The family who begs together ... | Buzz Blog
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The family who begs together ...


When I stopped for gas last night at a Sinclair station close to downtown, I noticed a man sitting on the curb in front of the station's shop with his head in his hands. ---Next to him stood a woman laughing with two young children. The man asked someone, "Can you help us?" but did not receive an answer. The woman went up to an apparent stranger leaving an adjacent hotel with her kids and he promptly pulled out his wallet and gave her a few dollars.

This isn't the only family I've seen panhandling in the downtown streets of Salt Lake City. And it's not simply a question of summer and school being out. Since springtime, one family with a seemingly perpetually angry mother and two pre-teen children have on occasion been hitting up passersby for change close to Main Street and 2nd South in the afternoons.

The homeless and the mentally ill on our streets inevitably provoke complex moral and emotional issues. But families with young children lead to even more complicated reactions.

"Should I call law enforcement or DCFS?" I wondered as the gas gurgled into my car? While the Downtown Alliance has billboard signs up against panhandling and Mayor Ralph Becker pushes new regulations on panhandlers, surely where families are so needy they are forced to beg on the street, that requires an immediate response from the state to ascertain why and what resources they need?

Or am I naive? If I called DCFS and the children ended up being taken away from the parents, is that a process I want to be responsible for initiating?

I spoke to DCFS' domestic violence program administrator Del Bircher this morning and asked his thoughts. "You certainly should call if you think they are abused or neglected," he says. When he was a private clinician, any time he felt doubt over the possibility of abuse or neglect occurring, "I erred on the side of safety," and referred the case of "the folks who had specialized training" to determine if there is a problem.  

I did not call the authorities last night. Should I have?