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Will work for food: Then lets help them do it
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It was panhandling central.

Five different people on Saturday were working the ramps and intersections along Airport Way between Daniels Street and the southern side of the Highway 120 Bypass.

One particular panhandler was a bit more effective than his counterparts at grabbing the attention of motorists. He was standing there with a red plastic gas can with a sign that read “need help with fuel and food.”

Of the five we saw he was the only one to have anyone hand money through a car window.

I didn’t think much of it until we came across the same guy on Sunday on Union Road at the freeway on-ramp using the same sign with the same gas can. This time two different motorists gave him money.

Obviously it was a prop aimed at eliciting empathy instead of merely sympathy. After all, who isn’t struggling with food and fuel costs so naturally you’re going to feel for someone who obviously is in worse economic straits.

I get the fact that times are rough. But conning people - or intimidating them - isn’t the way to go.

The guy obviously didn’t need fuel. And if just three people an hour gave him $5 a piece he could pocket $120 a day which, given the fact he isn’t paying taxes, is more like anyone else making $160 a day or $20 an hour. Not bad pay for just standing around.

I have been known to give money to panhandlers. I won’t however, give it to those who look like they are working a con - the same corner every day with the same downcast body language. Nor do I give them anything if they walk toward me uninvited with a slightly menacing look.

There was one guy who used to do that at a Chevron station I stop at on a regular basis. He stopped doing it when I started getting out of my car with a look that would kill. The guy was living on the streets as I had recognized him from leaving work at 2 o’clock in the morning on more than once occasion. When he stopped trying to move toward me the next time our paths crossed, he got a couple of dollars.

All of this is actually pretty counter-productive. It may get the panhandler some money but it doesn’t guarantee that they aren’t working a scam as two different guys have been known to do in town to use the money they collect to buy electronics as they have state or federal aid checks.

Not too long ago transients were hobos. Roseville was a railroad town with one of the West’s biggest marshaling yards in the early 1960s. Hobos were always coming and going on trains.

They’d go around town looking for work to pick up a couple of dollars. My dad, who owned a hardware store, would hire them occasionally for $2 to sweep the sidewalk in front of the store or $5 to clean the back parking lot. One gentleman - and he was that - would come through Roseville three to four times a year. Each time dad would pay him $100 to clean and wax the family car, the store pickup and the car of an elderly lady down the street.

Back in 1963 spending $33 per vehicle for a wax job was a bit steep but to this day it is the best wax job I’ve ever seen. Dad figured it served two purposes: It got the vehicles looking great and it was a way of helping others. He had experienced the Depression and knew how tough things could get.

But you will notice he didn’t give them money. He had them work for it.

Try to give a panhandler today food or ask them if they want to make some money weeding and see what kind of reaction you get.

Of course, there is the concern today that you don’t know who is panhandling.

That’s why if some church organization working in concert with the city secured panhandlers to augment city crews to clean up parks and such I’d give $20 a month to such a cause to pay the laborers. I’m sure other people would too. It helps instill self-respect.

I know there are a ton of reasons why this wouldn’t work such as worker’s comp laws and such but why not give it a try?

If people need help and can stand for hours on end at a street corner they certainly can spend a couple of hours doing menial labor to earn the money.

And it will make an honest person out of them given the fact panhandlers’ favorite line is “will work for food.”