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Panhandling in Arcata tests the city's tolerance. 'Long known as the "Berkeley of the North," Arcata traditionally has welcomed the downtrodden, embraced the leftist fringe and fostered a live-and-let-live ethos.' 'But balancing the comfort of the haves with tolerance for the have-nots has come down to a complex question of just who is worthy of help.' 'Councilwoman Susan Ornelas reflected the community's torn conscience: "While we're a progressive town and we're very open-hearted," she said, "we have limits on our tolerance."' 'A report last fall by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty found that slightly more than half of 234 cities surveyed had bans on aggressive panhandling, the same proportion had outlawed it in specific areas, and one-fourth forbade begging citywide.'

'What about the in-your-face drifters who take handouts with little gratitude?

"How do you make a judgment of the deserving poor?" asked Michael Twombly of the Humboldt All Faith Partnership, which operates a shelter here and last month opened a lunch truck to fill the gap in services.'

'When the city leased a building one block from the plaza to the homeless resource center, matters intensified.

"You could watch the change," Stillman said. Word got out to young adults traveling a circuit from Santa Barbara to Eugene, Ore. "It became a magnet," the councilwoman said. "They served lunch every day. You didn't have to do anything — just come eat."'
posted by VikingSword (162 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
'When the city leased a building one block from the plaza to the homeless resource center, matters intensified.'

Woop 'dere it is! NIMBY you poor bastards!
posted by RolandOfEld at 10:19 AM on August 7, 2012


When rich and the bankers come to their senses and realize that applying for a car loan or a mortgage is tantamount to begging, they will have laws in place to get rid of all of us.
posted by HuronBob at 10:25 AM on August 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'll admit I wouldn't want the center next door to my house. And pan handling gets old. But there are options short of having the police run them all out of town, too.
posted by Forktine at 10:26 AM on August 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


"It became a magnet," the councilwoman said.

Solution: Tolerate homelessness everywhere.
posted by DU at 10:26 AM on August 7, 2012 [14 favorites]


I'm reminded of the South Park panhandling episode. Judge not 'lest ye be judged and all that.
posted by RolandOfEld at 10:30 AM on August 7, 2012


Arcata, CA? Home of the wonderous Arcata Eye Police Log? I am shocked to see The Man trying to keep the panhandlers down in Arcata.
posted by hanov3r at 10:30 AM on August 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


It's a tough problem. Panhandling should be legal, but often places where panhandling is the most advantages is also a bad location for the homeless. Here in Hollywood, as an example, there is a panhandler or so every block, but we are miles from social services, and so panhandlers often end up sleeping in the streets out here -- where they are not especially safe (there was a rash of stabbings) and where they can be tremendously disruptive to other residents.

And there is such a thing as aggressive begging. I saw a woman nearly attack a tourist a few days ago because she felt the tourist should give her money. She just screamed at her until the women grabbed her son and ran away. I don't know if it is necessary to make specific laws about aggressive begging, though. When begging crosses the line into aggressive, it is already breaking existing laws.

The trouble is that any town is a series of loosely affiliated communities, and the needs of each community may be inconsistent, or may even be in conflict, with another. And the homeless are members of our community, and they are the members in the most need but also the ones whose needs are sometimes hardest to serve. And so there are these stopgap measures that are really designed to force the homeless out, rather than respect them as community members whose needs are not be addressed.

I mean, it bothers me to get panhandled every block, and I know from my own experience that many of these panhandlers are using the money to self-destruct. But I can't blame the panhandlers for not being able to solve individually what we haven't solved as a society. And I think until we start sitting down as a community, finding out what each of our needs are, where they dovetail, where we can compromise, where we can help each other, and how to get along where we can't compromise -- well, the homeless are just going to keep getting the short end of the stick.

That sucks and I hate it. But I don't know what to do about it. I keep thinking about it, though -- I am in sort of unique situation in that I was once also homeless in Hollywood, when I was much younger. But sometimes seeing that Los Angeles has decided to warehouse its mentally ill or substance-addicted population in its alleys and gutters just exhausts me. I really have very little power here, and that's maddening, as a democracy is supposed to empower its citizens -- even the ones with the least to call their own.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:31 AM on August 7, 2012 [44 favorites]


slightly more than half of 234 cities surveyed had bans on aggressive panhandling, the same proportion had outlawed it in specific areas, and one-fourth forbade begging citywide

Unless the full report is different from the linked summary, note that the term used in the link is not "aggressive panhandling", it's "begging"with no qualifier (and the actual percentage is 53%), which could betray an editorial slant in the writing of the Times article - why would they feel the need to change that term and throw "aggressive" in there?

Other info from the summary:
According to Criminalizing Crisis, supportive housing and shelter are much more cost-effective than applying the criminal justice system to homelessness. Cost studies in 13 cities and states reveal that, on average, cities spend $87 per day to jail a person, compared to $28 per day for shelter. A Utah study shows that the annual cost for providing a homeless person supportive housing is $6,100, compared to $35,000 to jail them in a state prison.

Sure, but do people cited for sleeping in public or begging get sent to jail?
posted by LionIndex at 10:31 AM on August 7, 2012


Having enjoyed reading the police blotter in the Arcata Eye for years, I can understand that the people of the town would like to see a respite from what some would consider a continuos infringement on their right to enjoy the peace and quiet in an idyllic, small town experience.

