Tuesday, July 29, 2008


I've noticed a lot of panhandlers in Salem. Panhandling is also known as begging, asking for change, holding a cardboard sign, and lying through your teeth. As you can see I feel slightly offended that a stranger thinks I somehow owe them money or should feel obligated to support them. Well, guess what? I can barely support myself. And the next people I'm likely to help would be my friends and family. Not a stranger who accosts me while walking down the street.

Now real quickly, I'm going to say that although I don't like it, I know that many of these folks are mentally ill, down on their luck, etc, etc. Maybe some of them even have a valid reason that they don't have family and friends to help them out. Like their family is too wrapped up in their own problems to take care of them. That's sad and I do feel very sorry for them. And I feel angry that we live in a society where families often don't feel like it's their responsibility to help out it's members, sane or insane.

But I'm also cynical.

When I see the same guys who were holding cardboard signs this morning begging for food for their family, wandering the aisles of the liquor store, deciding how many bottles of vodka to buy, then I get a little cynical.

When I see the lady who was begging on the corner, dressed in nothing more than a long, ratty T-Shirt and shoes in the morning, walking around the fair with her three children, looking like a soccer mom with an expensive stroller, and matching diaper bag in the afternoon, then I get disillusioned.

When I see the guy on the corner and I know that he makes over 40,000 a year (tax free) and lives in a nice house that he owns (and I know all this because he is my friend's uncle) then I get a little upset.

I used to feel sorry for these people. On less cynical days I still do. But I know people who don't have a dime to their name and could use a hand out, but they don't ask. Instead they try their darnedest to figure out a way to make an honest living. I know many people in my immediate circle who are barely getting by, living with friends or family, struggling with mental illness, doing odd jobs, working 2-3 jobs, just trying to make ends meet. So I will be donating my change to the people close to me who need it. I think its really easy to give handouts to people you don't know on the street corner and then feel good about yourself. What about helping out those closest to you? The ones who sometimes get on your nerves and maybe don't always seem to have it all together. If we all did that for those around us, perhaps there would be less panhandling on the street corners.


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