Panhandling is a sign of hard times and hopelessness. But it may be a symptom of other things as well. Many of those seen begging at street corners are people addicted to drugs or alcohol who are feeding their habit by taking advantage of the guilt and gullibility of those who are better off.
After years of tolerating panhandling, Baltimore City is now taking steps to control it. Several weeks ago, the Schmoke administration introduced legislation that would prohibit panhandlers from harassing or intimidating those whom they ask for money. Modeled after a law enacted in Washington in May, the bill would curb "aggressive panhandling" by prohibiting panhandlers from using obscene or abusive language, blocking the path of a person or a car or persistently asking for money after having been refused.
The measure would outlaw panhandling of any sort at bus, subway or light-rail stops or in the vehicles themselves. It also bans begging in exchange for washing car windows -- the activities of the so-called squeegee kids.
Meanwhile, Downtown Partnership is attacking the problem from another direction. It has launched a campaign that hopes to discourage panhandling under the guise of unmet needs by setting up a fund that will channel contributions to a number of different charitable organizations.
The goal of the campaign is to teach people that giving money to those organizations is more effective than giving change to panhandlers. One of the campaign's posters shows a beggar holding a sign: "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."
We support the "Make a Change" Fund, which is administered by the Baltimore Community Foundation, 2 East Read Street, Baltimore 21202. Such a coordinated fund-raising effort to help shelters and programs for the homeless is the proper way to attack a prickly problem.
Homelessness and hopelessness often result not only from hard luck but also as a consequence of alcoholism, drug-addiction or mental illness. These are serious problems that need to be handled by organizations and individuals capable of providing appropriate aid.
Particularly now that the holiday season is approaching, the best way for Baltimoreans to show sympathy toward the less fortunate is by making sure the money ends up with organizations that will spend it well and that aim at resolving rTC these complex problems.