Thoughts on panhandlers

Photo courtesy

Ashton Nanninga

The intersection of 72nd and Dodge is one of the busiest in Omaha, but not just for traffic. On any given day, one or more panhandlers will be straddling the medians at the intersections with cardboard signs asking for money, food or stating, “Anything helps.” Sometimes these panhandlers attract more than just attention or car horns from the passing drivers. Detailed in an article by Alia Conley, a writer for the Omaha World-Herald, are the actions one Omaha resident has taken to combat the act of panhandling. Charles Logan stands on the corners holding a sign along with the panhandlers. However, he isn’t asking for anything. His sign states, “If you need money, get a job and go to work! Get a job!” Now, Logan has every right to protest in this way. He is safely and legally exercising his First Amendment right. However, is that the correct way to go about it? Is it really that simple?

Homelessness is a growing concern in many cities, especially major cities such as Omaha. Panhandling is one way that individuals in this situation obtain income and other items such as food. However, it is a commonly held belief that the homeless populace can simply go out and get a job. Many believe that they are using panhandling as a replacement for a job for which they could easily apply. The addressless residents of Omaha merely want a free handout, not a helping hand to improve their quality of life. This may be true for some; it may be true for most. However, that does not mean it is true for all.

“Travels with Lizbeth: Three Years on the Road and on the Streets” is written by Lars Eighner, a man who has first-hand experience with this lifestyle. He goes into detail about the difficulties of getting off the streets. One being the trouble he had to go through to get government assistance. Numerous individuals adopt the notion that panhandlers or homeless people can simply apply for government aid and receive benefits. However, Eighner outlines in his memoir that if a person does not have an address they cannot receive aid. They cannot even apply for a membership at a community-based association such as the YMCA. There may be several opportunities that are extended to need-based people, but very few qualify.

Of course, this doesn’t represent every individual’s experience with homelessness. Homelessness is situational. Some turn to panhandling due to laziness and some turn to it out of necessity. It is a way of life regardless of the reason. It is a cycle of dependency that is hard to break, especially if it has promising results. I am not saying that individuals should turn to panhandling when times get tough, but who are we to decide someone’s means of survival? It is not as basic as Charles Logan and many others believe. Holding a sign with large letters written in permanent marker that states, “Get a job!” doesn’t make anyone’s quality of life easier. It only angers those involved. We should respect the decisions of others even if they are leading them down a path of illegitimate dependency.