Basham: Give to charities before panhandlers

Raymond Basham

I am frequently reminded of a quote that has many versions and has been attributed to many in history — that is, to paraphrase: “The measure of a society is how it treats its weakest members.”

Recently, as I was commuting home from Detroit to Taylor, I noticed a young man standing beside the Interstate 75 exit ramp to North Line and Allen roads with a sign stating that he was homeless with children and needed assistance. With the number of agencies and nonprofits in the area that work daily to assist people, I decided to pull over and speak to the man to see if he was aware of any of these organizations that might be able to help him find gainful employment, find housing, help provide necessities for his children, etc.

A homeless person asking for help.

As I spoke to the man, I asked him if he was truly homeless, and if his children were also homeless. He explained that his children were living with his mother, but that he was indeed homeless. I asked him if he was aware of several agencies in the immediate vicinity that could help him, including ChristNet, a Downriver nonprofit that helps to provide emergency shelter; Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency, which provides assistance with housing; Michigan Works!, which could work with him to develop a resume and find a job; or Fish & Loaves Community Food Pantry. I even offered to give the young man a ride to any of these agencies to help him get on his feet and keep his family warm and fed.

However, he responded that he was not aware of these services and that he was not interested in going to their locations. Feeling that I had done what I could to offer him options, I walked back to my vehicle.

On the way back to my car, I was stopped by someone who apparently works near this intersection on a regular basis. They explained to me that this young man, along with a couple other people, regularly panhandle at this location. They seem to work it on a schedule, and when they leave, they get into a new Jeep.

My purpose in telling this story is not to embarrass the young man who was at this corner, or to try and convince people to ignore those who are panhandling for fear that they are not truly in need. There is certainly no shortage of needs in our community, and there are many people who struggle daily to put food on the table and to keep their families safe and warm.

I have no doubt that, when people give cash directly to a panhandler, they are trying to do a good thing. However, it might not be the right thing. There are many organizations and agencies that work to help those who are in need of food, a warm place to sleep and basic necessities. The assistance that many of them provide even goes beyond these basic items and includes things like counseling, substance-abuse treatment and other tools that can be used to take a struggling person from a desperate situation to one in which they can be a productive, working member of our community.

As the weather begins to cool and the calendar slowly creeps toward the holiday season, I would challenge people not only to be charitable and to try to help those who are struggling, but also to do so in an effective manner. Be aware of the resources that are available in our community and support those groups in any way you see fit.

Simply handing cash to a person might only be helping them to get worse. Ensuring that our local agencies, nonprofits or faith-based groups are in a position to truly bring the bottom up for people makes all the difference.

Raymond E. Basham, D-Taylor, serves on the 15-member Wayne County Commission. He represents Brownstown Township, Flat Rock, Rockwood, Woodhaven and Taylor.