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Should we be giving panhandlers money?

Especially at this time of year when people are feeling the seasonal spirit, should we be giving them money?

A man plays his guitar while panhandling on

A man plays his guitar while panhandling on the street on June 20, 2011 in New York City. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Spencer Platt

He’s there just about every day.

And right before I arrived on a recent chilly morning, a young woman brought him out a cup of coffee from the Starbucks at Bradley Avenue and Victory Boulevard on Staten Island.

He nodded a “thank you” and drank it quickly.

In the other hand he had an empty paper cup, quietly holding it out as folks shuffled in and out of the coffee shop.

He says his name is Ashton.

When I asked if he was homeless, he said no and just pointed.

“Over there,” he mumbled.

He was unable to clearly answer any other questions — about work, about his life, about how he survives.

I’m not a mental health expert, but he apparently has psychiatric issues.

As I left, he made his way over to the 7-11 entrance and several people dropped change in his cup. Eventually, a store manager asked him to leave the area, so he shuffled back over to the Starbucks parking lot.

Ashton is just one of a growing number of panhandlers across New York — they’re along the expressway service roads, at busy intersections, or just sitting on the sidewalk looking for a hand-out.

So question is, especially at this time of year when people are feeling the seasonal spirit, should we be giving them money?

I did — once. It was a buck to a double amputee who was going from car to car in his wheelchair at a service road overpass intersection.

But, for the most part, the woman who gave Ashton the cup of coffee had the right idea.

If you want to help, get them something to eat or drink.

Or give them a sweater you haven’t worn in years.

Even a pair of socks.

With the prevalence of alcoholism and even addiction out there, giving them money might very well be doing more harm than good.

Several weeks ago, we watched a very aggressive female panhandler dart from car to car at Forrest Avenue and Silver Lake Road.

This one, unlike Ashton, was very aggressive — knocking on windows and disrupting traffic.

Folks in the neighborhood have been complaining about it for a long time, but more on that issue at another time.

Anyway, within a half hour the woman had what she needed and headed straight for the deli and the bottom of the hill and bought a large can of beer.

Those motorists might have thought they were helping the needy, when, in fact, they were enabling a quality of life blight for residents of that quiet West Brighton community.

As for Ashton, he needs help.

A cup of coffee? Sure.

A piece of fruit? That would be nice.

But my bet is that any money he collects goes to cigarettes or who knows what else.

But then there is the larger question.

Ashton is in need of social service help — medical, perhaps psychiatric.

Where are the field workers for the city’s ThriveNYC?

While we agree that the city has taken a step in the right direction with ThriveNYC, critics point out that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s $850 million mental health plan focuses on “high-functioning” New Yorkers and early intervention but does not focus enough on the most seriously mentally ill.

And Ashton, as far as I can tell, could fall into that category.

D.J. Jaffee, executive director of the Mental Illness Policy Organization, is among those who have spoken out against ThriveNYC’s claims of success.

“It’s not focused on the seriously ill,” J affe said during a panel discussion at the Manhattan Institute. “It wraps worthy social services in a mental health narrative,” he said.

Meanwhile, as the temperature continues to drop, Ashton and others like him across the borough will be out begging for some change.

What’s really needed is a change in the way the city and our borough treat these heart-wrenching street people — and get them help they truly need.

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