Editor’s Note: The opinion essay below was written last fall by 11th grade students as assignments for the Critical Reading & Writing English Lab course at Mt. Ararat High School. Students were asked to articulate their opinion on a topic of importance to them in a way that might also engage local readers. Over the next week, we will be running more of these student opinions, allowing their perspectives to be heard by a larger audience.

Town Wanderers

Many years ago when my mother was a young teenager, she experienced one of the dangerous encounters with a panhandler that can occur. She and my grandmother were driving on the streets of Bath when they saw a man who looked like a co-worker of my grandfather. My grandmother thought his car might have broken down and he needed a ride. As they slowed down, little did they know, he was a homeless man who only wanted to trick them into giving him money and getting into their car. He became aggressive and started to bang on the car window where my mother was sitting at the time. Not only do panhandlers give the town a stigma, but many of them are searching for money for drugs or alcohol. Some can even be dangerous because they suffer from severe psychological and mental issues.

When people are in such a difficult situation, they get stuck in a bad place in life and desperately need money, it’s sometimes the only option to panhandle. I realize it is not at all because they are lazy. It is not like one middle class person just gave up on a job and making money. It is all about a person’s circumstances. Local churches and charities have programs to get people off the street, clean them up and help them get on with their lives. Giving them money on the streets only enables them and leads to their further destruction by substance abuse, rather than getting their life back on track.

I don’t think panhandlers should be allowed to beg on the streets of most towns, but especially not in small communities or towns like Topsham. It makes the citizens feel uneasy and unsafe. It used to be a law people couldn’t beg for money in Topsham, but apparently it has been changed or is not being enforced. Whenever my family and I are out running errands, we see homeless men or women on median strips with signs. I understand some of the homeless did lose their home to a fire, or didn’t pay the bills and their home got taken away, but this is the reason most towns have shelters and food pantries. There is a place where they can go for help until they get back on their feet.

What is very frustrating is where you find them. The four-way intersection in Topsham is the place most of the panhandlers stand on each side of them is a McDonald’s and Arby’s, both looking to hire people. I do recognize some jobs may not hire without the person having a house with an address to mail things to. As many of us know, it’s very likely they use the money for substance abuse. It’s not fair to the people visiting Topsham or those who live in the community when everywhere we go there is someone standing begging for money and sympathy. It’s hard for people to believe any of them and the situation they write on their signs because of all the fake homeless people nowadays. It’s so much easier to fake a tragedy, write it on a cardboard sign, and get free money all day.

Just a couple weeks ago my mother and I witnessed a man getting out of a fairly new car in the McDonald’s parking lot. We then saw him get a large piece of cardboard out of the trunk. In the car were two other people, a man and a women sitting in the front two seats. We watched him walk across the street to the median in the middle of the two sides of the roads and hold up his sign. I knew this was one of the fake people who have money and are taking advantage of people giving sympathy and money to the homeless. Later that day we see him switching off with a woman to get her sign out of the trunk of the car and go have her turn. This disgusts me because someone who didn’t see this might feel bad for him and end up giving him money. People like this man and women are just thieves.

If you asked me what I would do about a homeless person wanting money a few years ago, I would have told you that I would feel bad for them and would have given them money. Today, I would tell you, I honestly believe most are just scamming hard-working families.

Hannah Mecham