Poverty is a real problem

Resident provides her thoughts on panhandling and poverty

Coun. Scott Anderson’s claims that by all accounts, panhandling is getting worse. Well, clearly not by all accounts, given that Clint Kanester provided him with statistics proving the opposite is true.

Last winter, I sat down with a young girl who was panhandling outside of the Wholesale Club. By the time we were done talking, my bottom was numb from sitting on the concrete.

She had already been there for hours. When she was done panhandling, she would return to where she had been sleeping, in a small hammock strung between trees and shrubs, hidden in the park, with a mylar sheet and a sleeping bag to keep her from freezing. It was minus 8 as I recall.

The reason I stopped to chat with this girl in particular was because she was just a girl. She looked to be about our daughter’s age and it turned out she was only 15.

I asked if she knew about the shelter around the corner. She explained that it’s only for adults over the age of 18. She was expected to just go home, even though home meant living with her mother’s issues and addictions.

I asked why she didn’t get herself a youth agreement with welfare, but she said that would take support away from her mother (it’s true, they claw back benefits from parents to give them to the kids), leaving mom to become homeless instead. She was opting to take the problem on herself, sleep outdoors and rely on the kindness of strangers.

Maybe she took all of the cash people handed over and used it to get high. Maybe. And, if she did, can you really blame a kid with limited skills and support for wanting to escape in drugs or alcohol? Or anyone, for that matter, whose best hope for the night is a cot in a shelter. If that was your life for even a day or a week, you might also crave an escape. Don’t kid yourself.

The discomfort most people feel around panhandling has much less to do with personal safety than it has to do with a similar need to escape, not from a bleak existence but from the guilt of knowing that we could and should do more.

Do not fool yourself into believing we have this problem covered. There are magnificent holes in our social safety net.

And too bad if that fact makes you uncomfortable. It remains and must be dealt with.

Sam Zaharia