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Chris Salomons - Red Deer Advocate

As the kitchen coordinator at Potter's Hands, I am witness to plenty of strange, weird, funny, tragic, and wonderful happenings. But the greatest part of this work is the people that I meet. In this blog, I will introduce you to the people and things I observe, experience, and deal with as well as some of our plans for the future.

The art of panhandling

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Red Deer Advocate

“I’ve been doing really good for six months”, this from a petite wrinkled lady about fifty-five plus as I walk into church; “The only thing is that my welfare doesn’t last long enough and right now I don’t even have enough to feed my kitty, have you got a bit of change to help me out?”

“I’ll put your shopping cart away for you”, a young man says as he approaches a lady in the supermarket parking lot. For most people, the thought of pushing a shopping cart another hundred yards in the snow is worth losing a dollar over.

“Can you drop me a ten or twenty; I promise to pay you back on Friday?” This is one of the most common requests I receive at the kitchen. They know full well that I am not there on Fridays, but they try anyways. I have done it on occasion and some make a point of repayment, but then they often use you as a loan company. It’s not very much, but if they can do that with several people, it becomes like an assured income for them.

The first thought that comes to mind is, “Why then don’t you just hang on to your money and then you will have it when you need it.” The problem is that they cannot hang onto any reserves whatsoever; the expression ‘money burns a hole in their pocket’ is very true, plus if others know that they have a few sheckles, the begging becomes almost intolerable. So by the loan and repayment method, they are assured of a steady flow of cash.

At Potters we are often blamed for the increase of people on the street and consequently the begging and drug induced violence simply because we provide meals and also low income housing. But one look at any city of size belies those statements. These comments are quite often made by people with the inability or the outright refusal to see anything but their own portion of the world.

Both Jim Sutherland and Harley Hays often reminisce about Red Deer in days gone by and I both appreciate and enjoy their articles. When I look back at Red Deer in days gone by, (they still delivered milk by horse and wagon then) I recall that we had several “bums” (as we called them), often panhandling, and from different books I have read, it existed even before that. So what do we do with this issue?

There are different schools of thought on this problem and try as we might, not one fits all situations. The way that I often feel about it is that with all the services provided, the only reason that they panhandle is to buy smokes or drugs or booze, not one of them had that much concern for a cat! But then, I also realize that not every single request is for that purpose so I have to weigh the situation and then either give something or just refuse.

Never tolerate an aggressive panhandler; they will back away if you stand up to them, but it never hurts to listen to their spiel.

All in all, when I really do stop to consider the many requests, (and because of my work, I have some knowledge about these people), I realize it is and always will be a matter for your heart to decide.

As I see it.

— Chris

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