The AFROIn response to “Brother Can You Spare A Dime,” (AFRO, 10/17/12) I was contacted by someone from National Public Radio (NPR) about doing an interview about panhandling and the inner conflict that takes place when I’m deciding whether I should or should not give to those that beg for money.  “What conflict?  There is no conflict,” I told her.  “I don’t give.  The story you read in the AFRO was an anomaly.” 

Now I’m not an ogre.  I give to charities all year long: Goodwill, Salvation Army, churches, and more.  If your kid is selling magazine subscriptions, baked goods, wrapping paper, I’ll probably buy something.  I also donate to the Girl Scouts of America.  I hate Girl Scout cookies.  I’m more of a Mrs. Fields guy.  But I still make a donation.  In fact, the last troop I encountered told me that my donation was equal to the sale of five boxes of cookies.  But when I give to a cause, any cause, I like for it to be a worthy one.  I’m a little suspect of the guy who runs to seek a donation, then sprawls out across the sidewalk claiming to have a bad leg that prevents him from working.  I need to know that my money won’t later be smoked , shot through a needle or poured from a bottle.

Without seeming judgmental, the NPR representative asked what experiences shaped my opinion of panhandlers.  The answer was easy: 20-plus years of law enforcement experience coupled with what I see and hear daily.

I recently encountered a young woman, homeless, in her early thirties, living with four of her five children.  This woman, a victim of abuse and assault, gave an empassioned speech about the career she was determined to pursue and hurdles she was determined to overcome in order to achieve her career goals.  Her entire day everyday is spent looking for work, a task that has become even more daunting now that she is a convicted felon.  She spoke of the importance of instilling in her children the idea of inner strength and the ability to overcome obstacles.  Yet this woman… homeless, jobless, and undereducated asked for nothing except a chance to work and support her family.  This was a woman I would help; and if I had a business, she would have been employed by the end of the day.

Now I realize that the panhandlers I encounter regularly include the homeless and some that suffer from mental illness.  But some commute to my location daily.  Imagine my surprise when I saw one of the regulars getting off the Metro bus just as my bus arrived in the same block.  I love going downtown on the weekends to watch those who normally talk to themselves using incoherent sentences suddenly having conversations with passersby.  I guess I look like a tourist on the weekends.  As he flipped through his wad of bills in the lobby of a local bank, one of the regular panhandlers was overheard to say he never left his post until he made at least $200.  You know who you are; and you’re ruining it for society’s true victims.

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Mike Montgomery

Special to the AFRO