To do that, you'd probably have to move far, far away from everything.
posted by jsavimbi at 10:36 AM on August 7, 2012


From the article:
Aimed at bongo drumming on the plaza, one 1996 measure prohibited sounds that were "boisterous, penetrating, repetitive [or] of unusual rhythmic or tonal character."
Nazi Rules for performing Jazz:
so-called jazz compositions may contain at most 10% syncopation; the remainder must consist of a natural legato movement devoid of the hysterical rhythmic reverses characteristic of the barbarian races and conductive to dark instincts alien to the German people (so-called riffs);
That said, nothing is more annoying than entitled hippies.
posted by ethansr at 10:36 AM on August 7, 2012 [7 favorites]


For the past few years in Ann Arbor the homeless have set up encampments. They have always been in areas where they are pretty much invisible to the general population (for example, the last couple have been on Dept. of Trans. owned deeply wooded land between two highways). There has really never been a problem with these folks, other than that they have to walk past neighborhoods to get to the encampments.

A couple of years ago the Dept of Trans. routed them out of an area next to an onramp on I94, and then cleared every tree off the property to keep them from coming back. A month ago they were again evicted from an encampment next to the highway and a 10 foot chain link fence was installed to keep them from returning.

Some of them (about half) found subsidized housing with help from the state, the rest, I imagine they are back on the street without what was really a pretty good support system and level of safety provided by the encampment.

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free;
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless,
Tempest-tossed to me
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

posted by HuronBob at 10:37 AM on August 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm torn because while I feel homeless people probably have the right to beg, makes signs, loiter downtown etc., it really kills urban centers. Directly or indirectly the homeless have been used to justify the nonexistence of benches, closure of parks at dusk, reduced library services and hours. It's just a mess of collateral damage.
posted by 2bucksplus at 10:38 AM on August 7, 2012 [9 favorites]


ethansr: “That said, nothing is more annoying than entitled hippies.”

Indeed. Unfortunately, as they say, you can't fight city hall.
posted by koeselitz at 10:44 AM on August 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


Having lived in Arcata for 5 years, I can tell you that the panhandling gets very old very fast. I currently live in Oakland, and recently moved from San Francisco where the panhandling is a different variety. My experience in Arcata was that panhandlers were more street kids than anything else, and they often had all night drum circles outside the greyhound bus station (across the street from my college apartment). It's interesting because during the summer in Arcata most of the students leave town, bringing the population (when I lived there) to about 10,000 but the transients all move in and seemingly overwhelm the plaza and surrounding areas. This I believe is what Arcata is trying to prevent, the mass migration of street kids and transients who come specifically to Arcata in the summer because of the warm weather, the kind people, and the enormous amount of cheap weed. During the winter this problem seemed to eradicate itself because of the amount of heavy rains. The people who stayed were true homeless people who literally had nowhere else to go.

While living through the summers it was stifling and frustrating to get asked for money or weed every few steps, but looking back I wonder what could be done in a humane and compassionate fashion? At least stop the 24 hour drum circles for the love of god.
posted by ruhroh at 10:44 AM on August 7, 2012 [8 favorites]


Yup, ethansr, urban noise ordinances are proof of Nazi policies in Arcata. You hit the nail on the head. You now have permission to pack up and leave the thread.
posted by Jeff Mangum's Penny-farthing at 10:45 AM on August 7, 2012 [10 favorites]


DC has a similar situation wherein the city actually provides social services and the surrounding areas don't, so homeless populations flock here and the city is left supporting three or four times the DC homeless population of the city.

A couple of local politicians (wells!) have gotten into the habit of threatening to remove social services as a sort of reverse psychology to get funding from MD and VA for the homeless populations they don't support.
posted by destro at 10:46 AM on August 7, 2012


I got maybe two hours of sleep last night so I may be more typo-prone than usual. Rereading my previous comment, I sort of sound like I wrote it in a fugue state.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:47 AM on August 7, 2012


I'm torn because while I feel homeless people probably have the right to beg, makes signs, loiter downtown etc., it really kills urban centers.

Torn over what, is it effectively a false dichotomy? It does not come down to allowing panhandling so people can feed themselves against dragging down urban centres. There are other choices in helping people out and ensuring they are not starving in the street. What the US needs is a proper system of social services and to realise there are costs to not having one.
posted by biffa at 10:49 AM on August 7, 2012 [8 favorites]


I live on a major stop on the "street kid"/"drop out"/"whatever you want to call it" circuit and while I fully support your right to bum around for a couple of years, man does it get old fast.

Negotiating masses of kids at every corner downtown, being unable to find a bench at the playground, fights in the alleyways. Ugh.

(note that this is a distinctly different class of panhandler than the truly destitute or mentally ill. Those deserve true sympathy and aid)
posted by madajb at 10:50 AM on August 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


That said, nothing is more annoying than entitled hippies.

Well, the Mitt Romneys and Koch Brotherses of the world. And, you know, all the real problems.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:50 AM on August 7, 2012 [11 favorites]


Also homelessness, I guess.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:51 AM on August 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


Let's take it a different way: My town is kind of touristy Northern California. In summer, the place is overrun with paid canvassers for Environment California and several other organizations with sketchy records for what they actually get done and super high administrative fees, and paid petition collectors.

