Letters to the Editor

Try compassion

October 27, 2010


To the editor:

My family and I have spent many hours downtown.

Regarding Michelle Babcock’s letter (Public Forum, Oct. 22): Two of the incidents she described are serious criminal acts (assault and assault and battery) and have absolutely nothing to do with panhandling or homelessness. To believe so would be similar to equating crime with race. The third incident she described was aggressive panhandling, which also is forbidden by ordinance in Lawrence. Attempting to further limit panhandling isn’t likely to help in any incidents such as those described. By the way, I trust all these crimes were reported to the police.

I myself have never witnessed even slightly aggressive panhandling downtown. The panhandlers nearly always sit quietly, out of the way, holding signs, and rarely even speak or make eye contact unless they are directly addressed.

And yes, Michelle, homelessness is scary, but by far the most “frightening aspects of the homeless” are experienced by the homeless themselves. Those truly wishing to limit the impact of homelessness in Lawrence can help by supporting the shelter initiative. (Shout-out: Great job, Loring Henderson, and thanks!)

And merchants, there is much that can be done to alleviate homelessness, and improve Lawrence in all ways, other than these attempts to stifle panhandling, which come off as petty and mean-spirited.

Please, let’s try to remember compassion, while being thankful that our own lives have not taken us to the desperate extremes that these people — humans all — find themselves in.

Paul Veerkamp,



cato_the_elder 7 years, 7 months ago

To the letter writer: There is nothing more "petty and mean-spirited" than continually enabling panhandlers by repeatedly sending signals to them that people in downtown Lawrence are easy marks and that the City of Lawrence tolerates them. Many cities in America have struggled mightily with this, whether in good economic times or bad. San Francisco, the liberal mecca of the universe, has never successfully come to grips with how to deal with panhandlers after the city let the horse get out of the barn many years ago. In the view of many, professional panhandling in downtown San Francisco, despite the latter-day legal prohibition of "aggressive panhandling," has been out of control for as long as they can remember. Just ask anyone who has lived there, whether or not he or she has chosen to tolerate it.

Enabling the average downtown Lawrence panhandler is ultimately one of the worst things you can do to another human being, as it simply encourages that person to keep doing it.

Bill Getz 7 years, 7 months ago

Whatever other point Cato the Elder is making here, it is ludicrous to say that "Enabling the ...panhandler is one of the worst things you can do to another human being." So trivializing the human condition is not helpful to those who have legitimate points to make on the social consequences of "panhandling." Bill

christy kennedy 7 years, 7 months ago

Great letter. Common sense and compassion.

cato_the_elder 7 years, 7 months ago

Ignati5, if I had given money to the kid who approached me a few years back with at least $10,000 worth of braces in his mouth, who would have been "trivializing the human condition," he or I?

notajayhawk 7 years, 7 months ago

What, exactly, do you know about this 'kid', cato? Oh, that's right - nothing. Do you really believe he was out there collecting money to replace the $10K he took out of his trust fund to pay for his braces or something? Not everyone was born into poverty and homelessness. Maybe this kid got his braces while his father still had a job and good insurance, or before he lost his father.

Even if the kid was scamming you, so what? As the letter writer alluded to, and I've said myself in previous comments, if your store was robbed by a black man, are you going to prohibit all black people from coming in because they're all criminals?

Bill Getz 7 years, 7 months ago

Gotta admit, you are getting into uncharted territory here. Yours is the first statement by a member of the anti-panhandling crowd that has brought judgments about prosthetic devices into the picture. This is the sort of profiling one ordinarily expects to be limited to airport security, and is only a step away from WC Field's glass eye shtick. Still, always nice to see something new under the sun. Perhaps there is a Bigfoot connection out there somewhere, waiting for a similarly creative cheapskate to discover. Bill

notajayhawk 7 years, 7 months ago

"Enabling the average downtown Lawrence panhandler is ultimately one of the worst things you can do to another human being"

How about stray animals?

