Thursday, May 22, 2008

brother, can you spare some facts?

i've written before about mayor ballard's anti-panhandling initiative, a plan inspired not by compassion for his fellow man but by revulsion toward them. the mayor doesn't want to help the homeless or panhandlers; he simply doesn't want to have to look at them. this attitude was nicely summarized in the comments by abdul, who wrote, "The panhandlers are a pain! Someone whould get a giant broom and sweep them all away!" in other words, panhandlers are inhuman filth, fit only for the trashheap.

today, the mayor announced the latest piece of his plan, downtown donation boxes for the homeless, so people can "give at the box" rather than give money directly to panhandlers. the idea is that if everyone gives at the box, panhandling will become ineffective and people will stop doing it. this might work, but i think the key question is whether the folks who really need the money will actually get it. if people stop panhandling because they no longer need the income, that's great. but if they still need the money but no longer have a legal way to get it, that only makes things worse.

but my reason for posting was this quote from the indy star article:

Ballard and homeless advocates said most panhandlers are not homeless. Instead, they are scam artists betraying people's trust and good intentions, he said.

wow, most panhandlers aren't homeless? that struck me as a bold claim. it would've been nice if the star had thought to fact-check this assertion, but since no fact-checking was done, i decided to take it upon myself. and what did i find?

in this study of winnipeg panhandlers, 60% were homeless. this study found that the typical pandhandler "is a homeless, white male who is likely disabled". this toronto study found that "the majority of panhandlers in Toronto are homeless and living in extreme poverty". a more recent toronto study found that "three in four beggars are homeless".

contrary to what mayor ballard claims, the majority of panhandlers are homeless. of the ones who aren't, the vast majority are still poor and struggling to get by. the myth of the huckster who panhandles all day then goes home to a middle-class house is just that: a myth, propagated by those who want to justify their disgust toward and dehumanization of the poor, specifically the homeless.

i understand why some "homeless advocates" might want to support a donation-box program like this one, and to curb panhandling. but if i were CHIP or one of the other unnamed homeless advocates who were in attendance, i would be grossly offended by the lies told in my name by the mayor, and then attributed to me in the newspaper. (i'm giving CHIP the benefit of the doubt and assuming they were not the source of this false information; if they were then shame on them for not knowing what they're talking about.)

there's supposed to be more coverage in the star tomorrow; we'll see if that includes fact-checking this time.


Vox Populi said...

When I was in San Francisco in 2002, there were billboards and signs on cabs and busses that said "Don't give to panhandlers, it only makes the problem worse." Of course the contention was that panhandlers use their 'earnings' to buy drugs and alcohol.

I tend to agree with the Ballard Administration. Panhandlers are a public nuissance need to be off the street. And enrolled in programs to help them (housing, job training, etc).

While not representative of the community as a whole, I have a story. A couple years ago I was walking downtown and was approached by a woman who said she hadn't eaten in 5 days and needed some money to get some food. I went in to the Burger King and bought a couple cheeseburgers and put a job application in the bag. I went to give her the sandwhiches and she said she wasn't interested, she needed money to buy her own sandwiches. I told her there was a job application in the bag, and that Burger King was hiring and she could get her own money. She told me to go fuck myself.

I guess things like that have made me a little jaded.

stAllio! said...

giving a job application to a panhandler is patronizing and deeply offensive. if someone did that to me, i'd probably tell 'em to fuck off, too.

did you really think she was incapable of walking into burger king and asking for an application? furthermore, do you really think they would hire her if she has no home address or phone they can call her on? hell no, they wouldn't.

i've spent some time in san francisco. when there, we ate at a lot of restaurants, and i took to giving my leftovers to the homeless. they were always pleased to get the free food.

Vox Populi said...

Sir, I am nothing if not patronizing and deeply offensive. You should know that by now.

Anonymous said...

i think the key question is whether the folks who really need the money will actually get it.


I'm wondering if the City won't be using the money in other ways. Who's going to be collecting the money and who will be tracking it? Maybe it is part of a plan to pay for a 3 day to one week long "Super Bowl Party" to keep the homeless and the vagrant off the streets during the event, as other host cities have done. Dunno. It will be interesting to see how this pans out.

pgoyette said...

interesting (but not surprising) that most of the research on this is canadian...