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Diatribe: “Street Newspapers”

05/07/2012

I support fundraising efforts of many organizations but I have little tolerance for beggars.  Fundraisers that are organized, advertised and have a purpose are always more successful than panhandlers or folks with signs on the side of the road.  I hate to be approached by a stranger when it’s obvious to me that they’re going to ask me for cash.  I get particularly perturbed when they approach me in my car at a red light where there is clearly no way for me to escape.

I remember, as a child, that the local American Legion (VFW) held Poppy Days where volunteers would give away tiny artificial flowers, in exchange for donations, to wear in honor of American veterans.  They would approach cars at stop signs and red lights and try to give the driver a poppy in exchange for a donation.  My parents and grandparents would get a poppy early in the morning and attach it to the driver’s visor in the car so that, when approached again, they could point at the poppy to indicate that they had already donated.

I find it intimidating when a crew of men carrying five-gallon buckets strolls through traffic holding out their buckets to collect cash.  Sometimes, they don’t even have a sign or any indication of why they’re collecting funds.

I have mixed feelings about the concept of “Street Newspapers”, newspapers that focuses on the issues surrounding homelessness and poverty and are sold by homeless and formerly homeless individuals on the street.  In many U.S. cities, a 501c(3) organization will publish weekly, bi-weekly or monthly newspapers solely for the purpose of allowing homeless people to stand on street corners to distribute them in exchange for donations.  From my point of view, this equates to legalized begging.

In my city, it sometimes feels like there’s someone on every corner with a stack of Street Newspapers.  And, like my family all those years ago, it’s not uncommon to make a donation and leave the newspaper on the dashboard in hopes that you won’t be approached again.

What are your thoughts on Street Newspapers?

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16 Comments
  1. Rick W permalink

    Mixed feelings. I hate being approached on the street or sitting @ a red light, but maybe it can give these persons a sense of pride. They are involved in an exchange of goods for money rather than just begging with nothing to offer in return??

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  2. mary i permalink

    I live in a small town so we don’t have them here. I do not like being approached by donation seekers for anything period…

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  3. I think this is an East coast or Southern state phenomenon, because when i lived in California, you never had these “donation” seekers in the streets at lights and such.

    When I moved to Miami it was the first time I’d seen such a thing and I always wondered how no one gets hit by a car.

    Personally, I don’t give money to street peddlers or “donation” seekers because I want to know that the money goes where it’s intended, and not in some boot or bucket and maybe into someone’s pocket.

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  4. Carrie permalink

    Interesting post, but are you familiar with how the sales of “The Contributor” works? The vendors must buy the stack of newspapers they wish to sell for $.25 a piece. Then they sell the newspapers for $1, and they can keep the profit and any tips they make. I just read in said newspaper yesterday a story about a vendor, who tributes this job as something that is helping to give structure to her life again. So, while the selling of these papers may make us feel uncomfortable at times for whatever reason, I believe this system is more valid than handing $1 to a stranger who simply asks for it (we don’t know where that money is going – for the latter, but these folks have already had to do something for it – for the former).

    There are some vendors who make you feel more willing to give a dollar, and some who give you the willies. We can choose who we want to buy a paper from, and we have the right to ignore who we don’t want to buy a paper from. Maybe that’s just another life lesson – how to deal with discomfort while here on this earth.

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  5. I never heard of Street Newspapers before. See that’s why I read your blog! I know that in San Francisco the bums are pretty resourceful. They at least try to enterain you even if it’s just sitting on the sidewalk and holding the branch of a bush in front of them and then popping out when you walk by. I don’t live in the city however and only go there when I’m in tourist mode. So that probably makes a difference about my feelings for them.

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    • I have no qualms with “street performers”. If a guy wants to sit on the curb all day playing his guitar, or drumming on a bucket, for tips I say “good for him”. It really seems to me that there are a LOT of people doing this.

      (Flattery will get you everywhere!)

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  6. We have street newspapers here to, I don’t mind them so much. What I mind more are the hoards of charity “solicitors” who line the street corners just waiting for you to appear to talk about their cause and sign you up for something. Sometimes it feels like I’m running a gauntlet. It’s not that I don’t agree or like these charities, but I’d rather look into them in my own time.

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  7. It really seems to me that there are a LOT of these “vendors” out and about. If I gave a dollar to every one that I see on my way to and from the office each day it could add up to $10 to the cost of my daily commute.

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  8. I dislike begging of any sort & I haven’t seen the street newspapers you talk about here in Alberta. A guy came up to me with a sob story a few weeks ago about how he needed to get a bus to another part of the city because he’d forgotten his wallet or had it stolen or something. When I gave him a bus ticket he refused – he wanted the money. I told him I was willing to to help out with the bus ticket, take or leave it. He left it & went chasing after some other person.

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  9. Travis permalink

    I work in San Francisco and we have every type of hand out possible going on. Like you, I’d rather buy them a cup of coffee or a meal than give money. What bothers me is when I provide that meal or coffee and it’s rejected because what they really want is money for which ever addiction.
    I was raised to give where I can and to be of service when ever possible. There are days when I feel bad that I’ve gotten as jaded as I am. Very little shocks me any more. I’ll keep trying to make a difference, but it won’t be with cash if your hand is out.

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  10. Will permalink

    Another purpose of street newspapers is creating a platform for marginalized people to share their stories, such as the poetry section of “The Contributor.” When you have free time and see a vendor in Nashville, take a minute to stop and have a conversation. You’d be surprised how much of a difference the paper makes for people.

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