Is Houston finally going to begin cracking down on its rampant panhandling problem? I'll believe it when I see it, but news like this gives me hope: a TV and radio campaign featuring the mayor urging people to help the homeless by giving to local charities instead of giving panhandlers spare change.
Of course, things won't drastically change until the police finally begin enforcing Houston's civility ordinances, but anything that attempts to combat the free reign panhandlers have in Houston is a step in the right direction.
I am really tired of being confronted by panhandlers on a constant basis: at gas stations, in grocery store parking lots, on METRORail platforms, at intersections, in front of bars and restaurants, even in the downtown tunnel system! Some of these people are clearly homeless. Some likely are not. Some of them are polite. Others are belligerent. It doesn't matter. When they come up to me and ask me for money, I find it incredibly rude, annoying and sometimes even threatening.
It is certainly appropriate to have compassion for the less fortunate. This is especially true for homeless people, since so many of them suffer from debilitating mental problems or drug and alcohol addictions. But one’s compassion for the less fortunate should not get in the way of the fact that panhandling is a public nuisance. It is disruptive and it makes people uncomfortable. It also can be dangerous, especially for the roadside panhandlers who dart into busy intersections to collect money from passing cars. And, most importantly, it doesn't really help anybody. Giving money to panhandlers only encourages the practice and, in turn, makes the problem worse.
So please: stop giving panhandlers your spare quarters or dollar bills. Give your money to a local charity instead: the Star of Hope, the Houston Food Bank, etc. By supporting organizations that are set up to help the city's less fortunate, you'll be doing more good than you'll ever accomplish by handing your money over to strangers on the street.