It happens every day. You pass a beggar with a "Homeless" sign at a street corner. Or a panhandler asking for "spare change for food."
What should your response be?
Or disgust for what may be a scam?
Downtown Partnership of Baltimore and several area businesses have launched a public education program about the issues of panhandling.
Their recommendation is that you not give to individual beggars.
Instead, those wishing to help the homeless and other unfortunates on the streets should consider contributing to the "Make a Change" Fund, set up by the Baltimore Community Foundation, 2 East Read Street, Baltimore 21202. Proceeds will be channeled to a number of shelters and programs for the homeless.
"Most of your panhandlers are not homeless and most of the homeless are not panhandling," explains Rick Moseley of South Baltimore Homeless Shelter.
Instead, many are drug or alcohol addicts who spend the money they receive to feed their addictions or pure scam artists who have found panhandling to be profitable. Giving money to them is not going to alleviate homelessness or poverty but only likely to spread panhandling.
"The public is as much a part of the cycle as the panhandler is. We hope to break that cycle," says Laurie Schwartz of Downtown Partnership.
We support Downtown Partnership's effort to discourage panhandling, which has been increasing near the Inner Harbor and other central areas in recent months.
While some beggars may ask money for legitimate needs, many others do not. Indeed, when the partnership recently offered 10 jobs to beggars claiming to need a job, only one accepted. And even he quit after the first paycheck.
Poverty and homelessness are serious national problems in today's America. They often overlap with addiction or chronic mental illness. They involve ordinary people whose lives are falling apart and who need help.
"Give me spare change and I may never get off these streets. Give to organizations that could really help me and you could save my life. It's up to you," says one of the advertisements now circulated by Downtown Partnership. "Put your change where you can make one."
That sums it up.