We also, I should add, have an awesome social services for the homeless organization.

So nobody (that I know) likes the blue-shirted clipboard carrying menaces from hell chasing us all over town. They annoy the tourists who come enrich our town with their sales tax, they annoy the locals, they cause pedestrian traffic issues because people are crossing the street to avoid them.

In short: They're sucking revenue and resources out of our town by taking advantage of the commons, by pushing the externalities of their business off on to the merchants and residents of the town.

How is panhandling any different?
posted by straw at 10:54 AM on August 7, 2012 [8 favorites]


Yeah, the Arcata Eye Police Log is key to understanding the other side of the situation. From that, it seems like the city has a giant problem with noise, pollution, and harassment from its large transient population. Of course actually providing services to help people is not the way we do government now in Scrooge 2.0, California version.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:56 AM on August 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm torn because while I feel homeless people probably have the right to beg, makes signs, loiter downtown etc., it really kills urban centers. Directly or indirectly the homeless have been used to justify the nonexistence of benches, closure of parks at dusk, reduced library services and hours. It's just a mess of collateral damage.

This is on us and on the state, not on the homeless. What a lot of folks want is to cut social services so that homeless people become more vulnerable and then use the police to move the homeless along so that they don't have to see. If someone is freezing or sick or having an episode of mental illness and they fetch up in the library because that's the only public space open to them and our response is "well, let's lock down the library, then!" the issue lies with us, not the homeless.

It just so happens that I've known a variety of homeless folks of varying degrees of healthiness and functionality, ranging from basically together people who had experienced some very hard knocks to people who had been so brutalized by racism and poverty that they could not hold it together to people who were pretty far gone in the madness department. All those people need housing and support of different varieties, and they need it to be stable - not just a mat on the floor of a crowded, noisy, often dangerous shelter.

I have a friend who won't go to the shelter unless it's the dead of winter - he'd rather sleep on the street than face what goes on there.

The funny thing is, I've actually known a bunch of traveling kids too, and what I found was that - to my considerable surprise - many, many of them were not from indulgent middle/upper middle class homes and just traveling for kicks. Sure, there are kids like that - the ones I heard calling Mom for a wire transfer from their fancy cell phone, for example - but the majority I've met have been either from really poor/harsh circumstances, physically or sexually abused at home, addicted to something, kicked out because they were gay or otherwise unacceptable - in other words, people who are not homeless because it's fun. Of course a bunch of young kids who have no housing and very little money are going to buy booze and have drum circles - you want that they should wear sackcloth and ashes? Two dollars isn't going to get out out of being homeless (even shelters charge now and charge more than that) but it will get you a bottle of some cheap booze.

I'm not a big fan of panhandling - it's always gendered and I tend to freak out in situations where it is difficult to say no. But I don't believe the solution is to criminalize and hassle people, especially when there is no other solution available to them.

(Anybody read Bleak House? I always think of that part where the police are moving Jo on and moving him on and moving him on and not letting him rest anywhere and he fetches up in this horrible squatted slum called Tom-All-Alone's.)
posted by Frowner at 10:57 AM on August 7, 2012 [28 favorites]


In short: They're sucking revenue and resources out of our town by taking advantage of the commons, by pushing the externalities of their business off on to the merchants and residents of the town.

How is panhandling any different?


I think banning panhandling is an attempt to get the people who might otherwise be defecating on the streets, toking up in public, playing the bongos in the middle of the night, and all the other things detailed in the Eye's Police Log to move on, because their money supply will be cut off.

Presumably the clipboard carriers aren't doing any of the above, nor doing their annoying job accompanied by out-of-control dogs.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:58 AM on August 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


...balancing the comfort of the haves with tolerance for the have-nots has come down to a complex question of just who is worthy of help.

Whatsoever you do to the least of my people, that you do unto me.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:59 AM on August 7, 2012 [7 favorites]


When I stayed in Arcata, CA two years ago the scene in the plaza was so bad I resolved never to stay there again. I live in San Francisco, I'm used to seeing insane people, poor people, drunk people, drugged people all over the city, living in the streets. It is our city's greatest shame. But running into the same thing in small town Arcata was just depressing. It's doubly weird now that Arcata has become effectively a marijuana economy.

Somewhat related: the SF Chron has been doing a series recently on the Sit/Lie law in San Francisco. It's not a huge success.

The problem with banning panhandling or banning lying on the sidewalk is we're treating the symptoms of indigence, not the causes. I don't really know what the solution is but I am furious the politicians we elect to solve social problems have totally failed. My casual understanding in San Francisco is a lot of the problem is mental illness and addiction. Allowing sick people to live in squalor on the streets is not kindness or compassion or tolerance, it's inhuman.
posted by Nelson at 11:00 AM on August 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


Here's the thing about the Romneys and the Koches. Homelessness does not impact their lives one bit. They can afford to be insulated in their super wealthy environs. What about ordinary middle class or lower class people, who can only afford "free" leisure areas or amenities, such as parks and libraries which then get overwhelmed by the homeless and quickly become unusable? And then, those amenities lose taxpayer support and disappear altogether. What about the areas where they live and shop and hope for some minimum of enjoyment and quality of life? They can't afford to move into the rarified world of the Romneys and the Koches.

