Thursday, April 13, 2006

Safety Ambassadors Coming To Cleveland

Louisville Company To "Clean Up" Downtown

Downtown business owners are taxing themselves in order to deal with panhandlers and dirty streets. This must mean that the offensive panhandling law passed last year is not working out because how often do business people vote to tax themselves? So, Downtown business created an improvement district from the warehouse district to East 18th St. to Carnegie to the Lake in order to impose on tax on themselves. For this year they will raise $3 million, and have hired a group called Block by Block to oversee this project.

The group already does safety programming in Columbus, Dayton, Louisville, Toledo, Cincinnati, and many other cities in the Midwest. They will begin in Cleveland in May to clean the streets and employ "Street Ambassadors" to keep the streets safe. These happy uniformed (golf shirt and khaki pants) people without diplomatic immunity travel the streets spreading good thoughts and good directions. They give out directions to the lost, act as a neighborhood watch, and discourage pedestrians from giving to panhandlers.

I have seen these guys in action down in Columbus decked out in Red, White and Blue shirts. They put themselves in between the panhandler and the potential customer. These Street Ambassadors will call the police or security guard for an aggressive panhandler or a panhandler in the prohibited zone. The others asking for money are harassed by the ambassadors. It is so successful in Columbus that the City Council passed a stricter panhandling and littering law in 2005. In Cincinnati, the program has worked so well that they now force the panhandlers to register with the City before asking for money. How do they measure success? I say they should be measured on a reduction of 21% office vacancy rate downtown and more than 8 people on the sidewalk on a Tuesday night.

We are going to spend $2.25 million on cleaning the streets and harassing panhandlers. Evidently, parking and panhandling are still the two biggest complaints of the business owners. When will they listen? Panhandlers have existed in cities for over two centuries, and respond to only two things capitalism and better jobs. Give a panhandler a decent job that they do not have to stand outside in the rain or sun, but do not have to punch a clock, they will stop panhandling. If they face competition, they will move somewhere else. Harassment and laws do not work. For more information on panhandling go to our website under Statistics and Strategies.

Two interesting notes: one of the cities in the Northwest tried a similar program, but uniformed their crew with dark Brown shirts. This was quickly changed when some snobby academic recognized that Brown Shirts walking around harassing poor people might present a problem with a historical backlash. The other issue is that for some reason in Ohio Patriot Act, "safety ambassodors" must be licensed by the Department of Homeland Security. This prevents anyone with a felony background taking one of these jobs. Many of the people with the best relationship with panhandlers who know the city best are not eligible for these jobs. In Ohio, true patriotism means never giving anyone a second chance.

by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.

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