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Posted at 7:08 PM ET, 12/ 2/2010

The truth behind panhandling

By Maria Foscarinis, Washington

Petula Dvorak's Nov. 30 Metro column, "Panhandling: the uncomfortable truth and lies," shined a light on an important issue. But it also perpetuated unfortunate myths.

Each individual begging for change has his or her own story. Not all are virtuous, not all are truthful. Neither are many people. But what is different is that unlike most of "us," beggars have very few options or resources.

What is left of safety net programs - whether shelter, drug treatment or health care - is in extremely short supply. Also scarce are affordable housing and living-wage jobs.

Food is on that list, too. Yes, there are food programs, but getting to them at the designated service times can be impossible without access to transportation or a place to store belongings, especially for people with disabilities. Hunger is a daily experience for many homeless people: In a national survey, 40 percent reported that they'd gone a day without food in the previous 30 days.

Acknowledging people's humanity is critical, and spare change can make a difference. But the most important thing we can do is to urge our elected representatives to make ending hunger, homelessness and poverty the priority it should be.

The writer is executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty.

By Maria Foscarinis, Washington  | December 2, 2010; 7:08 PM ET
Categories:  D.C., D.C. politics, HotTopic, Local blog network, economy, housing, public health  
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A political answer? There isn't one. Must be addressed by the society itself. Gov'mt has no real understanding of the situation so will invariably create laws that are ineffectual and don't deal with the situation in an effective manner. Simply look at history..

Posted by: MichaelWeaver | December 3, 2010 8:37 AM | Report abuse

The homeless don't vote, and the majority of people don't care. The minimum of help will be the status quo for a long time.

Posted by: jckdoors | December 3, 2010 11:07 AM | Report abuse

Unfortunately there will always be homelessness. It doesn't matter how strong a social program is, the bigger the bellcurve of society, the higher the amount of people on its fringes.

Posted by: ahowl7mx | December 3, 2010 3:12 PM | Report abuse

The writer gets to the core of it. Society itself must change, but our politicians should lead that change. Bending the arc of history towards justice takes work. We should not abandon our politics as futile merely because some of us are feckless or corrupt. Our society certainly has enough wealth not to tolerate homelessness; but we need to find the political courage to do so. We must find those politicians who share a respect for human beings and support them when they are bold enough to create the programs, spend the money, and educate the citizens so that we can end homelessness in our lifetimes.

Posted by: BigDem | December 3, 2010 6:56 PM | Report abuse

When I encounter someone who is asking for change, I am often conflicted. On the one hand, I am wary about being played, I know that everyone is not honest, and I also know that a paltry sum offered with my best intentions will not "solve" the complicated problems faced by this brother or sister in front of me now. On the other hand, I have been nearly homeless myself in times not so remote that I cannot remember them; and I ask myself "What would happen if we lived in a society guided not by profit, but by human rights?"

I will probably continue to be a bit wary--it's part of my urban persona. But if I can read this human being and think/feel that my change will be helpful, I'll give it.

More importantly, however, I intend to think and act (as much as I can) to create spaces in which human rights become central to our expectations about what human beings deserve, can expect, and should demand from governments purporting to be humane. I would also ask readers to do the same. Many of our elected officials are less like Jesus' disciples and much more like the Pharisees who lived large on the backs of their own people and finally helped to take Jesus out. We need to rethink, and regain, the basic humanness that would prompt us not to criticize the human being who is now caught between the cracks of societal margins; but the elected officials, institutions, and processes that defend the corporate capitalists and denigrate the working class and impoverished of this land.

I know that in THIS crisis-ridden society in which the rich are getting (lots of help to get) richer; I could be homeless and/or jobless tomorrow. So I'll give you what I can, because I too have been hungry. In addition to that, I'll be fighting for all of us to be treated like human beings.

Posted by: thandabantu | December 3, 2010 8:39 PM | Report abuse

Thank you to this writer for standing up with the homeless. People would be shocked if they really knew the stories of why people are homeless. Lots are veterans, mothers and kids. As the previous poster said, any of us could be homeless in a very short time if we had serious health problems, lost our job, or our families split up. These days our society needs to do a lot more to help people with healthcare, jobs and family support. Because our government is throwing poor people under the bus, more and more people are going to be homeless unless we stand up and fight for them AND us!

Posted by: duprestars | December 4, 2010 9:49 AM | Report abuse

The writer makes very important points. The shortage of affordable housing and cuts in government funding have led to housing instability and homelessness. To rectify these causes political pressure on government leaders is needed. It is incorrect to conclude that society rather than government should solve the problem because government in a democracy is established and maintained by society on behalf of society. A recent Congressional Budget Office study showed that the most effective economic stimulus at this time would be continuing unemployment benefits -- which would also cushion some from homelessness.

Posted by: panarcadia | December 5, 2010 12:55 PM | Report abuse

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