Even if the Romneys and the Koches change the world so that there is more joblessness and fewer social services and social nets, and more homelessness and poverty, it is not they who suffer the consequences. They may not even suffer the opprobrium for their part in this, because the friction will be limited to the homeless and those they interact with, the blame, the hate, the hopelessness.

However, the Romneys and the Koches will be just fine.
posted by VikingSword at 11:01 AM on August 7, 2012 [16 favorites]


My small city (Victoria) is also a magnet for homeless folks from all over Canada - it doesn't snow here that much in winter, and it's safer on the street than nearby Vancouver. When we moved back to Canada with our kids in 2004, homelessness was a definite problem. People were camping in the large, semi-wild public park that lines the waterfront and leaving huge piles of garbage, there were used needles and human excrement downtown, and entire city blocks were taken over by encampments of homeless folks.

And there was a lot of panhandling.

On one hand, sure, everyone has a right to use public space, but at the same time the city (primarily a tourist town with a vibrant downtown) was becoming a place that I would rather avoid with my kids.

The solution has been to provide more services for homeless folks, getting the help of both the provincial (state) and federal governments (neighbouring suburban municipalities, ironically, refuse to provide any help). There are more shelter beds, and better services. People don't need to panhandle because there are ways now to transition them from the street and back into society. Unemployment here is very low, too - we have not experienced anything like the social disruption that has afflicted California.

But a proactive, solutions-oriented approach, with assistance from different levels of government, has been the key. Targeting drug dealers - rather than criminalizing poverty - has also been the key.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:01 AM on August 7, 2012 [19 favorites]


Straw: Canvassers from Environment California may chase tourists down, but they don't defecate in alleys, lets their half wild dogs bark and growl at passerby's, constantly harangue people for free drugs, or have 24 hour drum circles in or near the common areas of the town.

I have coincidentally been a canvasser for Environment California and lived in Arcata. Running the homeless/transient/street kids out of Arcata isn't exactly the solution, but having lived there I can understand why people are leaning towards that in frustration.

on preview, what Sidhedevil said.
posted by ruhroh at 11:02 AM on August 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


The Chesterton piece I always think of when talk of anti-begging ordinances comes up contains this passage.
I should say that it is intrinsically insane to urge people to give charity and forbid people to accept charity. Nobody is penalized for crying for help when he is drowning; why should he be penalized for crying for help when he is starving? Every one would expect to have to help a man to save his life in a shipwreck; why not a man who has suffered a shipwreck of his life? A man may be in such a position by no conceivable fault of his own; but in any case his fault is never urged against him in the parallel cases. A man is saved from shipwreck without inquiry about whether he has blundered in the steering of his ship; and we fish him out of a pond before asking whose fault it was that he fell into it.
posted by howfar at 11:05 AM on August 7, 2012 [25 favorites]


The funny thing is, I've actually known a bunch of traveling kids too, and what I found was that - to my considerable surprise - many, many of them were not from indulgent middle/upper middle class homes and just traveling for kicks. Sure, there are kids like that - the ones I heard calling Mom for a wire transfer from their fancy cell phone, for example - but the majority I've met have been either from really poor/harsh circumstances, physically or sexually abused at home, addicted to something, kicked out because they were gay or otherwise unacceptable - in other words, people who are not homeless because it's fun.

I have this argument a lot with generally liberal alternative-ish friends of mine who bitch about the all the trust-fund panhandlers and street kids in SF. I'm sure they exist -- but really, Occam's razor says that most of the kids out there are out there because being homeless, smelly, stoned, cold, and treated badly by the cops (albeit in the company of their friends) seems like a better deal than wherever they came from. Which in turn suggests that wherever they came from, even if it was middle-class living of some sort, was not a picnic.
posted by feckless at 11:05 AM on August 7, 2012 [13 favorites]


And yeah, sit/lie has been a complete flop.
posted by feckless at 11:07 AM on August 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


I should say that it is intrinsically insane to urge people to give charity and forbid people to accept charity. Nobody is penalized for crying for help when he is drowning; why should he be penalized for crying for help when he is starving?

I don't know about the State, but in Victoria and Vancouver, people are crying for because they are starving, they are begging because they are mentally ill or addicted to drugs, or both at the same time. There are a lot of services
posted by KokuRyu at 11:08 AM on August 7, 2012


Arcata, CA? Home of the wonderous Arcata Eye Police Log?

I remember reading that way back -- possibly late 1990s, certainly early 2000s. It was basically a few kooky people doing a few kooky things, in my recollection.

Reading the current weeks, it seems things have gotten vastly worse. I'm trying to find an old version to see if it's just my memory making the past better or not.
posted by eriko at 11:10 AM on August 7, 2012


I visited Arcata soon after moving to CA from Austin a dozen years ago. I loved it. It was like the old Austin, quirky and gritty, but smaller, and on the coast. Loved it.

I convinced my folks to stay there on an RV trip a few years back and then went up to meet them. I was sorry I'd made the suggestion. The entire square smelled like pee. We past human shit on the sidewalk more than once. The panhandlers were AGGRESSIVE.

I hate the homeless problem. I think there's a lot we could do to help people who lose their homes, or who have mental health issues or substance abuse problems that lead them to the streets. There's a lot we could do that we don't have the stomach for, or won't commit the resources for.

