Panhandler, can you spare a smile? Beggars, clients get some advice

July 08, 1993|By Laura Lippman | Laura Lippman,Staff Writer

Hey, panhandlers -- tired of people who refuse to make eye contact and don't give you any money? The "Polite Panhandler Kit" may be able to help.

City Advocates in Solidarity with the Homeless [CASH] plans to distribute the kits tonight outside Oriole Park at Camden Yards, as the All-Star weekend gets under way and the Orioles take on the Chicago White Sox.

The kit is for panhandlers, but the group also will distribute "Tips for the Panhandled," who may have more in common with their solicitors than they realize, said Lauren Siegel of CASH. The kit includes:

* A guide to a panhandler's legal rights, spelling out what is permissible (asking for food or money, as long as one is not blocking traffic or in a restricted area) and what is against the law (approaching vehicles in the street, for example).

* Tips for Polite Panhandlers, which include such Dale Carnegie-esque favorites as "Smile -- you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar." Panhandlers also are reminded to say "please" and "thank you."

* The tips for the panhandled, including: "You have the right to say no and the panhandler has a right to ask."

* Yellow-green buttons, reading "Polite Panhandling Pays."

Much of the advice is mutual. Panhandlers and their prospective customers are admonished to never use profanity and "make eye contact, acknowledging [the other person's] humanity."

"We're trying to make sure panhandlers are looked at as human beings, as the moral stoplights of society," Ms. Siegel said.

"We thought it would be a positive way to approach some of the very negative information and reaction people have had toward panhandlers."

While there is no way to measure panhandling activity in Baltimore, anecdotal information suggests that it has jumped sharply in the past year. Arrests are up, as city police discourage begging by enforcing soliciting laws, according to lawyers who provide free services to the homeless.

Citizens seem less tolerant, the panhandlers say, cursing and threatening them on occasion. And the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore Inc., a consortium of local merchants, encourages people to stop giving, hoping that panhandlers will abandon downtown if their profits dry up.

Meanwhile, panhandlers are spreading out to new venues. The stadium has proved to be a powerful draw, giving people a chance to work the crowds before and after games.

But the panhandlers are simply the most visible reminders of the tough economic times Maryland was weathered, said Peter Sabonis of CASH.

"Taxpayers are adverse to even polite pleas by politicians to raise taxes to assist the poor," Mr. Sabonis said. "Direct pleas from the poor themselves are greeted with even more hostility. This is something that panhandlers, as wise entrepreneurs, must learn to adjust to."

CASH, whose membership includes people who devote their working hours to the homeless in various nonprofit agencies, has developed a reputation for its high-profile events.

Their other public demonstrations include a "sleep-in" at City Hall and a "panhandle-in" in downtown Baltimore, in which members raised money and attempted to donate it to local developers who cannot repay city loans.

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