Cedar Rapids panhandling effort should be applauded

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I am troubled by The Gazette’s editorial criticizing the Cedar Rapids Council’s new safety ordinance to curtail panhandling. We all know that the safety ordinance is an elegant way to stay within the law to deal with a problem that cannot be dealt with head on.

I am not a heartless person, and I do believe in helping those who are truly in need. However, I do not believe that giving charity to beggars on the street is ultimately in their best interest even if they truly are in desperate need (and I have a hefty amount of skepticism concerning the depth of these panhandlers’ need). The Gazette in the past has published investigative reports where these beggars have been followed. The report detailed how a van drove around Cedar Rapids picking up these “homeless” people who were ultimately brought to a group home in the Quad Cities area. It turned out that begging on street corners was their “job,” and a very lucrative one.

Now I’m willing to believe that some of the people on the street are truly in need of help and for those people our community has many services and programs to help them. However, we all know that you cannot help someone who does not want to be helped. In addition, we’ve all heard the stories of people offering various jobs to street beggars, none of which are ever accepted. It’s time we face the fact that people who are willing to stand on a street corner for hours at a time, in very extreme weather are doing so because it is economically rewarding for them. The economic reward is obviously much greater than what they would receive working a regular job. The money they receive is tax-free income, and I am cynical enough to believe that it is certainly not the only financial assistance they are receiving.

I applaud the people in this community and their willingness to always step up and help their neighbors. However, in this situation I don’t believe we are helping these people. They need opportunities to learn how to provide for their own well-being. Give a man a fish or teach a man to fish.

I know it is not politically correct, but I am not ashamed to say that I find it appalling to be confronted by beggars when we exit the interstate into our community. Think about the image this conveys to first-time visitors to our city as they exit the highway. I applaud the City Council in its efforts to address this blight, and I only wish it had the ammunition to be more direct in its efforts.

• Patrick DePalma lives in Cedar Rapids.

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