Arcata is out of the way. It's hard to get there and far from any major cities. Arcata does not have a homelessness problem. Arcata has the problem of people wanting to travel there because it's a relatively good place to be homeless. And it's small -- it can't support the numbers of people who travel there in order to live that kind of life.

In any given town, I think there must be some sort of quasi-acceptable ratio of locals who pee/poop indoors and locals who do it on the sidewalks or in the alleys. Arcata is well past the tipping point on that one.
posted by mudpuppie at 11:10 AM on August 7, 2012 [8 favorites]


Whatsoever you do to the least of my people, that you do unto me.

To everyone enjoying their moral preening, I would observe that the balance between panhandling and maintaining the quality of life for the panhandled, is an issue of the ability of the environment to support the panhandling in the first place, along with the social services that provide longer term solutions. If you don't find a balance, the carrying capacity of the municipality for panhandlers decreases, forcing them to move along just as effectively as if the social services were shuttered and the police made them shuffle down a block every two hours.
posted by fatbird at 11:10 AM on August 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


The thing is, the state/the collective has to take the burden off the individual in terms of being exhausted and frightened by panhandlers - and I do believe that it can be exhausting and I know it can be frightening. What happens now is that individuals react either with pity or with anger to a problem that is too large for them and we argue about it as an individual moral problem.

I think on one level it is an individual moral problem - someone who consciously, persistently chooses to refuse help to people and chalks it up to "trust fund brats" and "they'll just use it for drugs" isn't much, in my book.

But the real issue is social and has to be addressed socially.
posted by Frowner at 11:11 AM on August 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


The problem with banning panhandling or banning lying on the sidewalk is we're treating the symptoms of indigence, not the causes.

Need restoration of the <big> tag, for this.

I used to live in Evanston, a liberal bastion if ever there were one, and a place you would expect to be more tolerant of panhandling -- which they were, to an extent. But the city had a destination downtown and the merchants grew tired of having customers complain they didn't want to come anymore because of the high number of indigents. The city also had/s a superb overnight shelter with awesome services provided by medical, social, and religious organizations, which was also subject to strict rules about who was permitted to participate, i.e. no quitting booze for the night, you have to be and stay sober.

There are some interesting studies having shown that the primary problem of homelessness -- a roof over a person's head -- is actually easily solved and one of the biggest hurdles to making other things happen. But many other problems of the homeless are unsolvable in any social-service sense -- things like social isolation or a mindset of rejection of assistance, and that's just counting the people who are not seriously mentally ill. So I don't think there are binary answers here of accepting/ejecting the homeless.

My experience with Evanston, I think, leads me to conclude that the homeless, for a variety of reasons, will migrate and congregate where they are the "most" tolerated, even if the differences are minute. That presents great problems for a town like Arcata.
posted by dhartung at 11:14 AM on August 7, 2012 [6 favorites]


I don't know about the State, but in Victoria and Vancouver, people are crying for because they are starving, they are begging because they are mentally ill or addicted to drugs, or both at the same time. There are a lot of services

Lack of uptake and retention in such services is deeply linked to the notion of the deserving and undeserving poor Chesterton is addressing. A major problem here in the UK is that the vast majority of services insist on sobriety as a precondition for housing and treatment, despite the evidence suggesting that this is counterproductive not only to getting people housed and fed, but also getting them sober.
posted by howfar at 11:15 AM on August 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think aggressive panhandling, or really, panhandling at all, actually makes responsible adults less inclined to support useful social services for the poor. I've been in NYC for quite some time, and so I'm pretty much immune to panhandlers as in I don't really even notice them. But when my Midwestern friends come to visit, and they get accosted because "fuck that, give me another dollar whitey", you know that's a story that will get told back home (and ginned up). And New York panhandlers aren't even that bad at all, many are very grateful for some assistance. There needs to be more discouragement of panhandling and better education and shelter resources for the homeless.
posted by gagglezoomer at 11:16 AM on August 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


ethansr: That said, nothing is more annoying than entitled hippies.

Yes there is. There's the hysterical rhythmic reverses characteristic of the barbarian races and conductive to dark instincts....I clearly remember having my dark instinct conduced. It was unsettling, but I became accustomed to the rush that accompanied the conduction, and grew to enjoy its company.

I used to live down the road from Arcata. Loved the Carson House and the Samoa Cook House. Oh, and back in the day, Forest Service crews (where I worked, near Mono Hot Springs), made a whole bunch of improvements and additions to the Pacific Crest Trail. When not out on the trail, they all slept at the Ranger Station at Bolsillo Creek, in tent-cabins. They were a hard-working bunch, mostly from the college at Arcata. I often packed their tools and gear for them when they deployed into the back country for a 10-day tour.

Good times.

Um...panhandlers. Yeah. Sounds like a few more housing developments have gone in since I was in the area. Locals get touchy. Can't say I blame them. I hate it when I have to be exposed to alternates. Just gives me the creeps. Even when I was one, and somebody else was me. But I never got around to panhandling.

