Buddy, Can You Spare a . . . No!
It's not the easiest topic to address, but there he was, Gavin Newsom, the telegenic mayor of San Francisco, telling several hundred guests yesterday at a luncheon about what he perceives as a major problem in his fair city: panhandling.
The mayor was in town with a posse of hotel and tourism honchos promoting the city, which he clearly adores and knows well, having grown up there. But in between all the hype (we have the best this, the newest that, the prettiest this and that), I was struck by his honesty regarding people begging for money in the streets. He noted that it's a serious problem, and that even he's subjected to it.
Newsom noted that the city has plans to help ease the problem, which he said was particularly evident in major tourist areas (which makes sense). He's not alone in his concerns. According to a poll of Bay Area residents released March 1, panhandling is among the top concerns for San Franciscans.
I haven't been in San Francisco in a few years, but I'll be traveling there in May and I'm interested in seeing how bad the situation is. Can it really be worse than D.C.? Who among us hasn't averted our eyes to avoid a panhandler on the street? And who among us hasn't gotten really irked when the panhandler became abusive or wouldn't go away?
We recently ran a piece on how travelers respond to begging children in Third World nations, an issue that brings up a lot of difficult questions. I've both given and not, and it's always a heart-wrenching decision.
But panhandling? I have to admit, I rarely fork over cash to someone in D.C. or other U.S. cities holding their hands out. Whether a city with a particularly bad problem would keep me from visiting again, though, is an interesting question, and I'm eager to see for myself what it's like in the City by the Bay. What would you do? Are there places you won't go to because of an abundance of panhandlers?
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