Just say no to panhandling

Juniper Rogers is a local poet and writer

People who live or work in downtown Sacramento are asked to give away their money every day. Recently, there’s been a change in panhandler tactics—the tag-team approach. Instead of one person hitting you up for money, two panhandlers approach as a team.

This approach is probably more lucrative. Many citizens will find it harder to turn down more than one panhandler when confronted. In fact, this approach dramatically increases the intimidation panhandlers inflict on citizens. The “request” for spare change feels more like a demand when two strange people approach a citizen on the street. An underlying threat is implicit: You can give us your money, or we’ll take it.

Discouraging this behavior should be paramount to those of us who earn our money through honest means. Therefore, at the risk of being lampooned as politically incorrect, I want to offer up the following suggestion for others who choose to “just say no” to panhandlers.

Always look the person straight in the eye and say, “No,” politely but firmly. This usually surprises the panhandler, who may not press further. Be courteous enough to acknowledge the person at least.

Some panhandlers are more aggressive and will harass you verbally, sometimes by shouting and gesturing violently. You either may walk away and go about your business or simply inform the panhandler that you give your money to established charities and not to individuals who invade your privacy.

Trust your intuition to gauge which of these tactics to implement. People who appear to be drugged or enraged should not be engaged.

Panhandling can be the result of mental illness, drug addiction, unemployment or lifestyle choice. But we perpetuate bad behavior when we hand over cash to people we know nothing about.

We cannot assess their needs in a passing moment—this is better left to drug counselors, social workers, medical professionals and clergy. A better choice is to give our money—and volunteer time—to established charities. It may seem heartless to just say no to panhandlers, but we must stop perpetuating begging as a way of life.

The easier we make it for people to stay addicted, to refuse to take their medication and to stay sick, the more entrenched panhandling will become. Resources are available to help panhandlers. Let’s help them get the help they obviously need by just saying no to begging and panhandling.