During the last two weeks, there has been a lot of ink devoted to the issue of “panhandlers” in the City of London and a suggested solution of a new city by-law.
All of the issues and problems related to panhandlers are not new. There is no one easy solution because these issues and problems are complex. The mayor and his colleagues on council have difficult decisions to make, as they remember that they represent all of Londoners, not just the most vocal. Listening more attentively to those whose voices are generally not heard may be fruitful.
It is interesting how the issue has been framed – the panhandlers. What do you think about the panhandlers? What should be done with the panhandlers or the panhandler problem? I suggest that these questions are impossible to answer, and in fact are not even the right questions. It is like asking, ‘what do you think of lawyers or Chartered Accountants?’; or in the context of other recent London news, ‘what do you think of the students at St. Thomas Aquinas’? These types of questions assume that there is a homogenous group, that all panhandlers are alike. They also assume that additional legislative sanctions (new city by-law) will be successful where current legislation has not been. There are a lot of assumptions being made, with little conversation of how we got here.
In all of the discussions, one important relationship has been missed – we are all neighbours. We are all created and all bear a common image, the image of God. And that means that we all have a common dignity that transcends our environment and current circumstances. It also means that we are not just a collection of individuals, but a community. That community is a carefully woven fabric in which the stress and strain of one thread can tear at the integrity of the whole. So how do these individuals of worth get to the places they are in now? What causes the stress and strain on that one thread?
Someone far wiser than I has written “Too often when we look at people we see problems or inconveniences on the one hand, and ways we’ll get taken advantage of on the other. [But] when we begin to see others with eyes of [compassion and dignity], it sets the stage for a change in the world where life and justice can flourish.”
Peter Rozeluk, Executive Director