One time I was sitting in against the wall in the Greyhound station in San Francisco, waiting for a bus, and I'd popped open my guitar case, put my feet up, leaned back against my backpack and ran through a few riffs. I'd just put on some new strings and they were sounding really good, and I was pretty into it. The couple of hash balls I'd toked earlier sort of helped my concentration. After a while I noticed that some people had evidently dropped several dollar bills and a bunch of change into my guitar case. Way cool, as I was sort of out of money at the time, and I'd just spent my last few dollars to get a ticket to Phoenix, so I could get at my checking account--no ATM card then, and Arizona 1st wasn't yet linked out of state, and anyhow I didn't have an address. When I got into Phoenix that night I had to hike out to Tempe to get to my branch, and I stopped off at Taco Bell and spent the only gig money I ever got. Came in handy. After that I hiked down Van Buren toward Tempe, and stopped off to sleep in a cave in Papago Park. I'd done that before. The burritos in my tummy kept me warm that night.
posted by mule98J at 11:17 AM on August 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


Much of the talk when these discussions come up is about "them" and "they" and "those people," as though the homeless were mostly or wholly indigents, bums, drunkards, drug addicts, or "young people" on the run, all of whom or most of whom make some collective decision about what nice, tolerant, liberal town with cushy benefits and nice weather upon which they can inflict their drum circles and aggressive panhandling next. But the last available stats show that 23% of homeless are families with children -- and that was in 2007, before the financial downturn hit. It always stuns me, especially given the economy, that more people don't realize that they're only a paycheck or a financial calamity or two from becoming "those people" themselves. If you don't think you're potentially one of "them," and if you don't think you'd ever do what "they" do to get food in them and survive another night on the street, think again.

There are a lot of services

Not in the US, there aren't.
posted by blucevalo at 11:28 AM on August 7, 2012 [8 favorites]


Lack of uptake and retention in such services is deeply linked to the notion of the deserving and undeserving poor Chesterton is addressing. A major problem here in the UK is that the vast majority of services insist on sobriety as a precondition for housing and treatment, despite the evidence suggesting that this is counterproductive not only to getting people housed and fed, but also getting them sober.

I think Victoria BC also has a number of "wet beds", where alcohol, and perhaps drugs, are allowed.

Obviously, not everything is rosy, and you would have to talk to someone who is "homeless" to get the true picture, but things have improved. I think Victoria has been forced to confront the issue because we're really the final stop in Canada for homeless folks. Go further west, you drown.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:28 AM on August 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Surprised at the ban on signs. IN my town, there is a law against aggressive panhandling, and sitting quietly with a sign and a box or hat for donations is exactly the kind of thing that IS legal.

As I understand the local law, you have the right to ask people for money, but if they decline or ignore you, you can't follow them, argue with them, audibly gripe about how they gave you nothing, etc. This has produced a panhandling regime that is actually a lot less annoying to me than "Do you have a minute to save the environment?.
posted by thelonius at 11:28 AM on August 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


>There are a lot of services

Not in the US, there aren't.


Yeah, my comment came out wrong, as I tried to preface by saying "I don't know about the States", but I was trying to provide an example of a solution that seemed to be working.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:29 AM on August 7, 2012


barbarian races?
posted by PJLandis at 11:31 AM on August 7, 2012


Yeah, I am not sure why that comment is talking about the Dothraki either.
posted by elizardbits at 11:32 AM on August 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


You didn't have to do anything — just come eat.

Just terrible, isn't it?
posted by molecicco at 11:33 AM on August 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


But the last available stats show that 23% of homeless are families with children

That doesn't seem to be the case when it comes to Arcata's transient panhandler population.

I think it's OK not to want to step in human feces or be harassed in the center of a city. I also think the answer is to provide appropriate services to people who need and want them, and to design services that relate to the actual needs and wants of the people in question.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:34 AM on August 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


The idea that there is some "balance" between panhandling and its prohibition strikes me as absurd. Anyone trying to concern troll their way toward such a balance should ask themselves why evidence of homelessness is tolerated at all, and why when it's not, the solution most agreed upon is to punish the poor.

This is not a question of symptoms vs root causes, or other liberal "debates," it's about human beings living on the street who don't have the facilities to wash themselves, shelter themselves or feed themselves because those with means simply don't care enough to provide them.

We give our money away everyday to egregious, offensive and aggressive panhandling far more extreme than any I've encountered by a homeless person. But I guess when it comes in the form of corporate advertising, we've been conditioned enough to think it's acceptable. But when the request comes from a person who doesn't fit our notion of "citizen" -- who might be mentally ill or destitute but also might simply be an unkind person with unkind thoughts who despises tourists (shock!) -- the prospect of parting with a dollar in this person's favour is so unconscionable we pass laws making sure the upstanding sort never need be faced with such an awkward encounter.

Fuck balance. We've left that road a long time ago.
posted by Catchfire at 11:35 AM on August 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


To everyone enjoying their moral preening

I am enjoying my moral preening, thank you. It's very tender, and served with a nice bearnaise sauce.
posted by feckless at 11:36 AM on August 7, 2012


That said, nothing is more annoying than entitled hippies.

Multi-millionaires who claim there's not enough money for basic services?
posted by Thorzdad at 11:38 AM on August 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


This I believe is what Arcata is trying to prevent, the mass migration of street kids and transients who come specifically to Arcata in the summer because of the warm weather, the kind people, and the enormous amount of cheap weed.

