Handouts Are a Bandage on Society’s Woes

What Is the Best Way To Respond to Panhandlers?

Blaise Larmee

By Laura Miller

Published November 19, 2012, issue of November 16, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share

I don’t give money to panhandlers, ever.

I suppose I developed this point of view from following the money: In the mid-1990s, I offered a ride home to a woman and her two children who I saw panhandling on a busy median in the pouring rain. At the rundown motel where they lived, I met the woman’s boyfriend, who explained to me — all while drinking a beer and cursing at the woman’s son — that keeping both kids out of school and on the corners produced maximum income. A few years later, a young woman told me a convincing story while I pumped gas about how her boyfriend had abandoned her; all she wanted, she said, was bus fare to get back to her mom in West Texas. I asked for her mom’s contact information, then handed her money. I called the mother. Her phone number turned out to be real, but her daughter’s tale was not: She was a longtime drug addict who was not interested in home or help.

In both cases, panhandling was merely a bandage for much deeper problems.

Many of us in Dallas work to address those problems. In 2004, when I was mayor of the city, the city council decided to do something dramatic to curb chronic homelessness. We began by inviting our homeless citizens to talk to us. More than two hundred people came to city hall one afternoon and described a fantasy solution: a clean, safe place open 24 hours a day, every day, where they could eat; shower; sleep; do laundry; lock up valuables; go on the internet; and obtain drug and alcohol abuse counseling, mental health services, job counseling and housing assistance.

We responded by putting the

money to build such a place — $23.8 million — on the ballot the following year as a one-item bond program. After a two-year struggle over where to build it, The Bridge opened in 2008. It sees approximately 1,200 adults each day; more than 1,000 have been placed in employment since the doors opened and the same number have moved to permanent housing. Mike Rawlings, the man I appointed as Homeless Czar, is now our mayor and remains dedicated to the issue. And I do my part to help The Bridge on an ongoing basis by serving on the board of The Baron and Blue Foundation, which has given $4.6 million in grants to dozens of local homeless agencies, including The Bridge.

But my views about panhandling remain unwavering (despite criticism from my teenage son when we are stopped at traffic lights). When I was mayor, we instituted a raft of panhandling, shopping cart, loitering, sleeping and feeding restrictions citywide that did not endear us to homeless advocates. In fact, those ordinances caused Dallas to rise from the 15th position on the annual National Coalition for the Homeless “Meanest Cities List” in 2004 to sixth during my tenure, and we remained there until the organization suspended the list in 2010.

No city has solved the problem of homelessness, but the solution is not handing someone $5 through your car window. Mail the money to The Salvation Army instead. They will put it to good use.

Laura Miller was mayor of Dallas from 2002 to 2007. She is Director of Projects, Texas, for Seattle-based Summit Power Group, which is developing a coal gasification power plant that will capture 90% of its carbon dioxide in West Texas.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.