Sunday, October 19, 2008
Anti-Panhandling Campaign a Step Forward
Parking Meters Collecting Funds to Help Homeless People
As announced in the Associated Press and the Plain Dealer, the Downtown Cleveland Alliance has installed parking meters downtown to collect donations for homeless people. I liked some of the comments in the PD/Cleveland.com site announcing this new strategy: "Why are we donating to the United Way? Aren't they supposed to be addressing homelessness?" Was it an attempt to answer these complaints today when the Cleveland.com site had an advertisement for the United Way this morning on their front page about homelessness? This was one of those annoying tabs that take over the page if you happen to scroll over them. I hate those advertisements that hijack my computer screen, and to make it worse the United Way also was using outdated and incorrect statistics about homelessness locally. The reality is that United Way funds a few of the band aid programs serving homeless people, but they have not been at the forefront of funding solutions to homelessness as they are in other American cities.
Some activists around the country hate these parking meters. I view this as a step forward from the previous campaign of lecturing people not to give money to those viewed as "unworthy" or more accurately "those beyond help." These meters, in combination with the new Downtown Bus that acts as a huge billboard for this campaign, it is certainly a step forward. More resources for homeless people can never be a bad thing. I am sure that it will not raise much money and may not even pay for the gas for the Downtown Bus, but I can't see much harm in the whole campaign. Transportation is one huge problem for homeless people and having this free "Change" bus traveling between the shelters and the VA hospital is a big step forward.
This parking meter strategy also makes it seem as though we are doing something to deal with the "problem" of panhandling. It is a step forward to work on this so-called problem, when in reality when compared to other cities panhandling is a minor issue in Cleveland. We really have a small problem with panhandling, but it is the cited as the second most annoying problem with coming downtown behind parking. Pedestrians and downtown workers hate coming across a panhandler because it symbolizes the despair and human suffering in our city. So the pedestrians push for laws like the time and place restrictions panhandling legislation and the anti-tourist Public Square curfew law passed over the past three years. Both of these laws are merely feel good legislation that serve absolutely no practical purpose. The panhandling meters at least have a purpose and homeless people and panhandlers will see some benefit. In fact, they have already seen a benefit with the Downtown Bus now on the streets and available to help homeless people move around downtown for free.
There is a solid majority of pedestrians who visit downtown and claim that they do not like panhandling. In reality, many of those who are experiencing homelessness also have issues with panhandlers. Homeless people feel it is a way to get an easy buck, but it is beneath the dignity of most. A majority of homeless people see panhandling as the last resort in tough times. While we have seen a steady decrease in panhandling over the last two years for a number of reasons, we do not expect that trend to continue over the next year. Expect more people asking for help during this national recession. Finally, it is not an easy buck. Begging for money in the hot or cold or rain, and being rejected thousands of time a day is rough on your ego (see Akron Beacon Journal article).
Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.