Saturday, July 23, 2011

Panhandling in Paradise: Part 1


Over two-hundred panhandlers are estimated to work the Hyde Park area of Tampa. Hyde Park, for those of you unfamiliar with the area, is one of the higher rent districts in Tampa, Florida. My husband and I recently went to Tampa to try to find a moderate home to house our moderate, middle-class lifestyle. We purchased our current moderate, middle-class home smack-dab on top of the so-called "housing bubble" which burst about six months after our purchase.  Not to fear, we were assured that in the current market housing bargains were plentiful.  Certainly, there would be no problem recouping what we stood to lose on our current "investment".

After spending months researching the market on sites like "Trulia", I felt I had an educated grasp on what the housing market held in store. Since we would probably take a beating when we went sell our current abode, we were looking for a deal. Too bad the wait on these "deals" -- short sales and foreclosures -- was at least six months and frequently included the terms:  "Cash Only".   I don't know who has that kind of money laying around in this economy (besides investors) but it pretty much excludes your average home buyer who requires some sort of financing. It didn't take long for me to figure-out that all those super-low prices advertised on the Internet are a bunch of crap. Still, the housing market has been hit hard so certainly we should be able to find a house that was enough of a deal for us to break even. Hasn't everyone been hit in this downward market spiral?

So we started looking at the classic vintage homes we found in a "revitalized" area of Tampa. This revitalization included exactly four homes in the middle of what can only be described as an absolute ghetto. To make matter worse, I couldn't help but notice that on EVERY street corner on EVERY main thoroughfare in the city of Tampa was occupied by panhandler after panhandler begging for money. I used to think "There but for the grace of God go I...", but not this time. This time all I could think about was trying to run this gauntlet of seedy humanity every time I went to the store after dark to pick-up a quart of milk or a loaf of bread. Who wants to live this way? 

I am not insensitive to the plight of poverty, but panhandling in Tampa has reached an entirely different level. These panhandlers came prepared for the Florida heat with ice chests full of water. They weren't people who were just having a hard time, they were people for whom panhandling had apparently become enough of a lifestyle that they had the wherewithal to take some of that spare change and invest in reflective vests.  The really creepy part is that they were ALL wearing the same style reflective vest.  Merely pondering the legal issues involved in allowing people to routinely stand on the median and beg for money in the middle of rush hour traffic made my inner-attorney's head spin.  Holy crap!  What were the chances of hitting one of these people?  Suddenly I was feeling eerily middle-aged and somewhat Republican. (To be continued...)


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