Today I want to talk about panhandling, panhandling related incidents, and panhandler focused factoids.
It really annoys me that I can't actually present reliably true panhandler focused factoids, on account of there being none. So far, the only way genius social scientists have been able to figure out who panhandles and who doesn't is to go around to places where they think potential panhandlers are to be found, like shelters and meal programs, and beg them to tell the truth about whether they panhandle or not. This approach results in statistics that are a little like the ones you get when you ask the neighbor teenagers how often they've done each other.
To make matters worse: I am not a statistics wonk, so I forget even where I've seen statistics based on the truth-begging approach. So, for example, I am certain that at one time a few years ago I saw a report about such surveys being done in Seattle, Denver and Washington, D.C., independently, among other places. I am almost certain what the results were. And I am absolutely without any shred of doubt certain I don't remember where I saw that report, so I'm just wasting space telling you about it.
Still I can't resist telling you that, in spite of the inadequacies of the research methods, there is one pair of conclusions that genius social scientists always come up with when they study the question. Those conclusions are that (2) most panhandlers aren't homeless (so looking for them in shelters might be a mistake, see above), and (1) most homeless people aren't panhandlers.
The reason they come to the first conclusion is that the reported frequency of panhandling among admittedly homeless people is incredibly low even assuming, as social scientists do, that roughly a quarter of all human beings will lie to social scientists whenever they get the chance. The reason they come to the second conclusion is the same way I have, namely by getting to know various panhandlers and following them home at the end of the day.
The kind of results we're talking about varies considerably from city to city, but, except for Washington, D.C., in every place you go the percentage of homeless people who report even intermittent panhandling is down below 15%. In some areas the figure is much lower. I just saw a recent report out of Charlottesville, Virginia, about a hundred miles from D.C., where they could only get 4 homeless adults in a hundred admit to having panhandled at all in 6 months. Or maybe it was 3 in a hundred. They weren't too clear about their denominator. I don't blame them --denominators are hard.
The result I remember for Seattle was closer to 6%. I'd really appreciate someone tracking that down for me.
Meanwhile, a survey done by the Gallup people found that over 30% of all Americans thought the average homeless person was a panhandler. So a sizable minority of Americans figures that you can't solve homelessness without first dissuading homeless people from relying on panhandling, something hardly any of them do. It's like thinking that in order to solve the continuing problem of poverty in rural West Virginia, we have to get the West Virginians to not speak Etruscan when applying for jobs.
Here's one of those panhandling related incidents I was talking about. One day I was homeless and had 3 pennies. Two days later I still had the same 3 pennies. It occurred to me then that if I asked somebody for a quarter and they gave me one, I would experience an 833% increase in liquid assets, and after buying a roll at Safeway I would still have 3 pennies. Instead, I starved. Ha, ha, pride is funny.
Let that be a lesson to you all. If you are ever homeless, and you only have 3 pennies, and you don't ask anybody for a quarter, well, join the club.