Thursday, July 08, 2010

A Good Walk Spoiled

And no, I'm not talking about golf. As I've mentioned a few times before on this blog, last December I moved from the Mesa to downtown Santa Barbara. One of the things I like most about living downtown is the ability to walk to most places I need or want to go to. But I've discovered that walking downtown is not without its drawbacks. It's a rare occasion when I can walk from my home to where I'm going and back without being panhandled at least once along the way.

The first wave of panhandling usually comes as I stroll down State Street between Victoria and Anapamu. A guy in a wheelchair by the name of Martin always hits me up. "Spare change?" he asks. Half the time, Martin has a cigarette going; so I'm really not interested in supporting that habit.

I don't think Martin is especially hungry. A couple of months ago, "The-Most-Downloaded-Woman-On-Craig-Smith's-Blog" volunteered to make sack lunches for the homeless and hand them out in front of the main public library on a Sunday morning. She invited Martin to come over and pick up a lunch. Martin grumbled something about how he wasn't interested in a brown-bag lunch. And although a good number of homeless people showed up on that Sunday, as they do every Sunday when the lunches are distributed, Martin wasn't one of them.

Between Victoria and Carrillo the homeless population seems to especially desperate. I suspect many are mentally ill with lives gone sideways that for one reason or another never recovered. I've noticed lots of good samaritans, whose names I don't know, handing out food to the those whose only home are the downtown streets. And of course, not everyone who is homeless is panhandling.

Once you get south of Carrillo, the make up of the panhandlers seems to change. The panhandlers down on this part of State seem to be younger, more able-bodied, more aggressive. Panhandling appears to be more of a lifestyle choice than an option of last resort.

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There are certain locations that seem to be "hot spots" for panhandling; in front of "The Habit" burger stand, the ledges of the display windows at Macy's, the entrance to Storke Placita. New Haven, Connecticut calls itself "The Elm City." Based on lower State, you'd think that Santa Barbara is "The Alms City."

The situation on lower State sounds a lot like San Diego County's Ocean Beach where the panhandlers are wearing out their welcome in a town that usually puts the welcome mat out for just about anybody.

The panhandlers are giving the homeless a bad name.

Sometimes it's easy to figure out who's deserving of our spare change and who's not. Other times it can be difficult to tell.

For that reason, I suggest to those who want to help the homeless that they give through the Real Change, Not Spare Change project, rather than succumb to a request for, "spare change?"
© 2010 by Craig Smith and