Panhandlers, beggars, bums, street musicians with their hats out and all other folks looking for handouts have long been part of society and will continue to be as long as money is the dominant factor in our world.

Panhandling ordinance demonizes the lower class

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Panhandlers, beggars, bums, street musicians with their hats out and all other folks looking for handouts have long been part of society and will continue to be as long as money is the dominant factor in our world.

The almighty dollar, and our actions surrounding it, form the basis of most of the woes we have in American society and in most of the rest of the world also. There are a few remote places where the “love of money” has not infected the people, but these places are becoming rare. If they only knew, they would run screaming in the other direction and avoid our kind of capitalistic, materialistic, greed-driven thinking. THIS is what is really driving the panhandling ordinance

Our system of handling money is breaking down. The unrelenting pressure of debt and the need for more and more consumerism to fuel the sales tax revenue stream is falling apart. Panhandlers are at the bottom of that food chain. Back when everything was going well, income was up, buying was rampant, sales taxes were high, people had no problem tossing some coin out the window to the folks on the corner. Then the greed driven financial industry, that works in the mostly fictional world of fractional reserve banking, got caught with their outrageous derivative, made up world of money laundering and huge profit taking schemes. The resulting world wide collapse is still causing problems and will for some time to come.

Now folks are really watching their spending, and of course those on the bottom of the pile, like the panhandlers, will pay the price first. Now that people can't “afford” to toss any coins out the window those darn panhandlers are making folks feel guilty, and so the scrutiny begins. “Well they just use the money to get booze”, “those people are a menace, starting fights all the time … lets call the police”. More calls equals more jail time (at $150 bucks a day) and the thing spirals until — voila! Let's have a panhandling ordinance! That will make us feel better, and we can hand out tickets and arrest people, and cost ourselves more money than if we just hired someone to drive around and pass out some loose change.

Way to go Spokane! Let's demonize the lower class a little more, maybe the undesirables will move on down the road, go back home or to where they came from or, well, we don't care really as long as they get out of town. And there's your problem: We don't care. Eighty percent of the public just wants their “good life” to continue at whatever cost, and by God we'll use the justice system to make it happen. Good ol' individualism at its best, “these panhandlers are making me feel uncomfortable, unsafe, etc.” so lets ordinance them out of existence.

We couldn't possibly think about coming up with some ways to help and support fellow human beings could we? Nah, that's what the churches are supposed to do, as long as they don't do it in my neighborhood.

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  1. I’m curious about how folks approach the problem of people using panhandling money to feed a drug or alcohol addiction. Isn’t tossing out a few coins perpetuating the problem for these unfortunate people?

  2. Alan Eschenbacher

    Yes Sam, some of those folks do use the money for drugs and alcohol, I’ve found no way to know when, simply not giving money to them is the only way to assure no complicity in that activity. But on the other hand, so what if they do? Is it any better that the employed person uses their money for illicit things? I’ll bet the drug traffic is fueled by people with jobs far more than by panhandlers. Jesus told Peter to “feed my lambs” He didn’t tell him to judge the lambs worthiness first.

  3. The city of Spokane or a newschannel did an investigation on the panhandlers and found that the majority were addicts. If you work and live around these folks you know it’s true. I think it’s unfair to guilt people or insinuate a list of accusations based on someone not choosing to support our fellow human beings by donating on a corner. I loathe the increasing load of begging going on, especially the young guys I see doing it. I support the ordinance.

    “We couldn’t possibly think about coming up with some ways to help and support fellow human beings could we?”

    Food Stamps
    Salvation Army
    Public education
    Job Corp

    on and on…

  4. Alan Eschenbacher

    All fine organizations and programs Eric … most of which are off limits to the addicts you mentioned. So what do we do with the homeless/poor that are also addicts? … and by the way I don’t think most of those organizations have programs for mentally ill people either … the “One day count” that city of Spokane sponsors shows that around 70% of homeless have been diagnosed with mental illness. I have been working most of my 52 years, I am also blessed with good mental health and a non addictive personality, fortunately most of society is similarly blessed … our dilemma is what to do with the “others”

  5. Anyone who doesn’t want to stop thier destructive behavior places themselves in full responsibility for thier condition.

    My protest was simply in observing that the guilty party isn’t the public or the passerby but the one choosing to stay in destructive and debilitating cycles.

    This is true of most addicts of substances or subsidize lifestyles. The mental health angle is a different beast in my opinion, one that is at the root of much of these ills but true charity is born from joy not guilt. Developing better system and society care for those among us with mental health struggles is and should be a priority, as the violence among us reveals.

