OK, I admit it. I'm a little obsessed with the panhandling thing. Since Kate Elston made a cartoon of my position in the Post Intelligencer a few weeks ago, I've become this straw man for the opposition to hold up and say, "Well, surely you don't agree with him!" The Stranger's SLOG, following Elston, has me calling Downtown Seattle Association's Have a Heart Give Smart program "a war on the poor," a claim that is overheated at best, as the DSA's lobbyist was delighted to point out. A young appellate lawyer with a degree from Yale who lives and works downtown and thinks he knows more about homelessness than I do (people like him know more than the rest of us about everything) blogs that my position is "absurd," and some Republican poli-sci prof from Houston has dismissed me as the "latte left."
This is annoying.
Panhandling is suffering made visible, and that's why it makes people so uncomfortable. I think most of us could stand to be a lot less comfortable, content, and complacent. Panhandlers have something to teach us about the world and about ourselves.
All of this got me wondering about what else is being said. Are there other downtown yuppies blogging about how annoying it is to be asked for change? I searched the Technorati blog engine for references to "Seattle panhandling" and discovered the answer to be "not really."
- Some guy who describes himself as "politically and socially conservative Catholic who enjoys the silly side of life" goes on for a bit, and dignifies the DSA's Peg Dreisinger's assertions with the term "research." It doesn't take much to convince some people.
- Another low point comes from some asshole Harvard Law graduate, who blogs at the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute that New York panhandlers make $60 an hour and don't even open savings accounts. This sends him into a tight-assed little rage.
- Someone on MySpace is planning to be homeless for 48 hours this month, but has already decided that "every chance they get when panhandling they use to get abusive substances." It is also a well-known fact that MySpace is where the English language goes to curl up and die.
- Again on MySpace is a story from Bellevue about a woman pulling up next to someone in a 90s T-bird to ask for a few dollars for gas. Incredibly, she gives it to her. Another soft touch on MySpace, this one from Bothell, discusses karma and resisting the urge to judge. It's a nice little essay. A Capitol Hill MySpace blogger has responded to the P-I article too, and has a thoughtful position as well.
- A guy from North Dakota who moved here four months ago notices a post-Hempfest surge in panhandling. "They're like an annual locust - a plague on the city after the largest "protest-ival" is over," he says. "I'm not sure what bothers me more, the little kids in strollers at Hempfest or the leftover stoners." Being from South Dakota myself, allow me to say, "Welcome, brother."
- A quite lovely post on panhandling as an opportunity to practice compassion comes from a woman in San Fransisco. I think she kind of nails it. This from her post:
"i saw a woman tonight in front of walgreens on polk street. she was a slight pile of dirty clothes with a head and tiny feet in socks sticking out. she was sobbing, begging, lamenting. she had lost her shit, basically. her face looked so old and she had gray dirty hair, eyes swollen from crying and splotches. she was holding herself and rocking back and forth. i've been to that walgreens a million times and every time ignored the people begging out front. tonight i gave her about a couple of dollars in change. if a beer is going to make this night bearable for her, then i'm not going to deny her that. how many of us actually use our change anyway. every home i've ever visited has some kind of jar full of change. people stockpile it for years and then cash it in. most of us would not miss it."