As a native New Englander, I understand why anyone ever trying to talk to another person is alarming. Leave me alone, let me do my own thing, definitely do not make eye contact, and you might hear from me if I need help getting my tractor out of a ditch.
But seriously, it can be annoying to be approached by random strangers, whether they are trying to scrape together money for whatever or they are handing out booklets promising hellfire to those who don’t repent. The latter, for some reason, do not inspire so much anger from the peanut gallery. The calls to “do something about panhandlers,” almost never means addressing the root causes of poverty or addiction. These are attempts to get police involved in nuisance crimes when their talents could be better used elsewhere, such as enforcing traffic laws which when broken, are likely to cause personal injury.
And if we can be really honest for a minute, how different is it to be spare-changed by a stranger than to be asked to participate in yet another pyramid scheme, crowdfunding campaign, or school fundraiser? No, I will not be going to your nail wrap party. No, I don’t care about Cyber Monday.
For perspective, here are a few things happening in Hartford that are worse than panhandling:
- Weekend Bus Service: If you do not make enough money to take cabs (or the hipster cabs) everywhere, then there’s the bus. They’re clean, more often than not. Passengers usually ignore each other, earbuds in place. But if you need or want to get anywhere on the weekend, or forbid, on a Sunday specifically, you can spend most of your day waiting for buses, especially if you are transferring somewhere out in the suburban hinterlands. Have you seen that temporary bus stop at Corbins Corner? It’s wedged between a parking lot and a construction zone. You’ll develop a smoking habit just to give yourself something to do during the wait.
- Dead Critters on Sidewalks: Where they take their last breaths can’t be helped, but there’s nothing to wake you up faster than being less than an inch from stepping directly into a partially eviscerated rat.
Being begged is fleeting; walking around with death crammed in the soles of your shoes is forever.
The Stink of a Thousand Dead Fish in Bushnell Park’s Pond: Enough said.
- Portajohns: When certain taxpayer-funded facilities are open — mostly during the week — reasonably clean, public bathrooms are available. When out and about the rest of the time, it becomes a matter of running inside places that could be less than welcoming, or using one of the outdoor public bathrooms found in most of the parks. If your experience with them is only during major events, that’s not a fair indicator of the situation. Clean portajohns are brought in for those occasions; they at least started the day in decent condition.
The other ones vary from containing no toilet paper to possessing doors that do not shut to revealing scenes that make you question humanity and consider bathing in hand sanitizer.
- Street Harassment: Someone wanting a cigarette or dollar is one thing. Being followed by a guy whistling at you like you are a dog, making comments about your appearance, demanding that you smile — that is something else entirely. That’s about asserting power and control. Rejecting a panhandler’s request usually ends with a “Thanks anyway, God bless.” Rejecting a guy making disgusting comments can cause the harassment levels to increase.
- Actual Violence: Feeling uncomfortable when confronted with the reality of poverty is actually not in the same ballpark as being physically assaulted.
- Asking People for Help: Instead of being turned down with respect, or even with irritation, you could become someone’s subject of complaint with the police or in one of the many Facebook neighborhood groups, and also, not get the help you need.