As (Not) Seen on TV
Updated: May 23, 2019
by Tim Haworth
Wednesday afternoon I met with a reporter from a local television station who wanted to talk about the issue of panhandling in downtown Springfield. We had a good conversation both on camera and off and I was quite pleased with myself and what I said.
That evening I tuned in the news to see how it turned out. It would appear that most everything I said was edited out and the only thing that was used was a five-second clip related to bodily functions and what happens when proper facilities are not made available.
The good news is I still have 14 minutes and 55 seconds of fame left. I hope my future moments of fame won’t be related to bodily functions but I guess you really don’t get to control that. The other good news is that I do have an outlet, this blog, to express the things that came from my discussion with the reporter that I believe deserve attention (despite what the TV station thought).
So here are my thoughts that were NOT “as seen on TV”.
· We still have a lack of proper bathroom facilities in downtown Springfield. People don’t have a place to go and they are forced to be creative in finding a spot. People have been talking about this for more than a decade and yet nothing has been done. This goes beyond a sanitation issue. It is about human dignity and the indignity of not addressing the basic human needs of those who live outside or spend time on the streets of Springfield. I don’t blame our outside neighbors for the sanitation issues we are facing. I blame those officials who are ignoring the problem because they don’t want to make it too easy for this part of the population to be downtown. We are reaping what they have sown.
· According to the courts people have a first amendment right to ask other people for money, food or whatever. This is commonly referred to as panhandling. Every city has people who panhandle. The news report claimed that tourists and visitors were being chased from downtown because they were being panhandled. I disagree.
Tourists in any major city know that they are at risk of being panhandled. I have been approached on Michigan Avenue in Chicago more times than I can count and I know it is just part of the experience. And it’s not just someone asking me for money. I have been asked to read a religious tract, sign a petition for or against any number of things or take someone’s picture in front of the Harry Caray bust. Does it make me uncomfortable? Sometimes. But my momentary discomfort does not cancel out another person’s right to free speech. They have every right to ask and I have every right to say “no” and keep walking. That’s the cost of living in a free country.
· The reporter asked me if I have been “aggressively” panhandled. My answer is “no” and I don’t know anyone who has. I see aggressive as someone who physically restrains or threatens someone. In my opinion, that’s robbery and assault and a police matter – not panhandling. I have been assertively panhandled in ways that sometimes increase my discomfort. I have had to say “no” more than once in certain encounters. Sometimes the individual doing the panhandling has suggested that I try things that I don’t believe are anatomically possible. The best advice I have received for dealing with people like that came from our Roman tour guide. As we drove through the city we marveled at his zen-like composure in the midst of aggressive drivers and angry pedestrians. After one well-dressed woman made a rude gesture towards us I had to ask how he could handle all this. He said, “Be nice and keep moving.” I think that’s pretty good advice when faced with people who are overly assertive. Exercise your right to say “no” in a kind and respectful manner and keep going.
Human beings come in all shapes, sizes and temperaments. I can find cantankerous people on the street corner or in the country club. No one would ever seriously imply that because of one or two obnoxious club members that everyone who belongs to a country club is cantankerous and scary. The same applies for those on the street corner. We shouldn’t let our fear and discomfort drive us into improper assumptions about other human beings.
· Those individuals who are on our streets – regardless of their housing status – are people. Period. They are us. They all have different stories and reasons for being where they are. The difficulties being faced by federal employees and contractors is a sobering illustration of how people find themselves in need of shelter and food. A month ago these individuals would have never dreamed that they would be facing eviction from their apartments or receiving free food from local food pantries. Ask a person on the street or one of our food pantry patrons and they will tell have similar stories.
Loss of employment, loss of income, medical issues and domestic abuse are all reasons why some people end up impoverished and dealing with hunger and housing issues. Before you judge remember, “There but by the grace of God, go I.”