It's currently 56 and drizzling out my window, just like yesterday. In August.
posted by one_bean at 11:38 AM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]




This I believe is what Arcata is trying to prevent, the mass migration of street kids and transients who come specifically to Arcata in the summer because of the warm weather, the kind people, and the enormous amount of cheap weed.

It's currently 56 and drizzling out my window, just like yesterday. In August.


It's in the high 80's here in Boston, and heat stroke regularly fills the emergency rooms with homeless people. If Arcata's predicament is like San Francisco's, I have a hard time judging the residents.
posted by ocschwar at 11:45 AM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Fuck balance. We've left that road a long time ago.

Okay, fuck balance. Fuck a functioning municipal economy that provides jobs and a place to live where people who can afford to give to panhandlers might reside.

The issue of balance isn't along the allow/prohibit spectrum. It's a question of what you offer and how you direct assistance effectively. If we acknowledge, as we should, that these are people who need help, and more help than just handing them cash, then we can also acknowledge that we are responsible for the effectiveness of the aid we provide, and part of that effectiveness is safeguarding the underlying health of the economic environment that's funding the help.

Offer shelters. Offer beds, offer mental health care, offer dependency treatment, offer food, offer counselling. Most of all, offer a roof they can call their own. If the cost of being able to offer that is busting up a few midnight drum circles so self-satisfied yuppies continue to vote NDP, I'm okay with that.
posted by fatbird at 11:45 AM on August 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


I didn't realize that drum circles are the reason municipal and regional bodies can't offer basic services to the vulnerable. I always thought, naively, it was the multi-billion wars we finance and the multi-billion tax breaks we give the rich.
posted by Catchfire at 11:59 AM on August 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


I think, I think, I can summarize Vancouver's stance on homelessness and begging after having lived here for three years. Well, stance is a strong word, its more of a three stage thing.

First, you feel bad seeing all the homeless and give money here and there as you can. Yay feeling good about charity!

Second, you start to recognize why the beggars (see the shift in labeling here) are always right outside the liquor store doors or no more than a block away. They're not actually homeless or if they are, they aren't helping themselves get out of homelessness with the money you are giving them. Sadness.

Third, you generally turn off when you see someone panhandling or begging or what-have-you and be on your way. You enjoy your life and they enjoy the Vancouver climate and whatever resources the current crop of conservatives haven't cut back already.

So... apathy generally wins out.
posted by Slackermagee at 11:59 AM on August 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


To stress his point, he had a friend snap a photo of a man at an intersection holding a sign advertising a $5 pizza special, while Salzman stood next to him with his own message: "Please buy me a pizza before I am arrested for holding this sign!"

This. Any law against panhandlers holding signs which does not take in businesses who hire guys to stand in that same spot with a sign is arguably unconstitutional -- it prohibits comparable speech based on economic class.

And I say this as someone who's completely fed up with panhandlers.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:00 PM on August 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


We give our money away everyday to egregious, offensive and aggressive panhandling far more extreme than any I've encountered by a homeless person

Indeed. The only difference between the beggars of commerce and the beggars of poverty is that the latter has nothing to sell. It is, from a logical standpoint, obviously not the inconvenience that is objected to when people complain about beggin. I'm just going to link to the Chesterton passage I quoted from above, rather than quote again at length, but I find little to fault in his basic analysis, even at this far removed point in time.
posted by howfar at 12:02 PM on August 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


> Home of the wonderous Arcata Eye Police Log?

I had to click on that just to find out what "Eye Police" were.

I thought I lived in a weird neighborhood.

Also, the person doing the writing is most likely not getting paid enough.

Wednesday, July 18 5:39 p.m. A trash bag crammed with an unholy stew of ejectamenta turned up on an L.K. Wood Boulevard lawn. First thought to be a bag full of marijuana, the malodorous melange was then described as garbage and woody debris. The commingled substances seemed to evolve over a matter of minutes, as an arriving police officer described a fetid goulash of condoms and feces, mixed with further mind-reeling “unknown debris.” The odious admixture was taken to the Corp Yard, where they have a cadaver-rated incinerator.

Thursday, July 19 3:30 a.m. A thoroughly cocktailed man found hazardous repose in the roadway on Samoa Boulevard. He was deposited in the drunk tank.

12:20 p.m. A tall, bearded man dressed all in white with a walking staff committed some lunch hour messianic activity by knocking over a ladder and arguing with random individuals, including children in the area of 10th and I streets.

10:08 a.m. Since his car contained an iPod, charger, pain pills and $32, a man decided to leave it unlocked in a Uniontown parking lot.


posted by mmrtnt at 12:03 PM on August 7, 2012 [10 favorites]


I didn't realize that drum circles are the reason municipal and regional bodies can't offer basic services to the vulnerable. I always thought, naively, it was the multi-billion wars we finance and the multi-billion tax breaks we give the rich.

I think the community has to make the decision to search for a proactive solution that does not dehumanize "panhandlers" while trying to improve the quality of life for other residents of the city.

In Victoria, it was a community effort. The downtown business association got on side. Service providers got on side. City council got on side. The police got on side. The homeless community, of course, also got on side. By working together they were able to get the funding from higher levels of government to develop a strategy that seems to be working.

But it took a while, and a lot of work, and a willingness to look beyond criminalizing poverty and dual-diagnosis drug addiction + mental health issues.

