-{Alms for the Poor}-

Southern Tech, my alma mater, is not in the best part of the city of Colosse. In fact, if you go across the Interstate or South Boulevard, you’re going to find yourself in the worst part of town. I’ve been approached by pimps* in the six times in my life, four times across the street or Interstate from the university. While there I got used to being approached by people looking for money. When I was younger and a bleeding heart, I was sometimes inclined to help them out. You get tired of it after a while.

Once I left the university I only found myself in the city when a lot of suburbanites are in the city, namely on weekends or when a professional sports team (or the Southern Tech Wolf Pack) were playing a game. Back then I had the perfect rejection: I don’t carry cash with me into the city. It was amazingly effective.
I wish that I could impress upon Santomas’s considerable homeless and panhandling population, it would be that none of the following are solicitations for solicitations:

  • Smoking a cigarette outside a gas station.
  • Going into or out of a convenience store.
  • Having the porch light on at my home.
  • Walking anywhere within the city.
  • Filling up my gas tank.
  • Waiting in my car going through drive-through.

Ironically, the only real safe place in Santomas is waiting at a red light, which was the surest way that you would get approached back in Colosse. Santomas is something of a liberal haven that is very kind to its homeless population, but I gather that’s the one thing that the local PD does not put up with (probably for congestion reasons). They’ll be out there on the corners, but they do not get on the street unless you signal for them. Interestingly, they’re a much more industrious lot here than in Colosse. There are a lot of curbside entrepreneurs, selling everything from fake flowers to (very practically) cold water out of a cooler. But again, they won’t approach you unless you signal for them to. The only time I’ve been approached has been by firemen with their boots or the occasional church collecting funds for something.

But with the exception of that, as you can probably gather from above, they are everywhere and not the least bit shy. So much so that I now consider it something of a downtown tax. If I smoke a cigarette outside of a convenience store, I am going to get approached. When that happens I have two options: I can either pay them to go away, I can snuff my cigarette early, or I can be pestered until I am done with it. The same goes for filling gas or waiting in line at a drive-through.

If you flatly tell them no, they don’t go away. Instead, they politely say “that’s cool” and continue to chat with you. Their chatter will almost always be how hard up they are and how rough it is in George Bush’s America or since 9/11 or whatever. They won’t ask for money again until the end. In the meantime, you will find no peace. If you tell them to go away, they’ll say that they understand, that they won’t ask again, and give you the sob story and eventually go back on their word and ask again.

I keep two wallets on me at all times. The first is my cash-and-cards wallet and the second is a glorified key-holder that typically was a wallet but has become ruined one way or another (typically it won’t hold change anymore). I have a driver’s license in each (my Deseret license in my keyholder and my Estacadoan license in my cash-and-cards wallet. I’ve taken to keeping a dollar or so in my cash-and-cards wallet. I’ll pay them to go their marry way and tell them that’s all the money I have. If I don’t have any money in there I will show them my empty wallet. The reason I don’t always do the latter is some of them will say that since I don’t have any cash would I mind going into the store and using my card to buy them something, anything, cause they’re so hard-up.

I’ve now actually factored that into the expense of doing anything in the city. Since I don’t work in Santomas I usually fill up outside of the city unless the dollar-or-two I’ll likely be hit up for is compensated for by cheaper gas (which is actually not infrequently the case, as Santomas gas is cheaper than outside the city). I’ve even taken to going to the suburbs if I want a drive-through burger or whatnot, though sometimes it’s worth an extra buck or two for the convenience.

(I kid you not, I was solicited while I was writing this email. A doorbell ring at 6:30 in the morning.)

Addendum: On an interesting sidenote, Santomas is a Hispanic-heavy city (though certainly less so than other parts of the state). And yet almost none of the panhandlers I see appear to be Hispanic. Most of the ones around my black-dominated neighborhood are black, downtown is mixed between black and white, and most by the freeway and in the suburbs are white. This is in contrast to the charity hospital where my wife works, wherein most of her patients primarily speak Spanish.

* – I never actually saw all that many prostitutes and was never approached by one. For some reason the standard solicitation is from a man informing me that he can “hook me up” for a certain price.

Category: Downtown

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6 Responses to Alms for the Poor II: The Downtown Tax

  1. Hit Coffee » Helping and Being Helped says:

    […] d at: Elsewhere, Car, 1:37 pm,

    Will offers up his experience with beggars and bums below; I maintain a normally steadfast refusal to give money. My refusal is based partly on the behavior […]

  2. Peter says:

    Santomas’ lack of Hispanic panhandlers holds true in New York too. Despite a huge Hispanic population and panhandlers galore, Hispanic panhandlers are a very, very rare sight. Could it be some cultural thing?

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