Rich vs. Poor, fighting for the same funny shaped peninsula

Since moving to Charleston, I've been bewildered by the vast difference between the haves and the have-nots.

One thing that is quite different about Charleston as opposed to every other city I've lived in is this: Charleston has the very poor and the very rich living very close to one another. Everywhere else that I've lived (Augusta, Searcy, Grand Rapids) has a greater geographical separation between the rich and the poor. I hear this is largely because Charleston is an old city. Or maybe I'm noticing it more here in Charleston because I've joined the ranks of the have-nots.

In Charleston, especially downtown Charleston, you can find a $1 million plus house just a block or two away from public housing projects. This close-quarters mixing presents a dynamic that is new to me. There is no white-flight trend. In fact, there seem to be more allegations of white encroachment than flight.

There are a few things that bother me about this arrangement.

  1. I can't find an apartment downtown (so as to be close to MUSC) that I can afford. While I'm ok with being priced out of a popular market, it bothers me that it's too expensive for me to live there, but it's not too expensive for a bunch of people who stand along the street all day. There must be a whole lot of independently wealthy men just north of the crosstown, because there are tons of people standing or sitting on the sidewalks all day and those houses are very expensive.

  2. I'm tired of getting hit up for money. I joke with friends that you can't walk past Hardee's downtown without getting hit up at least twice. That's a exaggerated. I usually only get hit up for money once for each time I walk by Hardee's.

    Seeing beggars on the street bothers me because I never know whether to give them whatever cash I'm holding, offer my couch, or ignore them and walk right by. Do you give people money just because they ask for it? Could that be feeding a substance problem? They do make more than I do. Given how much school costs in South Carolina, if we're going by salaries, perhaps I should ask them for money. On the other hand, it must take a lot for somebody to be humbled into begging.


posted by Josh M on 9:09 PM under


Michelle Staggs said...

The question of what to do when you pass someone begging on the street is such a hard one. I've asked myself the same questions that you posed. A couple of bucks really isn't much to me, but it's a meal for someone else. My fear is that it will be misused. I realize there are people who are career beggars, but there are also those who are there because they have no place to go. I like the idea of buying them a meal or a tank of gas rather than handing out cash. That way you know the money isn't being used inappropriatly and you are still helping the person.
I believe we are called as Christians to help the poor and although I think there are better ways than handing out money if we are unwilling to work towards more significant changes we need to at least help in the small things.

Windviel said...

Josh, you're observation that the Charleston peninsula does have very modest houses very close to very grand ones. This isn't new.

Much of what is now very expensive housing was pretty run down back in the 1930's and 40's. There was a considerable number of black families living next door to white households. In terms of native folks, whites and blacks are not strangers in this town. Not, that is, until we had a recent influx of new and often wealthy people.

As to panhandlers, one need not feel compelled to fork over cash out of simple guilt. The concern that given money will be misused on booze or drugs is a sound one. The best way to call their bluff is to offer them a hamburger or other solid food. Sadly, they are often not looking for food.

Let me suggest the people consider making donations to Charleston Crisis Ministries. They run the homeless shelter on upper Meeting Street, a facility which is well used. The City provides police protection for them and a host of dedicated volunteers staff the place. Drop by or contact them for more information. They are very much on the level and are the best way for you to help the truly needy homeless.

If anyone is either annoyed or feels threatened by panhandlers, do not hesitate to contact the Charleston Police Department. Careless handouts of cash seldom help the needy and often encourage aggressive, sometimes dangerous overtures. Some are truly needy, some have mental impairments and substance abuse problems and some, sadly, are just plain bums. Do not feel compelled by false guilt or fear to give them cash.

Windviel said...

Whooops !

"You're" should be "your"