The Needy v. the Aggressor

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 11, 2004

Editor, the News-Herald:

At this point, the City of Suffolk is not overrun with panhandlers.

Some are truly in need when others are not.

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Unfortunately, there will always be those just looking for the easy way out.

One should make every effort to separate the two.

When you see the old man walking down the street wearing an old tattered coat even on the hottest days and wearing a worn out pair of shoes, do you condemn him or have a burning desire in your heart to help him?

Many want to help but are too afraid or just don’t know how.

Others want to charge the needy with panhandling.

For those, it’s imperative to know that &uot;sir, can you spare some change?&uot; involves speech. Panhandlers are communicating their plight when they ask for money. Consequently, restrictions on panhandling activity require analysis under the First Amendment; therefore bans on panhandling must not involve overkill or they will be found unconstitutional.

Our local government has the authority to deal with aggressive panhandling.

Panhandlers who harass or intimidate the citizens of Suffolk are not engaged in activity protected by the First Amendment.

Their words are protected, but not their conduct. Depending on the circumstances, panhandlers may be charged with assault, disorderly conduct, trespassing or under special statutes created by the City of Suffolk.

Under most circumstances, those truly in need are not aggressive.

That’s one way to distinguish the two, the needy v. aggressor.

Bottom line, help make Suffolk’s least fortunate more fortunate. After all, God’s greatest gift is love.

For those of you financially able, the challenge is to help the needy and to not condemn or look down on.

How can you make a difference?

Many are reluctant to give money to panhandlers in need because there is no guarantee of what the money will be used for. Instead, you could buy that old man some new clothes or even some food. If you were offended by his or her clothes now you don’t have to be.

Some complain about the foul odor of the homeless. Do you realize that our City has no place to accommodate homeless men in need of a good old hot shower?

I have faith in our City Government that a shelter for homeless men is forthcoming soon.

In the meantime, here is an option:

Give the needy a ride to the Miller Mart located at 2872 Pruden Blvd or to the Sentry Food Mart at 2865 Pruden Blvd.

Both offer showers for the public and truckers.

The cost is $4.00 or $5.00 depending on the location.

A referral may help in some cases, especially for the mentally ill.

You can help the needy make an appointment with the Western Tidewater Community Services Board located at 157 N. Main St., Suite D.

The number is 925-2484.

Adult Protective Services, located at 440 Market St., is another option. Their number is 923-3000.

If just a hot cup of soup or a pair of clothes will do, the Salvation Army, located at 400 Bank Street, may be the place.

Their number is 539-5201.

You may remember the homeless man who recently wondered our downtown streets daily.

How could anyone miss him?

Yes, he is the one who wore the long tattered coat even on the hottest days.

For nearly four months, he walked the streets in a pair of dilapidated shoes and spent the night under the dark sky.

He only needed direction and yes a pair of new shoes.

Just recently, we rode to Payless Shoes on N. Main Street and he walked out in a pair of new boots.

Subsequently, we ended up at the Union Mission Ministries in Norfolk.

Thanks to the Union Mission, many of our homeless men have found the way, direction and peace.

When all else fails, you can give the needy a ride to Union Mission located at 130 Brooke Avenue in Norfolk.

But why should Union Mission be our problem solver?

Well, they have been for numerous years. Jim Tatum and Linda Jones, volunteers of the Union

Mission, have never turned away the needy of Suffolk. The Union Mission has helped the homeless since 1892.

Until Suffolk can accommodate the homeless, maybe you can make a financial donation to Union Mission.

After all, the Mission is a large contributing factor of preventing our city from being overrun with panhandlers.

Their number is 627-8686. The Union Mission also accepts canned goods, non-perishable foods and new toys for kids.

Our Suffolk Homeless Shelter turns the homeless men away but you don’t have to.

John M. Jones