In this Great Recession, the ranks of the poor, homeless and jobless are growing, as are the numbers of panhandlers at intersections across the Tampa Bay area. Don't confuse the two.
The poor, homeless and jobless need help, and donating to the nonprofits and charities that serve them is a good way to do so. But giving loose change and dollar bills to people begging at stoplights, holding sad cardboard signs and making eye contact, is not.
As St. Petersburg Times staff writer Lane DeGregory reported Monday, some panhandlers even change their signs — "Homeless Vet" or "Why lie? I need beer. God bless!" — depending on the audience. She writes that the typical take ranges from $60 to $100 a day. That is a good wage they don't deserve.
It's easy to become cynical watching these roadside performers who have found a scam that lets them live without holding down a job. There's no doubt that giving them money only encourages the problem to grow. But it's more important to remember they do not represent the vast majority of the poor, homeless and jobless in Tampa Bay who need help.
They are not on the side of the road. They are in line at a soup kitchen hoping for a solid meal or trying to find a real job to pay the bills. They are struggling for an honorable way to weather this recession for themselves and their families. The best way to support them is to give to the many local charities or nonprofits aiming to help them — not to those scheming for an easy buck at an intersection.