On panhandling at Mac

By Joe Macula

Eric Goldfischer and Maya Pisel’s article the November 18 Mac Weekly regarding the November 4 Daily Piper notice about panhandlers on campus took a pretty extreme view of the issue. It argued that the notice was likening panhandlers to animals and that it served to “perpetuate a narrative that criminalizes poverty.” In my mind, this is not what the notice implied at all. People certainly panhandle because they are poor, but it does not follow that warning people about panhandlers amounts to criminalizing poverty. Rather, panhandlers are targeted because they are often trying to con people. My own experience attests to this fact. Last fall, I arrived back at my house to find my friend talking to a local homeless man. The man, who said he was named Peter, was telling a very convincing and poignant story about his situation. He had just been hired as a janitor at a local high school, he said, but he needed some work boots for the job. He told us he would need twenty dollars and a bus pass to go buy a pair at Goodwill. Obviously, both my friend and I were moved by his story and wanted to help him. However, I had a stipulation. I told Peter I would give him what he needed on the condition that I could go with him to Goodwill. He did not like this arrangement, and my friend, who was more trusting than me, gave him the money and the bus pass on the spot. That evening, Peter was back. Only this time his breath reeked of alcohol and he could hardly speak. It was pretty clear that he did not use my friend’s money to buy a pair of work boots. Why do I tell you these stories? For the same reason that the Daily Piper published its notice about panhandlers. I want to stress upon you a hard fact of reality: that there are some people out there who aim to take advantage, with words or threats, of your compassion. Are all panhandlers con artists? Of course not. I think the Daily Piper unfairly made this implication when it advised students not to talk to any panhandler, and to instead walk away and call the police. It is clear, however, that they realized that when they issued an apology last Monday. For Mr. Goldfischer and Ms. Pisel to condemn the Piper is thus unnecessary. Furthermore, they take the other extreme and claim that all panhandlers are safe and honest individuals. Neither position is correct. What the public should really be told is who these few panhandlers who pose a risk to their welfare are. So, here is a description of Peter. He is thin, about 5′ 7″, is dark-skinned, has graying hair, and looks to be in his late forties or early fifties. If you run into this man, you should exercise caution. Nevertheless, we should not judge homeless people in general based on people like Peter. The vast majority of the homeless population deserves our compassion and our help. There are plenty of malicious people who own homes, but that does not stop us from helping our honest neighbors. The same should hold true for the homeless