Helping Panhandlers

by Stephanie Thomas

Recently I watched a TED Talk given by Richard Berry who at the time of the talk was the mayor of Albuquerque, NM. His talk was on his program There’s a Better Way which was created to get panhandlers off the street. The city put 50k into his good-intentioned program, using the money to fix up a van and pay a driver named Will who spent an hour driving around town each day asking panhandlers if they wanted to work for the day. Most did and they were taken to a job site where they worked along city workers cleaning up trash and brush.

Mayor Berry praised the program’s success. He did in fact get more panhandlers into homeless shelters, assisted many into getting mental health and medical treatment, and helped 100 people find full time jobs. He also proved his theory that there are panhandlers who would rather work then beg. Unfortunately, the program did not make a dent in the number of panhandlers in the city of Albuquerque.

Was it a good program? It might have been with enough resources.  People on the street clearly need someone like Will who will come up to them and say, “Hi, I want to help you. Here’s a job. Here’s medical treatment. Let’s work together and we can get you off this street corner and into housing.”  However, as with so many programs designed to help panhandlers and the homeless, not enough resources and time were put into There’s a Better Way. Great ideas are worthless without the resources to back them up.

Three years after the program was created, the city changed course and passed an ordinance designed to stop people from panhandling, basically making it illegal for people to beg.

What does it take to get the homeless and panhandlers get off street? We have a model in place. It takes the same kind of funding and effort that was given to get veterans off the street.

Over the last few years the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness has been focused on reducing homelessness for veterans. In some cities now, there are few to no homeless veterans. If there are programs and policies that work for veterans then why don’t we fund similar programs and create similar policies to reduce homelessness and the need for panhandling for everyone?

The list below is copied from an “abbreviated” list of the improved process that helped get veterans off the street and into housing:

  • Public housing authorities can share their housing inspection standards with non-profit organizations helping veterans find apartments. This allows non-profits to complete informal pre-inspections to help veterans find apartments that will pass required housing quality inspections on the first try.
  • Public housing authorities can eliminate any locally imposed minimum income requirements for housing homeless veterans.
  • Local VA branches can eliminate any requirement that a veteran enter treatment as a condition for receiving a Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) voucher. Such treatment is not required by federal statute.
  • Public housing authorities can allow use of a veteran’s VA’s DD-214 form to satisfy their identification requirements, rather than requiring birth certificates and social security cards, which homeless veterans may have lost.
  • Local VA branches can train VASH case managers to access the HINQ (Hospital Inquiry) database.
  • Housing agencies can negotiate rent-reasonableness with the prospective landlord at the time of the housing inspection.
  • Public housing authorities can issue provisional rent vouchers to enable homeless veterans to begin a housing search while other paperwork is being finalized.
  • Human services agencies and local VA branches can co-locate and centralize move-in assistance resources or HPRP (Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program) paperwork with a veterans’ service center.

 

Do Not Judge

By Lori Shepard

Do not judge

Do not assume

To know the life of

That stranger in the room

Or across the street

Holding a sign

Or standing and waiting

There on the line

Their life story

You cannot know

Just by looking

High and low

It’s true that some

Are in despair

But you don’t know

What  put them there

So do not judge

Do not assume

Why not smile

Across the room

Read that sign

Be more aware

At the very least

Offer up a prayer

Find a way

If you can

To make a difference

To your fellow man

Find a cause

To work or finance

Help someone else

To have a chance

Count your blessings

Find something to do

Remember, in an instant

That stranger could be you

A Beggar’s Story “Marsha”

by Stephanie Thomas

I saw her standing on the corner. She was bundled up in a heavy coat, hat and gloves. It was a bitterly cold day. I had seen her a couple of times before but I was always too busy to stop and speak to her. This time wasn’t any different except that I decided that speaking to her was more important than getting my chores done on time.

I pulled into the parking lot of a restaurant that was across the street and made my way through the traffic to where she stood. She smiled when she saw me walking toward me.

I introduced myself and asked her about her day. She said she was cold and didn’t feel well.

“I have a lot of health issues,” she said. “My biggest problem is with the arthritis in my knees.”

“You are too young to have arthritis,” I said ,trying make her feel better.

“Thank you but I’m 55 years old.”

“What’s your name?”

“Marsha.”

“Where do you live Marsha?”

“I stay with friends mostly. I used to put homeless on my sign but people gave me a hard time about it. I try not to wear out my welcome. I stay quiet and to myself. I’ve stayed in hotels but I can’t afford to do that right now.”

She waved at a red SUV that passed us.

“That women gave me this hat and these gloves,” she said appreciatively.

“That was nice of her,” I said. “How do people treat you out here?”

“Some people are nice. Sometimes men give me money and then tell me they’ll give me more if I’ll come home with them. I know what that means. I’m not going to sell myself. I always tell them no. I’ve learned not to trust men. I’ve had problems with them. They start out nice but they always end up abusing me. The last man I was with beat me and made me feel terrible about myself. I wanted to leave him but he hid the car keys and took my phone so I couldn’t get away. One day, when he was sleeping, I found my phone and called my girlfriend to come and get me. That was 5 years ago. I’m still not over him.”

“You have had a rough time. I’m sorry you had to go through that. What about family? Is there anyone here who can help you?”

My parents and my brother passed away. I was close to them. It’s really hard for me at Christmas time. I miss them.”

Marsha doesn’t have a job. She was fired from her last job when there was a discrepancy in the cash drawer. That incident and her age make it unlikely that anyone will be willing to hire her. She isn’t old enough to get social security which means disability insurance is her only option, besides begging. She told me she has applied for disability insurance, but it takes at least 3 years to qualify.

There is a system in place to help people like Marsha. Unfortunately, the red tape is difficult  work through, the process can be humiliating, and failure is more common than success. For someone like Marsha, who has been abused and is alone in this world, begging seems easier.