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Panhandling enables the homeless

The article (“As death of woman who helped panhandler gets national attention, Baltimore homeless see decline in generosity," Dec. 6) ironically illustrates the very reason why the current laws against panhandling, which are overlooked, should start being enforced. Justin Morales, 35, a recovering heroin addict, claims to be looking for a job. I have personally seen this man on MLK Blvd. southbound for years and donated to him.

Kevin Lindamood of Health Care for the Homeless in Baltimore doesn't want the homeless stereotyped. But Mr. Morales is exactly the stereotype of perennial joblessness coupled with a cry for charity that needs to be examined. For those readers who have experienced lean times, this leaves one incredulous. Mr. Morales is not spending his day looking for a job. His first stop of the day is to the methadone clinic, then panhandling for money for cigarettes and fast food, until it is time at 2:30 p.m. to check in and secure a bed at a shelter for the night.

There's nothing wrong with being enrolled in a methadone clinic. Many people have a functioning lifestyle — a job, a family, while using methadone. But methadone is not an excuse to not work. It is to get people off hard drugs and back up on their feet. Being a regular panhandler means "working" around other addicts and alcoholics, which is unacceptable for a recovering addict. A pack of cigarettes is climbing up to $8 a pack in Maryland. Perhaps that money could be better spent on bus fare to the travel center to take a shower, to the local library to use a computer to fill out job applications online and a trip to the barber shop. There are plenty of centers for the homeless in Baltimore that will provide clothing for interviews.

Also, since when does going out to eat at a fast food restaurant regularly qualify as acceptable for a homeless person taking charity? When I was poor and just out on my own, I went to a low end store and bought a loaf of the cheapest bread, a jar of generic peanut butter, and a jar of jelly. I couldn't afford strawberry jam so I had to buy apple jelly because it was cheaper. It lasted me all week and it didn't require a kitchen. All I needed was a plastic knife and a paper plate. Also, now many packages are designed to pop open and be an instant meal, like spaghetti and meat balls and the old college standby, ramen noodles.

Then, in addition to his unacceptable lifestyle choices, how long does one qualify to take advantage of a homeless shelter for a bed? Beds for the homeless are precious and people who are young, strong, and healthy should not be allowed to make it a permanent place to sleep, as there are others who are in greater need.

In Baltimore, there are so many charitable organizations and social services making it possible for employable people to manage to have a bed, eat well, drink, smoke, and have the freedom to do whatever they want every day. Many have put their plan together and are making it work, as Mr. Morales has done. When does this man spend time endeavoring to get a job? Does he think that a job is going to fall into his lap while panhandling? And now that there are more jobs than applicants, according to other articles in the Baltimore Sun, the cardboard sign of "out of work, can't find a job" no longer "works." I am quite sure he walks past many "help wanted" signs on his sojourns around town.

And the crux of the matter is that what we do when we hand them cash is called enabling. Lee Martin of Our Daily Bread suggests making a list of all these charitable organizations and handing out this list to panhandlers instead of cash. But unfortunately, it requires rolling down one's window, which has proven to be a dangerous idea.

I'm not stereotyping every panhandler as an undeserving degenerate, but maybe Jacqueline Smith's needless and horrifying death is a wake up call that the whole idea of the increasing number of people hanging out on medians every day, carrying pitiful signs pleading to be given cash, and managing to combine it with organizational social handouts needs to be recognized as serious, unhealthy enabling, while lowering the quality of Baltimore's profile to visitors. If the cash flow for cigarettes, fast food, and other non-necessities were cut off, "homelessness," in which young, healthy Justin Morales is participating, would be reduced significantly and Baltimore's charitable resources could be focused on the truly needy.

Georgia Corso, Baltimore

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