Panhandling Is a Two-way Street

The recently-passed city ordinance addressing panhandling and begging in Detroit has been the topic of much conversation. Several city council members were against the ordinance and some, though present at the vote, opted not to vote on it at all. There are valid concerns that ordinances such as these invite abuse by criminalizing the poor and vulnerable.  There is a real hazard in using a broad-brush approach in applying rules to any group of people, but it is especially devastating for those whose voices tend not to be valued or heard.

While asking for money from strangers to meet a need is common among those who panhandle, the motives behind “the ask” are varied.  There is a propensity to treat everyone who falls under the heading “panhandler” or “beggar” the same.  But the reality is that not all individuals who panhandle are without a place to live, drug addicted, aggressive, or mentally ill.   Public awareness of this distinction is an important step in developing comprehensive, lasting solutions that address root causes and eliminate panhandling by eliminating the need to panhandle.

The desire to be able to stand in line for an event, use an ATM, or enjoy a meal without being accosted by someone asking for money or food is not unreasonable.  But fines and jail time are temporary fixes that only serve to exacerbate the crisis state of the panhandler and create an avoidable expense for the city.

A comprehensive approach requires us to take into account the relationships among poverty, homelessness, and panhandling.  We must continue to explore innovative ways to eliminate the need for individuals to panhandle.

Bolstering support for the agencies that provide various programs and services for the poor is always in order.  There are collaborative relationships between the Department of Corrections and helping organizations such as the Detroit Central City Community Mental Health.

Panhandling is not going away because of one ordinance and none of us want to see panhandling continue.  At the same time, it is the generosity of those who live, work, and play in Detroit that make panhandling an effective way of getting money in the first place.  Selective generosity can help discourage behaviors that may now land individuals in jail.  Make it a practice not to support those who violate the ordinance.  Doing so may ultimately keep them from jail or fines.

Thrive Detroit was created to restore dignity and provide income stability through micro-enterprise for low income individuals, including those who may panhandle.

We have to do more than scratch the surface by seeking to remove individuals from the streets temporarily.  Our solutions must be compassionate, long-term, and sustainable.

2 thoughts on “Panhandling Is a Two-way Street

  • September 16, 2012 at 11:37 pm
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    This is such a sad situation that brings back some rough memories. After being raised in the surrounding areas of Detroit the worst thing happened to me,I became addicted to drugs.I lost everything,including my self respect and self worth. I had nothing left but my addiction to drugs,i was sick! I landed in the streets everywhere,variable cities. Almost all the things that came along with addiction happened to me,and yes I panhandled! Didnt for drugs,it wasnt that easy to beg for drug money,drugs were too expensive! But any money i had i spent on drugs,had not a dime left to eat,get a drink,have bus fare or stay anywhere. I panhandled for food most times,a candy bar,bag of chips,a cold or hot beverage and if I was lucky it was enough for a cooked meal at a restaurant. It wasnt easy,i was turned down at times or even mistreated. It amazed me that i was actually doing it,considering how i was brought up. There was times a few generous ones handed me something,at times it was $3. I will just never forget my hunger cries once,never been so hungry in my life,i sat out in the rain and cried.I got humble enough to walk into the coney island and ask if theyd just give me a grilled cheese on the house.They did,i cried as I ate that sandwich,and it brings tears to my eyes just remembering back. Im so glad to hear theres many out there wanting to help these people and treat them like humans.It only gets worse,our poverty is on the rise. I struggle alot financially today,never money to spare after i pay for my housing and etc. but im SO glad to not be hungry and homeless or addicted to the devil anymore. God help us all!

  • September 18, 2012 at 7:14 pm
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    HappilyEverAfter your story is both sad and encouraging. Thank you for sharing it. There are others out there who can make it out of rough situations compounded by homelessness. I’m hoping to help as many as possible. Check out our partner page to see if you may be interested in our next micro-enterprise.

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