Panhandling works perfectly. On many street corners, a person or exhausted mom of scarcity with kids in tow, holds a scrap of cardboard stating “hungry; anything helps” and stares plaintively through your windshield.

How can you possibly resist responding?

However, is panhandling God’s plan for any of us? Does panhandling represent the abundance He intended for us? As stewards of His gifts, we are called to serve with wisdom and discernment in ways that help transform lives, not enable.

Panhandling is destructive to donor, panhandler, and our community. The donor gets only a short-lived “feel good”. And, receiving the handout with no mutual participation or accountability erodes the dignity of the panhandler.

There is clearly a place for emergency charity. However, handouts which are focused on impulse needs without accountability chokes outcomes by failing to address the core issues of poverty and societal structures that undergird core, systemic poverty. Imagine if those dollars were focused instead on the whole person versus immediate, surface needs? What if we could redirect handouts to help that is capable of transforming the donor, recipient, and community?

Panhandling is a community problem requiring involved stakeholders; informed, engaged residents who are serious about reducing panhandling and making a real difference in people’s lives.  Our firm “no” forces panhandlers to shift their focus from begging to seeking meaningful help from local agencies equipped to discern reasonable, qualified requests. Redirecting handouts to local agencies helps legitimate organizations that are better equipped to vet and meet legitimate needs with community resources.

A community shift from rampant panhandling to addressing core issues of poverty is messy, and overdue. However, our informed, collective “no” starts the transformation process of reducing panhandling while strengthening and enhancing our community’s continuum of care.

Michael Doyle

Tampa

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