money that they will use to support their habit would be called "enabling", not "co-dependency". The latter term refers to a situation in which a person has a vested interest in another person remaining sick, i.e. they've invested so much of themselves in the role of 'caretaker' that they'd be at a loss if the sick person recovered. You know, like what you're doing.

WHY 7 years, 7 months ago

As a law professor he is well aware that many of our rules and regulations are passed to push socially undesirable behavior out of our common spaces. Subsidizing drug and alcohol abuse, or ignoring mental illnesses are important social issues which need to be dealt with in an organized lawful manner. Not by giving a buck at a time. Move these people to a place that can help them, and if they won't go tell them they are not welcome to stay.

lawrencenerd 7 years, 7 months ago

I think it is socially undesirable to treat somebody of a lower socioeconomic status like they have less of a right to sit on a public bench then you do.

WHY 7 years, 7 months ago

Well I guess we will put it to a vote, majority wins.

notajayhawk 7 years, 7 months ago

Ah, yes, democracy: Three jackals and a gazelle voting on what's for dinner.

Given the pyramidal nature of wealth distribution, why, it's likely there are more people below you on the ladder than above you.

And they get a vote, too.

gatekeeper 7 years, 7 months ago

Compassion is a virtue —one in which the emotional capacities of empathy and sympathy (for the suffering of others) are regarded as a part of love itself, and a cornerstone of greater social interconnectedness and humanism —foundational to the highest principles in philosophy, society, and personhood.. Compassion is considered in all the major religious traditions as among the greatest of virtues.

True Christian compassion, say the Gospels, should extend to all, even to the extent of loving one's enemies.

Ricky_Vaughn 7 years, 7 months ago

Here's an idea to get them off Mass:

Quit giving them money! If no one gave them money, they wouldn't be sitting there.

Frightwig 7 years, 7 months ago

Giving money to a panhandler is one of the cruelest things you could do. Doing so only weakens their chances at self-sufficiency and keeps them enslaved to drugs and alcohol. Kudos to the merchants for creating the resource card. It may provide them with the direction they need to get back on their feet. People need a hand up, not a hand out.

Armored_One 7 years, 7 months ago

Again, since no one is willing to answer the question...

Why should any of us 'support' those that are homeless by intent, not by lack of other options?

You know, the ones with more piercings than baths in the last 2 months, not to mention tattoos in various places. The ones that travel with a backpack and when offered a ride to SRS to attempt to change the situation, you get told why should they bother?

The one that sticks out in my mind the most was a couple of years ago. I was working at a gas station and, as usual, one of the 'less fortunate' was begging for spare change because he was 'hungry'. A college student came in, and being the sweetheart that she was, bought the man a sandwich, a microwavable cup of soup, a bag of chips and a candy bar. Since it was 3 in the morning, or so, I tossed in either a bottomless cup of coffee, as long he didn't trouble anyone else, or soda pop, whichever he preferred.

He threw the food on the ground and ask the poor girl if she was an idiot.

Funny, seems to me that the best way to cure being hungry is to eat.

This was before this depression hit, I must add.

notajayhawk 7 years, 7 months ago

Armored_One (anonymous) says…

"Again, since no one is willing to answer the question...

"Why should any of us 'support' those that are homeless by intent, not by lack of other options?"

And again, since nobody has answered THIS question, which ones meet your standard of approval? Oh, that's right, you can tell by the way they dress or the way they look.

ralphralph 7 years, 7 months ago

Wouldn't you rather help Franklin Graham make his next limousine payment?

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