Neighborhood

on panhandling

Today, as I was searching online to pay my water bill, I found this website on panhandling, which reminded me of some of my favorite experiences the last few years with Atlanta panhandlers.  Below are three instances from when I was in school and spent a good bit of time downtown, going to courtrooms to learn from litigators or going to the library to do research.

1) I was walking away from the downtown law library at about 10pm on a Wednesday when I saw a man who appeared to be homeless; he was approaching me on the sidewalk.  As the distance between us closed to about 10 feet, he opened his mouth, but before he could speak, I blurted out a quick, “Hey buddy, can you spare a couple bucks?”

His face turned from pathetic to angry.  “Yo, fuck you, man!”

He pulled his arm back to punch me in the face; I moved back a bit; his fist landed on my shoulder.  I dropped my backpack and rared back to return the favor just as a siren sounded from a block up the road, and two cops jumped out to apprehend Angry Homeless Dude.  I was vindicated.

2) On a Saturday afternoon, I was walking from the law library to Underground Atlanta to try and find some lunch.  A panhandler walked up to me and started talking about what a nice day it was.  I agreed with him.  Then he told me about his broken down car and how he needed about $5 worth of gas to get some repairs.  I told him I didn’t have any cash.  He reached into his coat and asked, “What if I pull this knife out?  Then would you have some cash?”

Me:  “Nope.  I still got nothing.”

He looked around us; no one was visible.  I thought I’d surely take a blade to the gut, but he appeared to believe me and walked away.

3) One Sunday evening after spending all day in the library working on a paper, I left to get some McDonald’s by Grady Hospital.  As I stood in line, exhausted and starving, I decided I’d spend part of the $5 I had in my pocket to get a couple cheeseburgers and a water.

A skinny man with white paint all over him walked up to me in line and told me he hadn’t eaten in two days and asked if I could get him some food.  I felt a little sorry for him and said, “Sure.  I’ll get you a hamburger and water.”

Then I noticed he smelled like an ashtray.

Me:  “So, you don’t have enough money to buy food, but you can buy cigarettes?”
Painter:  “Um, well, I bummed a few from my buddies, if that’s what you mean…”
Me:  (smirk)

We stood in line some more, and then another skinny paint-covered fellow walked up and asked what my linemate was doing.

Painter:  “Well, my friend here is going to buy me some dinner.  Hey man, I’ll take a Number 3 with a large Coke, okay?”
Me:  “NO, IT’S NOT OKAY!  I’VE BEEN AT THE LAW LIBRARY FOR FUCKING 8 HOURS AND AM FINALLY GOING TO USE TWO DOLLARS TO GET A MEAL.  I AM NOT SPENDING TWICE THAT ON YOUR SORRY ASS.  YOU GOT THAT?
Painter:  (steps away slowly)

The restaurant was full of patrons, and all of them stopped chatting or ordering to look at the asshole who was yelling at the pitiful painter.  At that point, I gave nary a damn.  I walked up to the register and ordered my cheeseburgers and water–to go–and got the hell out.  Painter went hungry.

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  1. I find most homeless are just that because they are wildly unbalanced…and violent…and whatever else afflicts them.

    Sad, sure. my fault, most assuredly not. Do I care? A bit. Enough to donate money to the the social worker at my church who has professional training to determine those that will respond positively to assistance from those that will abuse those who give assistance.

    I think my attitudes were formed largely in the 1980’s during the Reagan administration when he decided that it was a waste of taxpayer dollars to care for the unbalanced in institutions and half way houses where people could help them make sure they take the medications that made it possible to deinstitutionalize them. I would see the sad souls bereft of their medication wandering the streets so out of their wits that they were just simply an unstable mess.

    Heart breaking indeed.

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  2. lucky lawyer lambastes lazy loafers.

    or

    Homeless hombres harass harried hungry half-lawyer

    or

    pathetic painted panhandlers push pre-law past point of politeness. pout.

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  3. Well before Reagan, came Kennedy and Ike. If you are looking for an administration who started poking holes in housing mental health patients. Today, it is estimated that 70% of the homeless would have qualified to live in a sanatorium. Why do you think our prisons are busting at the seams? I work with these folks everyday, most are harmless, but are a drain the federal/state budgets. Very difficult for them to conform to everyday life and its challenges. Sad really, and I often wonder how/where they find the funding for alcohol and cigarettes.

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  4. You sir, have large spiky balls.

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  5. Augusto, I agree about its being sad. A few of us actually served breakfast to a bunch of these folks at a mission on Father’s Day weekend a few months ago. They were kind and appreciative; no one tried to knife me.

    AG, that’s funny…especially about the pouting!

    Harlin, I think many of these folks get more $ than we expect. They go where the tourists and students are and look sympathetic.

    Rickey, thanks! It’s so hard to purchase underpants.

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  6. I always read stuff like this.

    http://blogcritics.org/archives/2005/08/24/020301.php

    When I worked in Albany, I used to watch the panhandlers take the bus in in the morning and leave at night.

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  7. I hate aggressive vagrants, luckily everywhere I’ve lived they’ve been pretty cool. In NY they’re pretty passive, in Connecticut they brandish tennis rackets, and in LA you’re in a car so fuck-um.

    Can’t believe that guy pulled a knife, it would have been funny if it was one of those trick knifes that collapses when you stab with it.

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  8. growing up in austin, i saw this a lot. whenever i was asked for money, i’d offer to buy them a burger. if they refused food, i figured they were full of shit, which most of them did.

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  9. Johnny V- Thanks for the interesting link! Guess I gotta move to Denver and find a nice corner. At least the scenery and temperature are good right now.

    AKing, Glad you’ve been lucky so far. The knife thing–not all that funny at the time.

    Leigh, You’re very kind. My McDonald’s experience is my one and only attempt at buying food for someone like that.

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  10. There was a pretty cool homeless guy that used to hang out down by Macy’s (when it was still open) on Peachtree. (Wheelchair, no legs–if you see him say hi for me.) When I would stay at the Residence Inn I’d make him a breakfast sandwich and hook him up on the way to my meeting.

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