Give to panhandlers or don’t? Some towns try cracking down

Arlington, Marysville and Spokane are all trying to eliminate panhandling, urging residents to send people to services instead. It raises the question: What’s the best, or right, thing to do when someone asks you for money?

Under a gray sky looking ready to rain, a couple calling themselves travelers asked for money for a meal outside a Safeway just off I-5 in Arlington.

Their look — blond dreads, a face tattoo of a pentagram — was different from that of most people coming through the Smokey Point grocery store, but in 20 minutes, they’d already received $3.

Then a security guard trudged up. “Y’all can’t stay here,” he said. “The manager doesn’t like it.”

They walked away — past a sign saying “no panhandling.”

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As cities and towns across the region struggle with a rising and urgent problem of homelessness, the age-old question of whether to give to panhandlers has come back around.

In the last month, Arlington, neighboring Marysville and Spokane have all launched programs to persuade residents not to give to panhandlers.

In Marysville and Arlington, fliers listing charities that residents can give to instead are available at city hall. Those fliers do double duty — if a panhandler hits you up, city officials say, give the panhandler the flier. In Spokane, the city erected cheery orange parking meters where walkers can deposit money, instead of in panhandlers’ hands.

“You’re enabling people to plunge into the abyss of addiction,” Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring said of those who give money. “We really need to educate our citizenry.”

For better or worse, panhandling is the window through which people see homelessness. Surveys vary widely, but they generally show a majority of homeless people don’t panhandle. Yet one survey found more than 60 percent of people with homes had been asked for money by a panhandler at least once in the previous year.

But there’s broad division — especially in Washington — about what to do when someone on the street asks for money.

Myron Peltier errs on the side of compassion. On his way home from his job as a security guard at a Marysville health clinic, Peltier used to pass a woman panhandling — an ex-nurse named Sonny with a pet ferret named Peter and a disabling back injury. The two became friends; he started giving Sonny spare cash and sometimes cigarettes.

He saw drivers yell…

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