Decisions Decisions

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 9, 2004

If only we could convince all council members to ponder the expenditure of our tax dollars as carefully as they do the financial future of beggars and panhandlers. Perhaps we would save millions and be able to put those poor souls, in most cases, up in fancy apartments with butler and maid service. The newspaper photo showing the thoughtful look on the face of council member Linda Johnson made me think of the United Nations. Perhaps we should turn the thorny question over to that august body and they could spend the balance of the year mulling fairness.

Let’s look at the proposed ordinance whipped up in a hurry like a pudding when company suddenly knocks at the door…six months in jail and a thousand dollar fine. If any beggar I’ve ever known could come up with a grand they would be begging in the Bahamas. I will admit I have not known many imbedded in that occupation, but if the pattern of property assessments doesn’t change I will. Six months in jail might be good for some beggars but I suspect others might just be in dire straits and have to rush to a store and buy food for the kids. Council should spend some time examining the motives and reason for panhandling and chuck the silly ordinance.

If council is resolute about introducing and enforcing an ordinance then simply make soliciting on the street against the law. If it can be done for prostitution, which is not always obvious, they don’t all wear high heels and mesh stockings; it can be done for beggars. Let whoever must enforce it judge the offending activity; if police can be used for such dangerous work as chalking tires, they can be summoned by cell phone to the scene of the begging crime.

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I would think by now the offendees would be on a first name basis with panhandlers. How many can there be in the four blocks called downtown? Isn’t it the same people who are being pestered day after day by the same solicitors? Panhandlers are not stupid; they recognize deadbeats. Apparently they hang around banks…well which old time criminal was it who said, &uot;If you want to steal money, go where it is.&uot; Not too many tourists are visiting a Suffolk Bank to cash a check and, besides, tourists are pros at dealing with beggars. I have a practiced cold stare I use whether they are selling trinkets or just standing there with a hand out. I don’t count musicians who play the violin with the case open at their feet; I know they don’t expect to have it filled. If I like the music I toss a quarter and enjoy their nod of thanks.

I can’t resist a child or an obviously crippled person but I have been fooled even in those countries where there are no provisions for care. But here in America it’s a different story and one can assume that includes Suffolk.

Surely chronic offenders have been investigated by local Social Services and a better solution offered. If those folks are back on the street it’s just that they like to meet people. C’mon council, fifty feet or a hundred, what’s the difference? If begging is a nuisance fix it but let your work be in one of your closed door sessions, we are looking a bit foolish while examining the situation as though it doesn’t occur in any other city. Most council members are very good at examining the policies of neighboring cities, especially when compensating our city manager, so see what they are doing, if anything, and get on with it.

Like I said, I’m weighing the matter carefully in the event I have to take to the sidewalks to come up with my twice-annual property tax. I’m too old to work and don’t want to risk screwing up my Social Security.

I’ve already formed my strategy for soliciting easy money from strangers. I hear there are throngs of kind Americans visiting the restored railroad station…maybe I’d start there.

Robert Pocklington is a regular News-Herald columnist. Reach him at