Another View: The giving season is upon us

Give to homeless shelter, not panhandlers
By: Suzi deFosset, Gathering Inn Executive Director
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This time of year our phones at the Gathering Inn are ringing off the hook with requests to help feed the homeless.

It is so wonderful to live in a community that cares so much about others. But this caring may be costing the community big dollars. What I am referring to is giving money to panhandlers.

My question is: If people have access to food, clothing, and shelter what do they spend the money on they get from panhandling? One women panhandling at the Sierra Elm Shopping Center in Auburn told me that she would not come into the Gathering Inn because she didn’t want to stop drinking. She wasn’t aware that Auburn has an ordinance on aggressive panhandling. I’ve seen some gentlemen panhandling in the morning and then later in the day sitting behind a store drinking with their buddies.

Most evidence confirms that panhandling is not lucrative, although some panhandlers are able to subsist on a combination of panhandling money, government benefits, private charity and money from odd jobs such as selling scavenged materials or plasma.

How much money a panhandler can make varies depending on his or her skill and personal appeal, as well as on the area in which he or she solicits. Estimates vary from a couple dollars a day, to $20 to $50 a day, to about $300 a day. Women — especially those who have children with them — and panhandlers who appear to be disabled tend to receive more money. For this reason, some panhandlers pretend to be disabled or war veterans. Others use pets as a means of evoking sympathy from passersby. Panhandlers’ regular donors can account for up to half their receipts.

Panhandlers spend much of their money on alcohol, drugs and tobacco, although some money does go toward food, transportation and toiletries. Panhandlers rarely save money, partly because they risk having it stolen, and partly because their primary purpose is to immediately buy alcohol or drugs.

What are the real costs of panhandling? For every dollar given to someone to use on drugs or alcohol costs the community $7. Those costs include arrest and police time, incarceration, court costs, ambulance, paramedic, fire department and shoplifting — all covered by taxes or higher prices. I’m not saying all panhandlers will break the law, but I’m pretty clear that most money given to panhandlers is not going to improve their lives.

I am aware of two panhandlers in recent years that have died from alcohol or drug related overdoses. Many of the people using local emergency rooms are there due to substance abuse. Again, taxpayers cover the costs of these services.

As long as a person can obtain money they will stay in the problem and not get into the solution. As long as a person can obtain money they will continue to cost the taxpayer. And as long as a person can obtain money they will continue to be in our shopping centers and on the street corner asking for you to support their lifestyle.

So what is the solution?  If you want to give, do so to the charities providing services to help the homeless. Salvation Army, What Would Jesus Do? or the Gathering Inn.  Give vouchers for food, or clothing or haircuts. Give out information sheets of what services are available. 

Suzi deFosset is the executive director of the Gathering Inn in Roseville.