YOUR VIEW: Vast Majority of the Homeless Are Not Panhandlers

By  //  July 27, 2019

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our homeless service delivery system is broken

Every day someone asks me if they should give money to panhandlers. I always say the same thing. First I explain that the majority of the homeless do not panhandle as research says 6 to 8% of the homeless do so.

Every day someone asks me if they should give money to panhandlers. I always say the same thing. First I explain that the majority of the homeless do not panhandle as research says 6 to 8% of the homeless do so.

Then I tell them that even in the worst cases of drug or alcohol abuse, over 50% of the money someone collects goes to food, clothing, and other basic human needs.

Today it dawned on me that the people asking for money on our corners are not the major panhandling problem. The amount of money that they siphon from our community pales in comparison to the money wasted by the Continuum of Care who is responsible for fixing the problem.

Allow me to explain. You see, our homeless service delivery system is broken. Agencies trying to address the problem must compete for federal and state grant dollars and public donations. This makes it impossible for them to truly collaborate.

These service providers must put their organization and its needs ahead of the goal of helping clients or the goals of their community. Otherwise, they cannot remain in business. No business survives without being paid for the commodity they provide.

This is why public education on the issue is vital. Currently, City Council members, County Council members, other leaders, and the public must decide what is best for their community based on the elevator pitches given by different non-profits looking for funding.

They literally have to decide which agencies ideas are really valid solutions. They must become experts themselves to fetter through meaningless data sets and anecdotal stories to make a decision. I assure you that every “vacuum salesman” says their vacuum works the best.

Couple these circumstances with the fact that a government-funded non-profit can only serve the people who fit within their grant requirements. Since most subpopulations of the houseless are not funded by grants, private agencies and communities must pick up the slack to have any chance of success.

This is the recipe for the horrible situation we currently face in communities throughout America today. Citizens and businesses give and give to “reducing homelessness” but the problem just keeps escalating. Cities and Counties give agencies local tax dollars based on politics and influence, not how effective they are.

What ends up happening is people have wonderful hearts and begin getting involved. They donate their money and time but rarely see progress. They see contradictory arguments posed by the different agencies trying to stay afloat and conclude that the problem is too complex to solve.

They witness the disagreements between advocates in their community and the homeless service industrial complex. They throw up their hands. They do not have the time to become experts and do not want to get involved in deciding who is right.

So, the million-dollar question is how do we overcome this broken system? Some people will tell you to check Guidestar and only give to non-profits with a high rating. Sadly, this is another for-profit company that charges non-profits to get ratings and provides a forum for them to display the same invalid data I talked about above.

Back to the question of actually making progress….how do we do that? The answer is education.

We must inform the public and their representatives that most homeless people do not have anyone helping them. The sub-populations that are funded by government grant money receive services, the remaining people are out of luck.

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that agencies funded mainly by private donations are different. Since they aren’t funded by grant dollars, they are not limited in who they serve.

They can make any rule or decision they desire on helping certain populations. As a whole, they are exponentially more empathetic to community needs and much more constructive.

I know that pointing out these truths will not be popular and I will be attacked and vilified. Before you decide on what you believe, make sure you put the problem ahead of the politics involved.

If you do, I am confident you will come to the same conclusion I did. The people on our corners are not the real panhandlers.

Remember, it took me five years of extensive research before I understood the issue well enough to come to this hypothesis. Please take the time to find out for yourself and then educate others, people’s lives and future success depend on it.

– Thomas F. Rebman, 7th Grade Civics, Odyssey Charter School
ME Reading, Stetson University, LT. USN Retired

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