The freedom to decide

The calls come frequently.

Residents around Bremerton and the Central Kitsap area report that there are people with signs standing on the street corners near the Bremerton ferry dock and the Kitsap Mall, asking for money.

Some business owners report that those asking for money are claiming to represent a charity and sometimes are even using black boots to collect funds, a sign to some that they are with the Muscular Dystrophy organization.

Signs vary from “Out of work — need help,” to “Need bus money to get to work.”

Many of those who hold up signs say they are veterans.

One sign holder this past summer held a sign that read: “Thank you for all the help. I now have a place to live. But need furniture.”

Business owners rightfully worry that the people standing near their businesses are keeping shoppers away.

Others say they see those collecting for charity take the money they’ve gotten and go buy themselves lunch at a local fast food place.

Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office officials said that when they get calls about panhandlers, they can’t do much because it is within the person’s freedom of speech to stand on the corner with their sign.

They warn “buyer beware.” In other words, give at your own risk.

They say they will intervene if the panhandlers are walking in traffic attempting to collect money.

Bremerton Police Chief Steve Strachan recently offered similar advice, saying giving to a local charity that helps those who are homeless or in need of help may be the smarter thing to do.

The real crime is that, in America where there is enough for everyone, people still have to beg for food and shelter.

With nonprofits and government programs, there is help. Yet not everyone is getting that help.

Sure, some of those at the corner may be unwilling to go to an organization to get help. Others may be lazy or scamming the public.

Ultimately, it’s every individual’s choice whether to give to that person on the corner with the “Homeless and Hungry” sign.

That’s what’s right about America.

Panhandlers still have the right to their freedom of speech. And each of us has the right to decide how to respond.


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