Jim Luken Responds

Jim Luken Responds

by Jim Luken
Jim Luken with his sign doing an experiment to learn how panhandlers are treated in OTR Photo: Greg Hand

This is a response to a previous article published entitled “A response to the recent article entitled “Panhandler Like Me” by Jim Luken”

Interesting. I have been writing some pretty inflammatory stuff in Streetvibes for the past five years without ever receiving negative (or positive) responses.

Now, the story about my experiment (and accompanying feelings) with panhandling have raised the hackles of at least two individuals: Anne Mitchell (in the previous issue) and “Anonymous” above. I’m happy about that. It indicates perhaps that people—even those who may have some negative feelings about the visible poor—are taking our newspaper seriously. I wish more readers would write us letters.

I appreciated reading the opinions of both responders. It took a certain amount of guts (maybe ego) to put myself out there on Vine Street for three hours with a sign. “Anonymous” would have impressed me more if he had shown the temerity to put his name at the bottom of his letter.

Apparently both writers were upset by my use (just once) of the word “stinginess” regarding the well-heeled folks who passed by me (usually without so much as a glance) as they headed for a play at the Ensemble Theater. I agree that it might have been wrong to use so judgmental a word. Maybe I should have suggested that these folks were exercising “frugality.” But I am a lifelong theater person. So in a sense, these were my “bloods.” I was disappointed, I admit.

In the story, I made it very clear that I did this panhandling thing (risking arrest?!) in order to get some feel for what the hundreds (thousands?) of Cincinnatians who engage in this form of begging feel as they stand out there, doing it, hour after hour.

I didn’t lie about my situation by indicating that I was homeless or a veteran. I truly hadn’t eaten for the previous 24 hours. Not only did I get to re-experience a little of what hunger feels like, but for three hours I got to feel the loneliness of begging. I will never apologize for describing those feelings in the pages of this paper (for which, incidentally, I write without pay).

I will repeat my main “take” from the panhandling experience: Most of the better­off passersby would rather I hadn’t been standing there in front of them with my sign. They would prefer that panhandlers were invisible. The huge numbers of beggars today—in the wealthiest country in the world—are a manifestation that something is seriously out of whack in our society.

If someone feels a sense of guilt about this, they can easily fix that by handing a buck to the various panhandlers they encounter. [Keep a wad of dollars (or change) in your pocket if you don’t want to take out your wallet]. For me, this is a lot easier than just walking by the problem. And, I know for certain that these “donations” are not going through some salaried middle­man.

It doesn’t take a pundit to see that the poor are getting poorer while the rich are…well…you know the line. As my priest once said: “There are no undeserving poor.” Except perhaps for all those wealthy corporations that beg for, and receive, so many of our tax dollars.”

I applaud all the ways that both of my critics choose to donate some of their excess monies to charity. Keep it up! I do much the same thing. But I also choose to make life a little easier for my fellow panhandlers by handing them dollars and cents whenever I can.

[Editor’s note: we appreciate our readers support of this paper and program, as well as their feedback. Special thanks to Jim Luken for the countless hours he’s volunteered and all of the articles he’s written for our paper. We believe that our community is stronger when we have more dialog about the challenges we face. Thank you all for your generous support!]