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Dark Endeavors

The Annual Take Back the Benthics Edition

The Daily Camera neglects its own role in the problem.....but then, so do we all

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, October 09, 2002.

The Boulder Daily Camera runs its traditional and safely post-tourist season negative piece on panhandling in Boulder, concentrating this year on commerce conducted on street meridians. There is absolutely no mention of the role that paper has played in the problem. Let us not forget that the Camera, along with the Denver papers, periodically in the last decade has equipped many of the same sorts of people now under fire with packets of newspapers and allowed them to sell them from the same meridians. The distinctions regarding safety and social appropriateness are what again?

It is most interesting that much of this begging takes place on 28th St., which is a state highway and therefore has strong laws about this sort of thing.

I’ve bellowed about this before, so apologies for repetition, but Boulder needs a reality check. If any of the genial street folks inquiring about the extent your fiscal liquidity is actually starving, I’d be surprised. In fact, most of the ones I see are overweight, certainly heavier than the slim Boulderites (of which I am not one) pigging out on celery sticks and a sprig of parsley (lemon juice only) at the sidewalk cafes. The second largest group is strung out teenagers. Nothing good is accomplished giving them money.

I have lived and worked at The Boulder Hostel and seen many of these folks check in with significant currency, and listened to their stories – true and not – about how it was obtained. And while I’ve had years of the good life and good jobs, I've also been in jail. I lived in The Boulder Theater for six years while it was closed in the 80's, I have been down enough to sell plasma to feed my late dogs, and although snickers begin again, I actually know the real street culture better than most. I also know the mental health lobby better than some, because while I was in jail, much time and effort was spent trying to get me on lithium or sodium or Pablum, I forget which. I spent time with many of these folks now under the gun again. This is not academic knowledge I have.

They know how to play the therapists and psychologists; they know how to play the media. They are not in need of cash for food but for booze and drugs, and they don't want a job. Many of them are now mentally ill, even if they weren’t before the street life, and the others need a bat across the teeth with some regularity. They look forward to getting nudged by a car (if not too bad) because they get hospital care, food, and a substantial settlement (or so they visualize). They get to condemn the affluent folks about them.

They are almost all alcoholics, with all the stigmatas so attached.

I think an interesting approach for aggressive, intimidating panhandling (absent a right cross to the teeth) would be based upon exile, if municipalities are allowed to do that anymore. Punishment for certain crimes is banishment from the city. If you get caught within the boundaries, you have to do extensive work in the jump suits under the jail's supervision, not sit in a cell. They won’t like that at all.

But the best cure is to refuse to give in to extortion. Most of the people who contribute do so because they want to be seen as heroic philanthropists, or because they just don’t want to engage in conversation, or because they are scared of these folks. Those aren’t responsible or constructive reasons to give money.

And many of the young kids begging are doing it for the lark. While virtually none of the urban legends about five hundred dollar paydays begging in Boulder are true, they do it because it works. To get rid of the problem – and negotiating with drunks, fried cerebral cortexes, and the truly disturbed is always a problem and a dangerous one – remove the carrot. And if you’re not willing to do that, at least stop whining about it. At the very least, buy a newspaper from a box and not off a traffic meridian.