Look at that…a brand new record number of volunteers turned out for our April giveaway…45!  On the other hand, we served a record low number of people in line…only 85.  In addition to the toiletries and clothing available, those 85 people were treated to Just Because You Matter bags full of extra goodies, compliments of our Beyond the Basic Crafting Cohort.  Their first project was a success!  Join their FaceBook group if you’d like to be a part of the summer project (to be scheduled in the near future).

Even though our giveaways are only once a month, people under the bridge appreciate us being there. One person told a volunteer, “Last month, I asked for a small rolling suitcase because mine was stolen. I hope that lady brought one for me this time.” We couldn’t figure out who she spoke to last month but that didn’t matter; we had a rolling suitcase and she was grateful. A little while later, a gentleman walked up to a specific volunteer with several pens in his hands and said, “Last time I was looking for pens and you said you’d bring some this time. You remembered and you did! Thank you.”

It’s interactions like those that reaffirm our reason for being there. They offset the stranger moments we’ve encountered so far this year: the bullhorn of scripture aimed in our direction, the prayer walking/space cleansing performed in our corner of the parking lot after we packed up, the religious bulletins handed out to volunteers…our presence seems unsettling to some but appreciated by others. That appreciation, along with our supporters’ and volunteers’ dedication, keeps us focused on preparing for the next giveaway.

Speaking of our next giveaway, mark your calendars for Sunday, May 17th.  If you attend next month, you might see some items purchased with a $250 grant recently awarded to ATXAHH by the Beyond Belief Network. We bought some bins for long term storage, too. Thanks, BBN!

The Exodus of Panhandlers
by Virginia Miller
April 24, 2015
Up in the North East, I came from an area where panhandlers* exist but rarely did I see them as I do here in Austin.  It took visiting large cities like Philadelphia or New York City to know what panhandling really was.
When I was young, spry, and a single lady, anyone who appeared to be homeless was met with major apprehension or I envisioned them as invisible.  Most times my interaction existed in only moments when briefly passing them by in a car.  On foot I usually gave in as I had an irrational fear of being attacked.  I know this thinking still happens today.  Reading through blogs and news articles, there has been major opposition to panhandlers in cities all over the Texas and even the U.S.  In 2012 Waco launched a campaign imploring the people of Waco and visiting parties to not give to panhandlers.  
Austin has its share of panhandlers.  Concentrated at major intersections and busy streets, they are everywhere.  In fact, within my first year here, I was asked by a previous resident of Austin, “Are there still a lot of panhandlers in the city?”  This high concentration of panhandlers was made even more prevalent in 2005 when a law against panhandling was stuck down by Austin Municipal Judge Alfred D. Jenkins as it violated the First Amendment, freedom of speech. 
Since then there has been much talk and opposition, for and against panhandlers and day labors. According to an article published in 2007 by the Houston Chronicle,“Austin already has an ordinance banning the intentional blocking of pedestrian and vehicular traffic. And state law bars pedestrians from standing in a roadway to solicit money or employment from passing motorists, though cities can exempt charitable organizations.”  Councilman Brewster McCracken is proposing bans on panhandlers and day laborers entirely. According to the Councilman the laws in place are not enough, “It is an inherently threatening environment for strangers to come up to your car window.” On the other side of the coin Rebecca Bernhardt of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas is very much opposed proposing laws against panhandlers and day laborer, “These proposals are not driven by the facts. They’re driven by fear and scapegoating.  This is about poverty profiling: Poor people are dangerous; therefore, we have to create rules that keep them out of all public spaces and away from everybody.”  McCracken has yet to bring his proposal to law.
My own personal perspective airs toward kindness.  While I cannot give any clear cut plan as to how to eradicate homelessness, panhandling or day laborers, I do know there is a major issue in how we treat our most poor in the U.S.  There have been studies on panhandling that make me think the loudest voices against panhandlers are spewing intolerance and misinformation.  A 2012 survey done at Union Square in San Francisco showed out of 146 panhandlers only 3% didn’t want housing and 94% used their miniscule funds for food and not the ubiquitous notion of alcohol and drugs.
Panhandling is not a right, it’s a reluctant way of life for some.  Temporary at times and in certain cases, a 15 year hell impossible to escape. Should we see them as a threat, an inconvenience to shuffle out of the city during times of revitalization?  Maybe research deeper and understanding them, listen to their stories, give them a hand but mostly, show them compassion and make them feel as they are part of Austin also.  Is it right to judge where a person’s money goes?  Are there some who cheat the system?  Are there violent individuals in the panhandling community?  How many of them are trying to get out of a vicious cycle of poverty?  All those questions and more can be answered in some way but impetuous answers will not give due justice to what is being asked.  There are so many tales of tragedy, hardships, circumstances and even victories in a person’s life that lead them to where they are.  I bet even you can relate.  Are you everything a person in the car next to you sees during the minute you’re waiting for a green light?  Do people understand your entire life in that brief moment you pass them on the street?

*”Panhandling,“ a common term in the United States, is more often referred to as ”begging“ elsewhere, or occasionally, as ”cadging.“ ”Panhandlers“ are variously referred to as ”beggars,“ ”vagrants,“ ”vagabonds,“ ”mendicants,“ or ”cadgers.“ The term ”panhandling“ derives either from the impression created by someone holding out his or her hand (as a pan’s handle sticks out from the pan) or from the image of someone using a pan to collect money (as gold miners in the American West used pans to sift for gold). source

Of Paradoxes and Exoduses: an April Giveaway Recap

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