Someone here at the station recently asked me which of my investigations got a lot of people talking.
The one that instantly came to mind was my investigation, and the stories that followed, about panhandling.
First of all, there’s nothing worse than seeing another person struggling to make ends meet and I preface my thoughts with that because viewers have frequently e-mailed me saying that I am insensitive to the subjects in my stories. The truth is, my heart breaks for those people who stand out in inclement weather just to make a buck.
However, my heart also breaks for those who think they’re giving to someone who just lost a job or home and is struggling to get back on their feet.
I’ve had several conversations with Bill Miller, Executive Director of Friends of the Homeless (a non-profit that provides a home to the homeless community) who said he has reached out to panhandlers in the community and found that many of them are not homeless, and they will therefor not take him up on his offer to seek shelter.
I had a similar conversation with the folks at Soldier On, an organization that helps vets get back on their feet. The executive director there told me in my travels that they have an outreach program and have discovered not all those people who claim to be vets, are vets. They’ll ask them for their service information and when the person can provide it, they’ll typically run off.
I think the takeaway is that when you give to those standing on the streets, it’s important to remember that it’s likely they ARE in some kind of need because let’s be honest, nobody is making a ton of money standing at an intersection and standing out there is embarrassing. (I had a number of panhandlers say to me, ‘do you think I WANT to be out here’?)
It’s also important to remember, there’s a reason they’re there. While we never mentioned names, one of our panhandlers had been kicked out for doing drugs, in doing more research I’m discovering some kind of a criminal history is not uncommon among panhandlers.
I’ve seen other reporters in other markets profile what a “typical” panhandler looks like, how they act and what they do to tug at your heartstrings as well.
Now, it’s important to note, one size does not fit all, and I’ll reiterate that the economy is bad, and a number of people really have found themselves on the streets for a period of time until they can get back on their feet.
I spoke with a woman in Northampton who invited my camera man and I back to where she was sleeping at night to show us the things she had left from her home.
The topic of panhandling is a sad one however, I think the public has responded to these stories because it’s a position we’ve all been in. You see someone standing there with a sign and aren’t sure if you should believe what they claim.
Whether you hate me for it, or appreciate it, it’s a topic I’ll continue to follow and talk about.
If you want to tip me off to something, think there’s another angle I should look into, or just want to give me a piece of your mind, I welcome all feedback.
E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here’s the link to my initial investigation.