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Don't Stop Giving Change to Beggars

Like all the other money making, law abiding fellow citizens with sizable income, I get a bit of nervous seeing haggard looking panhandlers with disheveled hair, out of season long coats, black and white stubbles in cheeks waiting at the corner street. Like all the other good natured folks of our civilized society I take a detour seeing a malnourished woman with wild look in her eyes due to lack of sleep or "God" knows what, moving quickly on the sidewalks, averting gaze in determined efforts. Like all the other hypocrites of our world, I answer back to a heart-felt plea, "Sorry, no change", stopping the clink-clank sound of coins hidden deep in my pocket, and take long strides away from the visible manifestation of poverty, walking and standing in human flesh right in front of my eyes.

I take a deep sip from the frothy green tea frappuccino, pondering so amusingly the well-being of our world, the grandiose theory of universe, the war, the protests, politics, and the everyday injustices scattered around everywhere the eye can see without giving a hoot to my own complicity.

No wonder the world is in such a mess!


Don't stop giving change to beggars
By Reggie Rivers

I give money to panhandlers. It's not part of my daily routine, but every now and then, a homeless person will be in my line of sight when I'm feeling generous, and I'll hand him or her a couple of bucks.

I don't have any expectations about how the recipient will spend the money. Maybe he'll buy food. Maybe he's saving for a bus trip to another city. Maybe he'll use the money to pay for lodging. Or maybe he'll just buy booze. It doesn't matter to me. I give him money because I can see he needs it.

Last week, a study commissioned by the Downtown Denver Business Improvement District and the city's Office of Economic Development revealed that 44 percent of Denver residents are like me. Our occasional giving adds up to about $25 a year for each of us, which totals about $4.6 million a year to panhandlers.

Denver business leaders and city officials want us to stop. They say, with a straight face, that they care about panhandlers and that our impromptu donations only perpetuate the problems that beggars face. They say panhandlers need tough love if they're going to rise out of poverty. They point to the city's proposed $122 million, 10-year proposal to end homelessness, and suggest redirecting our $4.6 million a year in donations could significantly help fund this program.

With all due respect, I doubt that this study was motivated by humanitarian ideals. Business bureaus and economic development offices typically don't spend time trying to cure the complex problems of poverty, homelessness and panhandling. The objective was to figure out how to keep unattractive, malodorous, poor beggars from driving away tourists and other customers.

And I imagine their concerns are well-founded. There are many people who get nervous and/or scared when they see panhandlers, and they might avoid a shop that had a lot of beggars out front. But I'm not going to stop making my occasional donations to people on street corners.

Panhandlers play an important role in our society, because they are the visible face of poverty. The study in question focused on Denver residents, but a large percentage of middle- and upper-income families in the metro area live in suburban enclaves that are completely devoid of poverty. The tight restrictions of homeowner associations ensure that blight doesn't exist, and the cost of mortgages, HOA dues, assessments and mandatory repairs make it virtually impossible to maintain a home in these neighborhoods without a substantial income.

So if you live in a poverty-free area, drive on highways crowded with your peers, work in an office building full of successful people, and never see anyone on the low end of the economy, it would be easy to forget that poor people exist and that homelessness is a significant issue in Denver.

The suggestion that our $4.6 million in donations would be better spent on other programs is true, but irrelevant. I donate money to many charities, but these impromptu donations wouldn't exist if not for panhandlers. Beggars provoke impulsive contributions in the same way that tabloids near checkout counters provoke impulse buys.

Rather than asking us to boycott panhandlers, business and city leaders should think seriously about what they can do to reduce the social problems that contribute to panhandling. I don't know how much money they spent on this survey, but if their goal was to help the poor, the money could have been better spent by donating it to a program.

If you give money to panhandlers, don't stop. They're not getting rich off your donations, but they are serving a purpose. We shouldn't push the poor out of sight; we should push them out of poverty.

Former Bronco Reggie Rivers is the host of "Drawing the Line" Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on KBDI-Channel 12.