Apparently beggars can be choosers.
Leftovers from work in hand and an hour to kill before a Visuality in Modern Art seminar, I decided to take the long way to the West Side, handing out chicken stix and muffins along the way. Or at least that’s what I had imagined.
The first issue to arise was the difficulty in differentiating between the homeless and the intentionally grungy. With no desire to step on any toes or egos, I only approached those with signs. However, “Anything can help,” seems to only mean “Give me money.”
I pass many of the same panhandlers every day, multiple times a day, yet when approached with free food, these people complained about my lack of napkins, some flat out rejecting the offer. Situations like this always make me question who of these “homeless” people are truly homeless, and if they are, where does the money actually go?
I faced these questions even more so in Minnesota. These queries were only intensified after the publicity behind the Canadian police tactic “Hobo Cops.” Essentially, undercover officers would dress as panhandlers and situate themselves on meridians, most even making cardboard signs. They would do this simply to get a close enough look at drivers to bust them for cellphone use. It’s sickening. You should never have to question the authenticity of poverty or your personal charity. They’re getting paid to pretend to be homeless. Some officers even went as far as to include calculated spelling errors in their signs, as if to imply that all who are down on their luck must also be illiterate.
There are approximately 45,000 people in shelters each night in New York City alone; there are even more on the streets.* To eradicate extreme poverty the world over within the next 20 years, the cost per year is estimated at numbers as low as $175 billion. No, $175billion doesn’t sound like a miniscule amount to you or me, but when compared to the military expenditure, it certainly does. $1.756trillion was spent on war in 2012. Following these numbers, it would potentially take two years worth of military money to expunge poverty. Worldwide.
*While looking up these specifics, rather than related articles on panhandling and poverty, I was assaulted by “news” articles on Lindsey Lohan’s mother. Why do we care?