    The panhandlers don’t represent that community to me, the Carlye does, the VA and clients of the UGM do, East corner store drunks and Sprague hookers don’t. The culpable and innocents are important designations in my mind.

  6. I find the contrast between Sam’s and Eric’s comments significant. Sam comes across as someone who is genuinely struggling with the question of how one helps these people begging on our streets. He raises the legitimate question of whether giving them money is helping them or enabling them. But he seems to at least be open to the possibility that there might be good reasons to give to those who beg.

    Eric, in contrast comes across has harshly judgmental. He KNOWS that “the majority [of the panhandlers] were addicts… who choos[e] to stay in destructive and debilitating cycles.” And they bear “full responsibility for their condition.” I don’t even want to think about who fits his pejorative reference to “subsidized lifestyles”. His comments are in direct conflict with all the recent research on addiction.

    And, until he has walked in their shoes, he has no right to judge. Many of these panhandlers are veterans. How does he know what his life would be like, or what chemicals he would use, if every time he closed his eyes he re-lived being in a Humvee blown up by a IED and losing the rest of his platoon; and if he was unable to support himself or his family because his PTSD made it impossible to keep a job? Or if he had lost his wife and toddler to a drunk driver running a red light, then lost his job because he couldn’t cope with the pain? Or if he was laid off in the 2008 economic crash, lost his family because he couldn’t support them, and got told at hundreds of job interviews that he had no marketable skills – leading to a sense of utter worthlessness? I don’t know of anyone who “chooses” to stay an addict. But I’ve walked with numerous people who couldn’t deal with the significant emotional and spiritual challenges of their lives and used chemicals to dull the pain.

    Let me be clear, if I were talking to the addict (instead of those who presume to judge) I would challenge her or him to work through their pain to a point where they could deal without chemicals. But it is not my place to judge them less human, weaker, or less worthy than me.

    And I question the whole justification for ‘moving’ the panhandlers. It became abundantly clear at the City Council meeting Monday night that this ordinance was not about safety at all (the purported justification). It was all about getting rid of an eyesore. The sad part is, I had come to look forward to crossing Division and 3rd, on my bike or in my car. One of the regulars has a sign that reminds me to smile and have a good day. No matter how bad my day is going, he always makes it better. I will miss him, and the blessing that he has given me day after day!

  7. Deb, that’s a fair judgment of my comments in the post, I understand how you would draw those conclusions. As you said, we all have our shoes that have been walked in. that form and shape our views. I have mine. Everyone has stories, reasons and much we experiences justifies the actions and/or at least makes those actions more understandable. Drugs..especially alcohol, meth and pot and addicts are part and parcel of my current East Central life and ministry and epidemics are handled in many ways, some are hadled with methods that seem harsh and judgmental. A effective path forward, in my opinion, would allow call for justice that would share room with mercy and compassion but not at the expense of being excluded from the remedy.

  8. Radicou, on Reddit, said:
    Actually it just seems to prevent them from walking into a street (and only some streets at that) to collect. And by them I mean everyone collecting money, not just the “lower class” as you put it.
    If you wanted to just start a discussion on how society in general treats panhandlers and the “lower class”, how society views them, etc… please do that and don’t spread misinformation.

    Read more comments: http://redd.it/yc6mp

  9. Radicou,

    Before you start accusing others of “spreading misinformation” you should get YOUR facts straight. The ordinance makes it a crime (specifically a misdemeanor) to solicit anything (funds, signatures, food…) from anyone in a vehicle if the person “enters” certain roadways. The prohibited roadways apparently include the entire downtown core. (This piece was still being negotiated at the Council meeting.) It clearly includes all major streets – which are the only places where such soliciting gets results.

    And ‘entering’ means “to cross the vertical plane of the edge of a prohibited roadway, which includes crossing the vertical plane of the roadway by any part of a person’s body or any extension thereof or by use of any device used to extend a person’s ability to reach into the roadway.” 10.10.025 (B) (2)

    The city council made it clear that this ordinance is aimed at panhandlers, and is intended to get rid of them in downtown Spokane. They consider it an unfortunate Constitutional limitation that they cannot exempt ‘legitimate’ charities from this ordinance.

    So your observation, “Actually it just seems to prevent them from walking into a street (and only some streets at that) to collect.” is the piece of misinformation.

