The homeless in Lake Worth, Fla., have been given a good reason to start singing.
This week, city officials aiming to put a stop to what Mayor Pam Triolo called “aggressive panhandling” voted unanimously to ban homeless people from asking for money at bus stops and on buses, at city-owned parking spaces and near cafes, businesses, government buildings and ATMs.
Homeless people who continue to ask for money after a person says “no” would face a fine of $500 and 60 days in jail.
I’m all for this anti-panhandling law, but just not against the homeless.
I’d probably start with Northwestern University. I’ve been saying “no” to the university’s alumni solicitation juggernaut for more than 30 years now. But it doesn’t stop them.
One time, a Northwestern journalism student called me under the guise of research for a school paper. After a few minutes of this ruse, she sheepishly got down to the real purpose of the call, to ask me for a donation.
Now, that’s some aggressive panhandling.
I got a letter this month from actor Robert Redford asking me for money. We’ve never met. And the local public broadcasting station keeps sending me come-ons, even though I’m already signed up for monthly contributions.
At least the homeless guy who hits you up for money has an obvious and immediate need for it, unlike Northwestern, which is sitting on an $8 billion endowment.
By contrast, the endowment of your average Lake Worth homeless guy is something you hope stays hidden under his clothing.
So, I’m disappointed that the Lake Worth City Commission’s quest to curtail begging has started with the people who need to beg the most.
And this has led me to a loophole in the Lake Worth ordinance, which is scheduled for a final reading on Nov. 4.
Under the proposed law, the homeless can still solicit donations, but they can’t speak their requests.
Having a sign is OK. And you’d still be allowed to raise donations by playing music or – now here comes the loophole – singing.
This could turn the sidewalks of Lake Worth into a “Homeless Got Talent” showcase.
The pop songbook is full of suitable tunes that would work as effective foils to the new panhandling law.
Dusting off some Diana Ross and the Supremes is a good start.
“Stop! In the name of love. Before you break my heart,” works as a homeless solicitation lyric. “Think it oh-oh-ver.”
It also gives the solicited person a chance to decline by responding in song with a snippet from another Supremes hit, “You Keep Me Hanging On”:
“Set me free, why don’t you babe? Get out my life, why don’t you babe?”
The sidewalks of Lake Worth would transform into the area’s largest outdoor bohemian opera as singing solicitations and their responses fill the air.
On one corner, you’d have a funky R&B rendition of Aloe Blacc’s “I Need a Dollar”: “I need a dollar, dollar, dollar that’s what I need. And if I share with you my story, would you share your dollar with me.”
And on the next, maybe a little reverse psychology a la Dionne Warwick:
“If you see me walkin' down the street, and I start to cry each time we meet, walk on by, walk on by.”
Filling the sidewalks with song would be an unintended consequence of the new law, and one that’s much better than its true aim, which is the tired habit of using the county jail as poverty’s hotel.