Panhandlers and guilt: Dealing with uncomfortable truths and lies

Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 29, 2010; 9:17 PM

There's the sideways shuffle. The downward eyes. And the phone flip.

They're on to us, the panhandlers.

They know the ways we try to avoid them with a quick lane change to dodge their styrofoam cup, the eye glaze or the sudden phone-to-ear move to fake a very urgent call.

And we're running out of ways to confront the parade of broken humanity that's an in-your-face part of daily life in our region as the numbers of homeless and unemployed remain stubbornly high.

"Sometimes, people cross the street when they see me. Or just look right past me, like I'm not even there," said 48-year-old Rodney Miller, as a few folks blew past him on a cold night last week outside the McPherson Square Metro station.

"The worst thing ever they can say to me is 'Get a job,' " Rodney told me. He said he lost his job as a Metro bus driver recently and has been on the streets for about three months. "I want a job. Of course, I want a job. That's all I want. I'd rather be working than out here. Who wouldn't be?"

Sure, there's Rodney, whose teeth are still nice, whose eyes are still clear. His shoes don't have holes yet; his jacket isn't ragged. He'll take a sandwich or an apple if you give it to him. He tells you that God will bless you for your kindness.

Sometimes, it's enough for people to simply acknowledge him, he says.

"Just look at my eyes, tell me something uplifting. That helps," he tells me.


But let's face it. Not all the folks out there are Rodney. Frankly, I'll never know if I have Rodney's real story.

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