Instead of giving a panhandler a handout, just give him a hand

I’m really not a bad person. I don’t litter. I hold doors open for old ladies. I’m a cat person and a dog person.

I just don’t give money to panhandlers. And neither should you.

Mostly Augusta’s panhandlers are downtown – usually on Broad Street, most likely between, say, Fourth and 13th streets. You’ll find a lot of downtown merchants who say panhandlers are a problem.

After a sidewalk shooting wounded six people July 6, the big flashpoint of debate about downtown has been safety. Panhandlers might not be the top priority right now. As a member of the majority that doesn’t want to get shot, I get that.

But safety kind of dovetails into the panhandling issue. When the economy started going sour in 2008, local police noticed panhandlers getting more aggressive. And at a time where local leaders want more consumers visiting Broad Street, aggressive beggars can put a scary face on downtown revival.

Richmond County deputies do the best they can to curtail the problem, but they might have an easier time on a cat-herding detail.

Arresting panhandlers doesn’t completely solve things. They go to court, where they’re usually ordered to pay fines. When they inevitably can’t pay, they’re put in an often-overcrowded and financially overburdened jail.

Then, they’re back on the streets, and the cycle begins anew. Got a dollar?

And where does a panhandler’s money go? In too many cases, to fund the poor lifestyle choices that keeps him panhandling.

There are exceptions. In a disturbing mix of whimsy and body-image issues, a woman in Akron, Ohio, recently put on a black bikini and set up shop at an intersection to panhandle. She’s not hungry or homeless. She wants breast implants – and the single mother/college student/waitress plans to do it until she reaches her goal of $5,000.

At least award her points for honesty. That’s more than I’ve usually heard from local panhandlers. Over time, I have learned at least two of their methods:

Strategy No. 1: Ask for an odd amount of money. It adds weight to a very detailed fake story – a specific sum of cash for a specific purpose.

Strategy No. 2: Use a prop. If your story involves having a flat tire, for example, have an actual flat tire ready in your hip pocket to erase doubt.

I offer two firsthand accounts:

• A slightly disheveled man approached me in one of The Augusta Chronicle’s parking lots. He said he needed $11 (No. 1) to finish paying for a bus ticket to Wilson, N.C., where a job awaited him as a fry cook. I gave him the only dollar bill I had in my wallet.

About a month later, the same slightly disheveled man approached me in another of The Augusta Chronicle’s parking lots. He said he needed $11 to finish paying for a bus ticket to Wilson, N.C., where a job awaited him as a fry cook. I asked him for my dollar back. Recognizing me, he briskly walked in the opposite direction, presumably toward Wilson, N.C.

• This happened in the parking median on Broad Street between the Augusta Museum of History and Luigi’s. A slightly disheveled man carrying an empty gas can (No. 2) asked for $7 (No. 1) to fill his tank just enough to get his truck back to his home in Statesboro.

Now, I grew up in Statesboro. Glance at the back of my hand and you’ll see a map of Statesboro. That’s how well I know it.

“Oh, Statesboro!” I said. “I’m from there. Where do you live?”

This threw him a bit. “Uh ... across from the college.”

That narrows it down to a few thousands houses and apartments. “What street?”

“Uh ... .” At that point he apparently thought the subterfuge was no longer worth it, and he skulked away.

That’s not to say that there aren’t folks out there who genuinely need help. They’re out there, all right. But too often, they’re not the same ones walking downtown asking you for money.

The truly needy gather
at The Master’s Table, Golden Harvest Food Bank’s soup kitchen. They show up at the Salvation Army. They attend New Hope Worship Center’s Bridge Ministry each Saturday under the John C. Calhoun Expressway bridge at 15th Street. They find the Augusta Rescue Mission. Or the Garden City Rescue Mission. Or Mercy Ministries, which runs one of only a handful of homeless day centers nationwide.

Am I leaving any agencies out? Of course I am. There are tons of them in the CSRA, offering just about any level of assistance to folks who genuinely need it – food, shelter, clothing, health care and even help finding a job.

Those charities are the ones you need to be giving your money to. Not the guy with the gas can. Not the guy bound for Wilson, N.C.

And it’s to those charities where these folks need to be guided. If they refuse that help and they simply want money – well, let them go begging.

The next time you find yourself about to drop money into a panhandler’s hand, ask yourself: Is that money really the most compassionate investment in a human being?

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omnomnom 07/22/12 - 08:27 am
Maybe we could require

Maybe we could require panhandlers get a license.
They're not just downtown anymore.
I see them in West Augusta and off Bobby Jones exits.

Georgialina 07/22/12 - 02:54 pm
Not Just for DT anymore....

Recently on a quick trip to South Augusta, I was low on fuel so I stopped at a gas station just south of BJ Exp on Hwy 25. No sooner that getting out of my gas guzzling SUV did a man approach me with a sad story about needing $6 or $7 (your rule #1) to get gas to get him home. He pointed to his old beat up almost busted down Datsun pickup(your rule #2) sitting at the pump opposite mine with the nozzle already in the tank.
I gave him my standard panhandler reply, "I'm sorry but I don't have any cash" He mumbled something at me that Sean won't let me put here and walked to another SUV. One much nicer than mine! 22in wheels, gold trim, huge mag wheels, etc. The driver pulled out enough cash to choke a horse and peeled of a several bills and gave to the guy. He went back to his pump and proceeded to pump gas.
After he pumped his gas, I noticed that he started looking all around and acting kinda funny. He then walked around his truck slowly until he got to the drivers side and he quickly jumped in and left in a hurry. I stepped around the pump to get his tag number and big surprise, he didn't have one. It then dawned on me he never went inside to pay after the good citizen gave him the cash.
I wonder how many others he ripped off of a few dollars and then stole the gas that they had given him money to pay for? My answer to any panhandler is and always will be.... Sorry, but I have no cash.

KSL 07/22/12 - 04:07 pm
Years ago my teenaged sons

Years ago my teenaged sons and I were approved by 3 people outside of 6 Flags claiming to need money to get back to Birmingham. I told them I wasn't from Atlanta but a I was certain there were plenty oganizations they could turn to for help. I suggested they contact the police who would be able to direct them to help.

Black Jack SIGO
Black Jack SIGO 07/26/12 - 01:12 am
Don't give them money

I worked in the Wash DC area when I learned that panhandlers beg just enough to get their choice of alcohol or drugs. I've been approached by many claiming fuel or food needs. The one at the pump is new to me... I offered to pay for food and was cursed out. Do what the author says. If they really want help, they will go to sources of help. If they need a handout for drugs or alcohol, they will bother you on the street or at the pumps.

HighSociety 07/29/12 - 11:27 am
The best way to handle these

The best way to handle these folks is to beat them at their own game. While their approaching you and before they speak, yell out to them "HEY, can I borrow a dollar?". Watch them turn around and tuck tail.

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