    The effect of the ordinance is to make it a crime to reach across the edge of the curb (or pavement, if no curb) to accept anything from a person in a vehicle. Even if one is standing safely on the sidewalk and extending a container on a pole, it is criminalized by this ordinance. So it is not true that it only prevents ‘walking into a street’. And, as the council could not cite a single injury or accident related to panhandling in Spokane, it is clearly motivated by something other than safety.

  10. Id love to hear from someone at Catholic Charities or Union Gospel Mission respond to this piece of city law.

  11. I posted this on Lace’s post as well, since they are related.

    I’m waiting to hear alternative answers and strategies from those who oppose the ordinance.

    In our love for the poor and our desire to dignify those who Jesus calls us to befriend, love and serve, is begging the best option of public support for the poor?

    No disrespect to you or your point of view, I’m not trying to be a jerk, harsh or judgmental, I just don’t find this position:

    “You should be able to beg on our rich streets and I should be able to toss insignificant change into your bucket.”

    …to be a very high or deep fulfillment of the biblical idea of justice or mercy.

    If this is the height of our social justice action or philosophic response to the need of those who are reduced to begging on our roadways, than I think we are the ones who need to revisit our own scriptures and example of Jesus and the early church.

  12. Eric,

    You are right, Jesus calls us to do much more for the poor than giving them the opportunity to stand on a street corner and beg. That is why my tiny church of about a dozen people do a dinner each month for the crosswalk kids; help with one night of dinner every time the Family Promise families are at St. John’s ; take several boxes of food to food banks regularly; participate in mission trips and contribute to disaster recovery through the United Methodist Committee on Relief – just as a start.

    As a city, we have feeding programs that mean one can get at least one meal a day someplace in the city. We have emergency shelters, food banks, housing programs, resources for veterans, addicts and the mentally ill. But none of those are enough. All of our emergency programs are overwhelmed – squeezed between increasing need and decreasing funding. Municipalities and foundations are cutting funding. People are tightening their belts. Even in the best of times, there is more need than resources. Today the resources don’t come close to meeting the need.

    And even if all of our local resources were fully funded, there would still be some people living on the street. There are some people who really can’t make it in a shelter: veterans with PTSD who’s nightmares would keep people in the shelter awake at night; people who feel suffocated in closed spaces; people who can’t sleep in a dorm setting with dozens of other people.

    The point is not that we should encourage people who actually have other options to take up panhandling. The point is, for some people panhandling may be the ONLY viable option. And taking that option away to ‘clean up’ downtown is a harsh action. NOT, by the way, one that Jesus would take. He spent much of his time walked with the ‘less than’, he gave freely to beggars, even as he castigated the rich for not taking better care of them. I believe Jesus would be standing with the panhandlers until we healed our economic and political systems to the point where they no longer needed to beg.

  13. Eric,

    You wrote: “I’m waiting to hear alternative answers and strategies from those who oppose the ordinance.”

    I’m curious about this, because it seems to imply that the ordinance is somehow doing something to help the homeless. I think those of us who are in opposition to it see it as harming the homeless population, and are against it for that reason.

    “[…] I just don’t find this position:

    ‘You should be able to beg on our rich streets and I should be able to toss insignificant change into your bucket.’

    …to be a very high or deep fulfillment of the biblical idea of justice or mercy.”

    I actually completely agree with you here. However, I also don’t find the position of “get your icky, begging poverty off MY street corner” to be either of those things, either.

  14. I’m simply wanting vision and plans not condemnation, judgment or bearing false witness against ones neighbor which is happening when people choose to frame ordinance allmsupporters as simply wanting to expunge the downtown core from unsightly activity alone. I imagine most involved want healthy and helpful alternatives for all the people Deb has highlighted, as do I.

    I jut talked to my 70ish year old neighbor who was walking by my house pushing a cart full of food bank food with a young man who has been homeless in our neighborhood. She is letting him stay with his girlfriend at her home. She’s single and a great example of someone who saw a need and put herself on the line to meet the need.

    I know many who are engaged in working for change that also want or support measures to deal with chronic panhandling too.

    As for Jesus, I’m sure he’d point out my own hypocrisy in the matters, while saying something profound that would leave both sides convicted.

  15. I don’t have mixed feelings on the ordinance (I think it’s boorish in that “let them eat cake” kind of way) but I have mixed feelings on whether people should be encouraged, implicitly or explicitly, to beg on the streets. Not because of concerns that people would use it for drugs (they’ll get drugs one way or the other if that’s what they’re after) or safety (I can’t remember beggars or bystanders being physically hurt or assaulted) but because I just think it’s really counterproductive to the goal of rehabilitating people who are damaged by PTSD or the like.

