Opinion: Columnists

Fuzzy thinking keeps panhandlers in poverty of body and spirit

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Gregory Kane,Columnists,Analysis,First Amendment,Welfare,Civil Rights,Poverty

Long before she died this past August, my mother managed to instill in me at least two things. One was a sense of dignity; the other was a sense of shame. Thank heavens for my mom.

Simon “Smokey” Carey is 57-years-old, and I’m betting his mother never instilled in him a sense of dignity or shame. Or, if she did, Carey soon forgot the lessons.

The Baltimore Sun ran a story recently with the headline “City bill would cut down on soliciting.” The subhead read, “Anti-panhandling measure approved by council panel.”

Baltimore’s elected officials are looking to crack down on the panhandlers that “approach people for money while they eat at outdoor restaurant tables, pay a parking fee or wait in line to access an entertainment venue,” according to the Sun story.

As you might expect, there are those that object to the proposal. One of them is the Maryland chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which has never met a free speech restriction it liked.

Another is Antonia K. Fasanelli, who's the director of a Baltimore organization called the Homeless Persons Representation Project.

“What this does is actually prohibits solicitation of any kind,” Fasanelli said in the story.

Precisely right, Ms. Fasanelli. The issue here is conduct and behavior, not the First Amendment right of free speech.

“It would seemingly prohibit someone from asking for 30 cents from a friend for bus fare. If someone happens to be calmly sitting on a sidewalk and asking for 10 cents, that is hardly an intrusion and it certainly doesn’t put someone’s safety at risk.”

Here is a classic example of liberal thinking, or “Libthink,” as I’ve dubbed it. Fasanelli knows darned well panhandlers don’t ask their friends for money. If they did, panhandling wouldn’t be a problem.

No, the classic panhandler modus operandi is to roll up on perfect strangers and ask them for money. And, as the legislation proposed for Baltimore shows, they’re starting to care less and less about where they do it.

I can’t conceive of a situation where I would go up to a complete stranger and ask that person for some spare change. It just isn’t in me. I have too much dignity, and too much of a sense of shame, for that.

“Smokey” Carey has no such reservations. Not only did he agree to be interviewed for the story in The Baltimore Sun, but he also allowed himself to be photographed for it.

It was Carey’s way of saying, “Look, Baltimore! I panhandle for a living! And I’m not ashamed of it! I have no sense of dignity or pride, and that doesn’t bother me either!”

Carey told The Baltimore Sun reporter that he normally panhandles at a busy intersection in the city and near a gas station. With one revelation, we know at least one reason why Carey’s a panhandler.

The guy isn’t particularly bright.

If panhandlers insist that they must panhandle, you’d think that at the very least they wouldn’t do it at gas stations. If motorists are already ticked off about the high price of gasoline, then the last person they want to see when they pull into a gas station is a panhandler.

Carey said the gas station owner lets him panhandle in exchange for keeping the lot free of trash. That owner might want to consider if he’s losing business.

I steer clear of Baltimore gas stations where I know panhandlers lurk.

Carey isn’t homeless; he stays with his sister, according to The Baltimore Sun story. And if she’s putting a roof over his head, then she’s probably feeding him. But listen to Carey’s justification for why some panhandlers panhandle.

“Some have to do it because they’re homeless,” he said, “or they need something to eat.”

Baltimore provides shelter and food for the homeless. One homeless guy I interviewed told me he actually gained weight when he was homeless.

So Carey clearly isn’t panhandling because he’s homeless or hungry. That no doubt applies to many other panhandlers as well.

Now this question must be answered: What, exactly, are they using their panhandling money for?

GREGORY KANE, a Washington Examiner columnist, is a Pulitzer Prize-nominated news and opinion journalist who has covered people and politics from Baltimore to the Sudan.
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Gregory Kane

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