A Missouri sheriff’s Facebook “rant” about panhandlers has sparked a viral debate about whether people should give to panhandlers.
Greene County Sheriff Jim Arnott wants people to stop doing it. He made that plea on Facebook Sunday after he saw blankets, clothing and food littering a Springfield street corner while running errands.
He assumed a panhandler had left them there.
He took two photos of the mess and posted them to Facebook along with a plea to the public.
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“Springfield I know you are generous,” he wrote. “However when you give nice coats, food and pack a bag with gloves, sweatshirts etc, after they have enough cash, they leave your stuff and go buy beer to enjoy back at their house.
“Stop enabling this behavior!! Done with rant, Sheriff. BTW, this is not about homeless people. It’s about panhandling.”
He set the post to public at the suggestion of a friend and watched reactions roll in. By Tuesday it had been shared more than 3,800 times and had elicited more than 2,000 emoticon reactions.
He reiterated to the Springfield News-Leader that he doesn’t have a beef with homeless people, but with panhandlers. He said his experience is that most panhandlers who say they are homeless are not, nor are they homeless veterans as some say they are.
“All the ones I’ve run across, usually three or four a week, they will have $50 in cash and are still standing there and actually have a place to go,” Arnott said.
“Helping homeless is one thing, and I’m all for that. People that are panhandling is another thing. Not only is it dangerous to be there, but we see it over and over again: The money feeds addiction, whether it’s alcohol or drugs.”
The reactions to Arnott’s post were heated and passionate, reflective of how people grapple with whether to help people on the streets. Many applauded his warning.
Others scolded him for “judging” people, a lack of compassion and making assumptions about the people who left the stuff on the street.
“What an unprofessional and inappropriate comment for a leader of law enforcement to be making,” wrote Facebook user Nate Stroud.
Several people shared their firsthand experiences with the town’s panhandlers, and many have not been pleasant.
Homeless advocates chimed in, too, cautioning the sheriff about making generalizations.