Lindsey Buscher 7 years, 7 months ago

Good post, NAJ.

NAJ 1, Cato 0.

"Two of the incidents she described are serious criminal acts (assault and assault and battery) and have absolutely nothing to do with panhandling or homelessness."

I want to point out that this is worded funny to sound like there is never a correlation between criminal acts and desperate individuals.

Are you simply stating that it is ludicrous to attribute every assault and battery to homelessness and panhandling?

kernal 7 years, 7 months ago

Someone please explain why so many commenters are equating panhandlers to the homeless. Not all homeless are panhandlers and not all panhandlers are homeless. I spend a lot of time downtown and my best guess is more of the panhandlers are not homeless than are, especially later in the day when it gets closer to "happy hour".

As I've said before, I've not only been approached by panhandlers downtown but in South Lawrence and West Lawrence as well. Those persons were obviously wanting money for booze, not food, since they turned down my offers to buy them food.

Meatwad 7 years, 7 months ago

I think Kernal may be right. I will try to use the word "panhandler" and not the "homeless". Mean spririted? Hardly. Simply informing people that their money is much more useful when given to organizations who help people, instead of directly to the panhandler, is anything but mean spirited. I totally disagree with this letter and you have no idea how out of control the drug/alcohol and also crime problem (which goes hand in hand with drug addiction) can get the more you condone and encourage this behavior. The panhandlers need treatment, not money for more drugs and alcohol. And the young ones need to realize that they need to get a job, not be rewarded for hanging out on the street.

smb 7 years, 7 months ago

Paul where is your compassion for the victim of these crimes. I am the writer of the LTE that you are responding to. I did call the police twice, by the time they got there the aggressive panhandlers could not be located. So if the perpetrators were asking for money is that not panhandling? The man that chased me around the car was quite nice when he asked for money, but became aggressive when I told him that I was sorry, but I had no money. So I was nice and compassionate to him and he was not to me. I don't understand the mentality of blaming the victim. And I don't understand how one assumes if it has never happened to me,then it must not happen to anyone else.

notajayhawk 7 years, 7 months ago

"So if the perpetrators were asking for money is that not panhandling?"

Yeah. In the same way someone that whacks you over the head with a machete is a 'hairstylist'.

cato_the_elder 7 years, 7 months ago

Notajayhawk and puggy, you apparently don't understand the concept of tough love. The more that people enable panhandling (which I am not equating with homelessness), the more it will occur. I view the practice of giving money to panhandlers (as contrasted with supporting the Link kitchen, for example) as precisely the opposite of what ought to do to help his fellow human beings help themselves.

Meatwad, good post. Notajayhawk, you disappoint me.

notajayhawk 7 years, 7 months ago

Gee, somehow I'll still manage to sleep tonight.

notajayhawk 7 years, 7 months ago


Another letter on this topic, same old misconceptions, such there is no way anyone could possibly have become poor and destitute through any other means that the personal choice to abuse drugs and alcohol

Okay, one more time: Giving money to these various charities and other support organizations will do nothing - absolutely nothing - for the majority of these panhandlers. There is very, very little help available for single adults without dependents. They qualify for virtually no public assistance other than a minimal amount of food stamps (if that), which is of limited utility if you have no way of preparing the food you can buy. And the charities are strapped, folks. Donations have dropped off across the country literally by billions of dollars. They, too, have their guidelines and priorities, and I'm not saying that's a bad thing. The kids and families should come first, and by all means, give to those organizations - for that purpose. But when those limited resources dry up, it's the single adults that are left with nothing. Don't assume that because you gave $10 to the United Way, instead of giving your loose change to a few panhandlers, that those panhandlers are going to be able to go to one of their member agencies and get any assistance whatsoever.

jafs 7 years, 7 months ago

That's a great argument for why we need to fund social service agencies more in our society.

But I'm sure that's not where you'd go with it.

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