Had the pedestrians and shopkeepers of a less-enlightened metropolis complained about aggressive panhandling (as they did in Indianapolis a few years ago), their leaders might simply have opted for rousting the offenders. Not here. In 2008, we also got donation boxes on downtown sidewalks for the benefit of the homeless. They seemed an admirable symbol of compromise: While pledging to keep an eye on problem beggars, the city also acknowledged that combating homelessness is a cause worth raising money for. Even the boxes’ signage echoes the compromise, managing to scold (“No one should be bullied to give a handout”) and implore (“Give Real Help”) all at once.
Since their installation, the boxes have collected nearly $12,000, reports Michael Hurst of the Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Prevention (CHIP), which allocates 100 percent of the funds to worthy programs; the Indy Homeless Connect event, for example, has used some of the money to distribute eyeglasses. In addition to money, an untold number of coupons, 20-or-so fake billion-dollar bills, and one Department of Corrections parole ID have also found their way into the boxes, says Hurst, but, thank goodness, “nothing disgusting.”
It recently shamed this Circle Citizen to realize that, despite his smug approval of the boxes, he still hadn’t put so much as a penny in any of them. So the other day, on a typically bustling downtown afternoon, he dutifully dropped $2 in a box in the southwest quadrant of Monument Circle, then sat at a table in front of Au Bon Pain and watched to see who else was donating. In the span of one hour, not a single passerby stopped to make a donation, although three different men did use it as an armrest while smoking cigarettes.