November 30, 2007

Faithful Lines / Shirley Vogler Meister

More information about our homeless neighbors

Shirley Vogler MeisterA month or so ago, I read a cartoon that I planned to save then forgot to keep it.

It showed a panhandler sitting on a sidewalk with a sign that said something like: “At least smile as you go by.”

Smugly, I thought, “I do that.”

Truth be known, I haven’t always done that when confronted by “a street person,” especially when rushing to get somewhere.

Do beggars frighten or intimidate me? Sometimes, yes. What have I done differently since earlier years? Now I try to remember to smile and say “God bless you” or something else appropriate. I always feel uneasy, but realize this can’t be easy for them either.

Last week, I shared how Indianapolis Downtown Inc. ( or 317-237-2222) makes free pamphlets available to help us better understand the best way to react when approached by a panhandler. Granted, this focuses on the homeless in a limited area of Indianapolis, but neighborhoods in most cities and towns can learn by their example.

Indianapolis Downtown produces these pamphlets with help from the Center Township Trustee, Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Prevention, Connect 2 Help, Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, Marion County Community Court and Marion County Prosecutor’s Office.

Most of us know how unsettling it is to pass beggars and not do something. Our reactions can range from disgust to anger to compassion. Giving them the pamphlets is a simple way to enlighten anyone who wants to be helped—and be more pro-active for our fellow neighbors.

Do they—and do we—know that panhandling is illegal? It is prohibited between sunset and sunrise or in the following circumstances: at a bus stop or near other public transportation or a regular vehicle; a public street or alley; a sidewalk café; a line to enter a business; or an area within 20 feet of an ATM or bank entrance.

I also didn’t know that a street person is restricted from touching a person without consent, blocking a person’s path and walking behind or ahead or alongside a person. They cannot speak profanely or make an intimidating gesture or comment. They cannot panhandle in a group of two or more. If these things happen, we are asked to call police. Such reports prompt law enforcement, legal attention and proper guidance.

Except for my column last week, I have never approached a subject like this before. It is time. I trust that Catholic Charities does everything possible to help people avoid being on the streets. Surely, readers can learn more by checking their Web site at

As I learned this summer from Emmeline Sparks, who is associated with Horizon House, another resource center for the homeless in Indianapolis, (, everyone is our neighbor, including the homeless. What would our Lord suggest?

(Shirley Vogler Meister, a member of Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.) †

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