I live not too far from the 38th and 465 exit in Indianapolis which means I pass the same rotating cast of panhandlers on a regular basis. I know the vets (who can’t quite pinpoint what war they were veterans of) and I know the folks trying to get home (who turn down rides to said home) and I know the lady who’s been pregnant for the last three years (and have come to admire her growing set of heart-tugging props).

On the other hand, when I walk the streets of downtown, I encounter folks who’ve had bumps in their lives, who have found themselves homeless, and are looking for any chance to get some sort of traction in life. If only to get through the day.

In our cynical age, it becomes easy to brush with a broad stroke, writing off all panhandlers as lazy folks looking to get over or take advantage of well-intentioned folk. Mayor Ballard proposes to sweep them under the rug, I mean, direct them to services by posting panhandling boxes: “The reason they stay out there is because we keep giving them money and giving them food,” Ballard said. “We want them to come in and get the services they need. We need to stop giving them money, then they will come in.”

Five donation boxes, much like parking meters, were installed downtown. Money collected would be given to local agencies who help those in need and kind-hearted folks can drop off donations, instead of having to deal with individuals. Services are one way to handle the panhandling problem. Connecting folks with the proper resources is a big part of the battle. But where there is a system, there are cracks, and many of the panhandlers have already fallen through the cracks once.

Even on the assumption that a government solution can manage to funnel money to the proper channels, in a lot of ways, they miss the point: the immediacy of donation. Forget the bureaucratic time delay between donation and aid, there’s the impact of being a decent human being. Sometimes the act of personally giving is simply a matter of acknowledging the existence of the panhandler as a human being.

So darn those homeless folks, being all inconvenient and unsightly, reminding us of our failures as a society. Yes, I know some can be belligerent and I know there is the concept of personal responsibility in regards to the plight of the needy. But homeless toll booths aren’t compassionate. It’s a broom for folks who already are invisible.