Some children see a shadow in the night and transform it into the Boogie Man or they hear a strange noise and it becomes the "monster under the bed." Bob Dyer, columnist for the Akron Beacon Journal newspaper (or the shell of what previously was a newspaper) must have had a one-eyed man with a wooden leg bump into him as a child while Christmas shopping at Higbees, and he has forever had a vendetta for the downtown fixtures known as panhandlers. He keeps writing these strange accounts about his adventures with panhandlers in Akron. Give these men and women a break, they are poor people looking for some pocket change. Isn't there a greedy slumlord, payday lender or evil debt collector, you could go after, Mr. Dyer?
On June 18, he wrote a column entitled "Surprise! Beggars not all lazy--Offer of a job is met with some enthusiasm from folks on corners, surprising columnist." I know, the set up for the article sounds like it was written by some guy just off the Greyhound from Mayberry. But it was written by a guys from a semi-big city of Akron who has lived in the city for years. Anyway, the hook is that he took a guy who manages property around the city with him and offered odd jobs to panhandlers to see if they would take the job. The big surprise to this enterprising columnist was that everyone agreed to take the job or have their spouse do the job. Wow, people asking for money will take any job that comes along because standing outside in the hot sun and being spit on, cursed, and scoffed at is easy street.
The article never says if this was a ruse or did this property manager actually provide them work for the day. Did they pay social security and FICA for this spot labor? Did they do the e-verify system to make sure that these people have the ability to work in the United States or was this all a ruse for the story? The worst part of the article is that after surprising himself with the revelation panhandlers do want to earn money he ends the piece by saying:
"I still don't believe the majority of people who panhandle in Greater Akron are the real deal...The problem is this: You can't tell by looking who is gaming you and who isn't. And that is why I refuse to given any of them a dime."
He goes on to recommend giving to non-profit agencies in Akron. He found 100% of the people were willing to work, and yet he is worried that it is all a trick. What was the purpose of the offer, if he was just going to throw the panhandlers under the bus? He learned nothing from this experiment. He hated panhandlers before he ventured out that day, and he hated them when he got back.
The article received a ton of comments, some good and others bad. So, he came back the next week with a follow up to rub salt in the wounds of those down on their luck. "Panhandlers ignoring work offers. Panhandlers say they'll work but don't return phone calls" had very little credibility and to top it off he ran a column on "readers" negative encounters with panhandlers. Nothing about the Iraq War Vet with PTSD who cannot cope so is begging for money to buy smokes and other drugs to self medicate. Nothing about sexually based offender who would love to work after successfully completing his sentence for urinating in a public park, but notification laws make him toxic to landlords and employers. No one was quoted talking to a panhandler who could not get his child support adjusted after losing his job for 18 months building up such a huge debt that it no longer pays to work except cash only jobs like panhandling. Surprisingly, the individual who is on disability that will keep her living in poverty for the rest of her life and every dollar she earns above the table is taken off her check was not represented in the "reader's" comments.
Dyer was able to produce a second column about how much he hates panhandlers from the people who seem vindictive or angry that someone was getting this free money while they are stuck in a traffic jam. Where is the anger for those development directors at those non-profit agencies who are basically panhandlers in suits? Or what about the corporate lobbyists at City Hall begging for a contract, infrastructure, or those guys on the Akron Beacon Journal payroll who go down to Columbus to beg that governments will continue to be forced to advertise in their papers with "public notices" that no one reads; where is the anger? We all have to beg sometimes. Some do it in the hot sun in front of the entire community, while others do it from the comforts of their air conditioned offices.
By the way, how do we know these panhandlers don't pay taxes? They may want to be good upstanding citizens and declare the money that they make as gifts. None of the stories from "readers" was fact checked. It was just hearsay and rumors all presenting the negative side of begging. My panhandler friend drove a Hummer and had a big screen TV.... Did anyone consider that it better to be the best person doing the worst job in the world over being the worst of the worst? It may be the only way some of these guys can look at themselves in the morning if they say that they are making a goldmine. I have no idea the point of detailing all the horror stories people have with panhandlers.
My big issue is that if you don't like panhandling do something about it. Find effective alternatives to panhandling. Start a street newspaper in Akron. Have a competition in Akron to see which group can employ the most panhandlers, and that group wins a big prize. But telling people not to give to people they perceive as needy is a waste of time. Passing laws to prevent begging has never worked, and again is a waste of time. Find jobs for these guys that meets their needs that is more productive for these individuals. None of the non-profits mentioned in the articles is helping panhandlers with their barriers to employment. They are forcing guys to change their ways. If they are not willing to change their behavior, they give up on them. Stop complaining about panhandlers and do something to help.
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