In Search of the "Progressive Way" to Deal with Panhandlers and Informal Entrepreneurs: Surpluses

Two demographics that dot the public spaces of LA.

Though, those dots are invisible to most.  Panhandlers and informal entrepreneurs, on a freeway off or on-ramp near you, whether it's the Pacific Coast Highway exit off the 110-North or the 405 North Nordhoff exit.

The panhandlers beg for money.

I see them mostly in and around freeways, sometimes outside storefronts, the gas station, the restaurant, usually in the comfort of my own car.

The informal entrepreneurs are a significantly larger class of folks, which involve someone trying to sell you something, whether it's roses (specially during Holiday events), candy, water, fruit, pirated DVDs, headphones, cigarettes.  They are found any and everywhere, especially on the Metro.

Some in need of materials that you could provide.  Some genuinely needing to temporarily soothe something.

Some, more in your face.  Some with really funny posters.  Some looking perplexing.  Some just really sad-looking.
Being de-sensitized to each of these categories of people is just a part of living as a better off, probably advantaged Los Angeleno whether you're from Compton or Malibu.

***Catholic guilt seeps in***

If you've been in and around stores and have tried to ignore someone who was asking for change, you're simply doing what probably everyone whose ever lived in any big city has probably done.

Though were probably not far away from a viral video showing someone engaging all panhandlers and informal entrepreneurs they meet.

* * *

I'd like to think that I'm something of a "progressive" person.

I'm pretty sure that somewhere in that adjective "progressive," there's a binding agreement that you not only share generously with others, but also attempt to not to pity or look down upon someone.  As I understand it, the progressive line of thinking champions "solidarity" instead of "charity," meaning that you don't just come and "give" something away as a pittiance to someone but you show that you're with them, but I often find that in real life it's somewhat difficult for me to understand what would be "extending solidarity" and what would be "extending charity."

One time I did see a "progressive" person turn down a panhandler.  We were in fact coming from a meeting about social justice in Downtown LA.  A panhandler approached us, and my progressive friend replied, "Sorry, sir, I don't have anything."

From that moment forward, I wanted to say things just like my friend.  "Sorry, sir, I don't have anything."  He looked firmly into the panhandler's eyes, acknowledging the panhandler's existence, used the respectful term "sir", but I knew my friend had money to spare.  It made me wonder if he was consistent, which I've never gotten to see again.

My giving patterns have been quite random, though I'm not in a hurry to find out what I'm biased towards or away from.

My policy (though inconsistently applied) for about 5 years has been to offer granola bars or whatever I already have.  My most memorable application of this personal policy was after a party where I'd stuffed myself with pizza.  There were many leftovers and I ended up taking a box home.  On the way home, with an extra pizza left, a woman was on the street asking for change.  I was thinking about how I didn't want to give money, but the idea occurred to me to offer her something that she could immediately use.  I gave her the pizza.  She opened it and said in a amazement, "it's the whole pizza!"  I said, "yes, I know" as if I was giving away my meal.

Sometimes I'll buy a meal, or groceries, to which people will be thankful.  Other times it's like, OK.  One time after a Bambu concert in Echo Park while my friends and I got "dirty" dogs, there was a light trickle of people while a homeless person and his dog sat and looked on.  I just went ahead and bought an extra dog and soda and gave it away.  I know you're not supposed to expect something when you give it away, but a thanks would've been nice, though he wasn't necessarily asking for the dirty dog.

* * *

I don't like giving money away.

I think of this daily random stinginess, and then juxtapose it with the way I basically give away a lot of money.  I think of sports games and buying concessions.  I think of Disneyland buying food and souvenirs.  In those privatized spaces, I buy concessions out of convenience;  one of my needs/desires needs to be satisfied.  My wife always makes the point that "here we are about to spend money on enjoying ourselves and then some people still can't find a place to sleep,"

Then I think of all the waste that I have and that there are people who waste even more than me.  I think, "well, couldn't we put those extras to use?"

I guess the answer relies on determining our extras and excesses and finding a way to recycle and re-use them part and parcel of our infrastructure.

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