Portland has seen many promises from City Council candidates about panhandling. I drive by people panhandling on the median every day on my way to work. On their signs, they identify needs that are entirely plausible for people living in poverty, such as one today about needing to reactivate a phone in order to receive job calls.

I’ve never observed a threat to their safety or mine by their presence on the median. In fact, it’s not even a minor inconvenience to drive by a person panhandling on my way to my work.

That’s not to say I enjoy it or fail to notice. I feel upset – sad, uncomfortable, guilty. It bothers me to think they might not have a place to turn. It unsettles me to have to consider how close I might be to that same situation.

I wish people weren’t panhandling on medians, because I wish they weren’t poor or in need. But I share in the responsibility for the fact that our failures to enable everyone in our community to get by has resulted in some people having to ask for help in the most direct and immediate way.

For me, the daily reminder of the human cost of our failure to help – whether it’s with access to living-wage jobs, child care or treatment for addiction – is a small price to pay for the privilege of not being in that situation myself.

Debating how to control panhandling is futile – and so are candidates’ promises – when we don’t acknowledge the underlying issues. When people are desperate, they will do what they must to survive.

We must address the root causes of poverty in Portland and statewide, not simply ask those who are struggling to get out of our sight while we go on our merry way.

Jenny Rottmann