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Essays on Issues, Ideas and Reflections on the Times. Published now and
then. Opinions pro or con are welcome.

Begging on Street Corners

North Miami Beach, FL 03-25-2005
A.H. Schectman

We have always had them.  There is even a race of them (Gypsies, a convenient name although not absolutely defining) whose specialty (while not cheating the buyers of driveway coatings or refurbishing roofs), is to beg for a living.  We encountered them as pickpockets near the Rome Railroad station. In Europe it is an entrenched tradition for beggars to flock to obvious tourists.

Here in Florida they are organized to the point where orange colored T Shirts are worn and a newspaper touting “homeless” issues is shown while making a bid for a contribution shaking a gallon milk bottle with the top cut off to start the process of joining others who have dropped change into them. These people who report to “work” at their personal station on a corner of busy highways are our modern beggars.  Begging for alms was once the hallmark of societies that had no agencies in place to care for the dysfunctional and disabled whose only recourse was to ask for kindness from strangers. A whole “caring” industry involved nunneries and monasteries.

The rich are getting richer while the poor are forgotten, ignored but whose numbers are steadily growing.  Years ago while service food in a food kitchen better dressed middle-class folk were increasingly showing up for their daily meal at “Lunch Break” in Red Bank, NJ. They needed the “free” bread available there.

Back when I was younger and able to walk relatively pain free, I was part of a “private” program of church people, liberals and secular humanists - a group called “Housing the Homeless”. There was an inventor and businessman who was the spark plug of this group that found abandoned houses and properties that could be transformed into homes and food dispensing establishments for the population that had been turned out of government sponsored programs into the streets where they were left to die for they had no family who could help nor the spirit or knowledge to help themselves.

This is an entirely different picture from that of folks beyond shame asking for gifts of money on street corners across the country.  We saw it in the west and on our travels by trailer.  Begging on street corners should not be fixtures and a permanent part of our scenery.  There must be a better way – perhaps through government programs instead of tax breaks for the rich.

We are getting too old to serve on the Temple committee that helped sort out food donations here in South Florida.  Gifts of outdated cans and boxes of food had to be thrown out.  But the thought was there. And where are the young hands to do that work?



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