For as long as there have been beggars, there has been an argument about whether or not we should give them money. Today, that argument is raging just as strong as ever.
The front-page story in the Washington Post on Sunday chronicled the struggles of a young man who has to drive 30 miles to beg for money to support his ailing mother as he has been run out of his own town.
Cheyenne Police Department posted a message on Facebook relaying a brief anecdote and urging people to donate to local charities rather than directly to homeless individuals.
“Yesterday, July 22, we arrested a transient for public intoxication,” the post reads. “This is a person we frequently deal with, but we want to illustrate that there are better ways to help the transient population than to give them money for panhandling.”
“This person collected $234.94 in just a few hours of asking for money,” the department continued. “Rather than feeding someone’s alcohol addiction, you can donate directly to local charities such as the Comea Shelter where your money will assist the homeless in a much more effective way.”
Attached to the post was an image of the panhandler’s cardboard sign, which says, “Broke Need Help God Bless,” as well as all the money he managed to accumulate.
In just a few days, the post has already been shared over 20,000 times and received over 4,000 comments. A number of people were angered by the post, one user wrote, “I’m sure you guys are going to take every dollar he had, and not give it back to him. The way I see it, the people gave it to him. That’s his money.”
In response to Facebook users who argued that the police had no right to arrest the panhandler, the Cheyenne Police Department disclosed that the person in question was doing more than simply being intoxicated. It also reassured people that the money would be returned to the panhandler.
“This person was arrested for public intoxication, having an open container of alcohol, urinating in public and refusing to obey commands,” it wrote. “Subsequent to that arrest we logged in his property for safekeeping. Of course this money is his and will be returned to him when he is released from jail. The money is counted and all of his property is inventoried so that it can be returned to him upon his release. This is standard for every arrest we make in which property is held for safekeeping.”
On July 25, the Cheyenne Police Department posted an update clarifying its position on the matter.
“This post was put up to illustrate how our best intentions of helping somebody out may actually enable them to continue in their alcoholism or other self-destructive behaviors,” it explained. They added: “We have been helping people get out of the cycle of addiction by intervening after the initial arrest and providing those arrested with resources for assistance. This includes addiction counselors working with people in the jail as well as providing counseling services when that person is released.”