Ken Trainor’s column this week nicely describes the ambivalence and uncertainty we feel about panhandling. On the one hand the panhandlers are annoying intrusions, but we also feel sorry for them. What to do?
Like many problems this one can’t be solved. While you can eradicate certain infectious diseases, society probably can’t do much long term to help the 1%, not the top 1%, but the bottom. Pandhandling in Oak Park is a microscopic version of Africa. We just have too many things to worry about. Suffering is everywhere on the planet, but we lack the resources to allievate all of it. So we give what we can to find cures for childhood diseases and to rescue cute dogs. There just isn’t much left over for poor, dirty, smelly homeless people.
Now the reason panhandling is an issue in Oak Park is not because of a concern for the panhandlers. It is because the merchants worry that their presence has a less than salutary effect on the shopping environment.
Ken concludes his column by asking for suggestions as to what we might do to address the panhandling issue. I say do nothing. I’m guessing all the panhandlers know what social services are available, but have proven to be inadequate. I favor a capitalistic solution, straight cash. If for whatever reason a poor soul has to beg for money from complete strangers, then give it to him if you have some. If he chooses to use that money to buy a plastic 750ml bottle of cheap vodka so be it. There will be some temporary relief from the pain of life.
Panhandlers are a part of society. We need to see them. They are our dark mirror. They are reminders that but for God, luck or fate go us.