    For my two cents, I don’t think bringing up the beggars of Jesus’ day is applicable because of one awesome, amazing jump in human rights progress: Welfare. I think we need to tax the rich and rebalance wealth. I think many of those panhandling on the streets should be in safe, clean, taxpayer-funded institutions (which were closed en masse by the Reagan administration). That kind of opportunity for society to come together and look after its own was not available in Jesus’ day. No one had even conceived of such an idea. I’m a socialist. I believe our society owes each member a hand up, profit-free for the provider, and paid for from the bountiful blessings our country bestows on some and not others.

    Given how many panhandlers are veterans, I think society should be doubly ashamed. We take from these young men their innocence and peace, and then we kick them out onto the street. Taking away their right to beg, however counterproductive begging might be, is a slap in the face from those to whom much has been given.

    Americans, middle class on up, enjoy wealth that is unimaginable to the rest of the world. I think the main problem with this ordinance is the ingratitude our city is now associated with. Let’s treat each other better.

  16. Great response Sam.

  17. “I’m simply wanting vision and plans not condemnation, judgment or bearing false witness against ones neighbor which is happening when people choose to frame ordinance allmsupporters as simply wanting to expunge the downtown core from unsightly activity alone.”

    It’s being framed that way because that’s almost literally what the ordinance is doing. It isn’t providing any alternatives to panhandling, it isn’t helping the panhandlers themselves, it isn’t doing anything other than pushing panhandling out of a large chunk of the downtown area. That’s great that there are people who support this ordinance who also want to find healthy and helpful alternatives, but the ordinance doesn’t do that. Also, just from a logical standpoint, maybe it would be a good idea to enact some of those other alternatives before criminalizing panhandling. If you’re looking to help someone in a bad situation, the first step probably shouldn’t be to make their situation even more difficult.

    Eric, I completely agree with both you and Sam in questioning whether or not we should be encouraging panhandling in any way. I rarely give money to panhandlers, probably for most of the same reasons you’ve already given here. But choosing personally not to support panhandling and making it criminal are completely different things. Treating the problem should always be a bigger priority than pushing the symptom out of sight. The fact that our city council would take this backward approach to it (backward at best, and that’s assuming this is followed by something that would actually help homeless people, and I encourage you not to hold your breath on that one) has made a lot of people understandably angry. Anyone who wants to work to create better, healthier alternatives to panhandling doesn’t need to make panhandling illegal to do so.

  18. Aaron,
    I agree, but as I stated before there are many programs available and people willing to take in the homeless. I attended UGM’s Men’s Recovery Program Graduation yesterday and celebrated the successful colpetion of the program with the men, families, friends and staff. A complete program…all free. Housing, food, edu action, job training, medical,mental and eye care, recreation, transition support etc. This city is alive and a hive of support for anyone who wants to choose to change. Even if they are not willing yet, they can get in and many have a change of heart within the process. I just don’t think the issues are just being handled from such a simplistic standpoint. These matters are tough. I was visited at the table in Wendy’s the other night while having dinner with my family by a homeless man panhandling table to table. I had to stop a local neighborhood alcohol addict from panhandling in our service in the back rows one Sunday morning. These matters do go beyond street corners but business has to have a valid place at the table in community planning too.

    Last night after spending 15 minutes trying to find a parking lot in the downtown core, I parked by the library and upon returning saw a woman sittings with her stuff and a baby carrier. She looked homeless and lost, right there among all us dinner and Apple store shoppers. The paradox is powerfully convicting and I’m not saying we need to whitewash our communities of all our needs and opportunities to rise to humanity’s challenges but I also don’t value demonizing one another either.

    As I drive by my little 70+ year old single woman neighbor sitting outside in her plastic lawn chairs with the two young twenties house guest who were homeless and living in the park…my faith stumbles forward.

  19. I have read most of each comment. I was curious as to why with welfare and charities we have panhandlers. I take it the answer is addiction and mental illness. That does not explain it to me. We were supposed to have community mental health centers after the 1980s deinstitutionalization program. Furthermore, there is a position that there is really no such thing as mental illness. I agree with that position. There are behavioral abnormalities resulting from brain defects , bad learning and spiritual depravity. A Gospel Mission could sort that out and make referrals for the neurological defects. It could deal with the bad learning and spiritual depravity. The Bible does not treat addiction as an illness caused by an external agent. The Gospel mission could handle addiction. My solution to my guilt over seeing these panhandlers at urban expressway exits and elsewhere is to contribute to the Gospel Mission earmarking for the panhandlers.

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