By the way, is there any particular reason to use the phrase "concern trolling" in a mostly polite discussion? Hateful, hateful phrase.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:05 PM on August 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


destro: "DC has a similar situation wherein the city actually provides social services and the surrounding areas don't, so homeless populations flock here and the city is left supporting three or four times the DC homeless population of the city."

As well as no panhandling or loitering laws.
posted by schmod at 12:06 PM on August 7, 2012


Also, the person doing the writing is most likely not getting paid enough.

I bought one of their books years ago and never received it! Would've made for excellent bathroom reading.

The last time I checked back I noticed that the quality of the writing was in decline. Bongo fatigue, perhaps?
posted by jsavimbi at 12:10 PM on August 7, 2012


By the way, is there any particular reason to use the phrase "concern trolling" in a mostly polite discussion? Hateful, hateful phrase.

I'm sorry the phrase offends you. I think it's hateful to talk about the "problem" of panhandling from the point of view that it's a public menace. The real public menace is the fact that we think it's acceptable that people who do not wish to sleep on the street.

As an aside, I'm somewhat surprised at the number of Vancouver/Victoria posters here. I work and volunteer in Vancouver's DTES so I get a bit chagrined when folk talk about my colleagues and friends as if they are less than human.
posted by Catchfire at 12:12 PM on August 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Not everything you dislike is "trolling", much less "concern trolling", whatever you take that to mean.
posted by thelonius at 12:17 PM on August 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


Nazi Rules for performing Jazz:

MOAR NO COWBELL!
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 12:19 PM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm somewhat surprised at the number of Vancouver/Victoria posters here. I work and volunteer in Vancouver's DTES so I get a bit chagrined when folk talk about my colleagues and friends as if they are less than human.

I'm not sure if any of my comments have dehumanized members of your community - if they have, I apologize, although I have said a couple of times here that my perspective is pretty limited, and that to get the full story you would have to talk to a "homeless" person.

However, I have to say that as someone with young children who lives close to Victoria's downtown core, I sometimes think that families get forgotten - I am not an affluent suburbanite, by the way - and there is also a tendency towards moral relativism that dodges the question about how panhandling and substance abuse affects the quality of life of everyone who lives in the city. Sure, panhandling should not be a crime, but that doesn't mean I have to like it, or keep my opinion about panhandling to myself.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:28 PM on August 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


destro: "DC has a similar situation wherein the city actually provides social services and the surrounding areas don't, so homeless populations flock here and the city is left supporting three or four times the DC homeless population of the city."

As well as no panhandling or loitering laws.


If DC had no panhandling laws, then they would have to shut down all the office buildings on K Street.
posted by Falconetti at 12:32 PM on August 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


I consider any thinking which describes panhandlers as a nuisance requiring judicial intervention to be dehumanizing. I didn't find any of that thinking in your comments.

One other thing that always trikes me in conversations about the homeless is the repeated trope of human feces -- this always follows conversations about halfway homes, panhandlers, emergency shelters, recovery clinics -- as if as soon as you allow any of these things, the streets will be (or already are) covered in human shit. I have never seen anything I thought was human feces in the DTES and I certainly have never seen any human actually do her business in an alley way or in the sidewalk, yet listening to these conversations I'd expect it to happen all the time.

Dog shit, however, knows no economical boundaries. It is loved and revered by municipal policies everywhere.
posted by Catchfire at 12:34 PM on August 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


2 possible solutions:

1. round them up and put them in refugee camps, as done in Jordan with the Palestinians.
2. instead of begging, sell apples. This was a "techniq
posted by Postroad at 12:36 PM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Dog shit, however, knows no economical boundaries. It is loved and revered by municipal policies everywhere.

Good point that (and point taken).
posted by KokuRyu at 12:36 PM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


But the last available stats show that 23% of homeless are families with children -- and that was in 2007, before the financial downturn hit.

Which is a truly discouraging statistic.
However, a lot of the frustration is aimed at people like the (relatively) clean-cut guy I pass about every other day standing on the verge with the "4:19" sign. The guy that manages to be out there at the same time every morning (but only in the summer months).
Or the endless parade of 20-somethings squatting on every table downtown with different variations of "Need Fair tickets" propped up on their dog.

The types of transients (in the literal sense) that drive away the very consumers whose money might pay for relief services, in a very chicken and egg way.
posted by madajb at 12:39 PM on August 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


My comment messed up for reasons best know to wiser heads than mine...wanted to say selling apples a polite way begging by seeming to be selling. Folks got the message.

Also many people on the streets because we closed down "insane asylums" and used the excuse that meds would take care of things...Might be. But they need half way house and someone to dispense.
posted by Postroad at 12:39 PM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have never seen anything I thought was human feces in the DTES and I certainly have never seen any human actually do her business in an alley way or in the sidewalk, yet listening to these conversations I'd expect it to happen all the time.

I've not been to Vancouver, but where I live, there are quite a few business that have installed secondary doors on their doorways specifically because people were using them as outhouses.
posted by madajb at 12:43 PM on August 7, 2012


Shelters are a kindergarten-level solution to a high-school level problem; the difficulty is a solution to the actual problem costs money (though probably less than the knee-jerk "NO MORE GODDAM TAXES FOR WORTHLESS HOBOS" would have you think):

- Jobs programs for those who want to work and can't find a job (exists, needs more money)
- Long-term shelter/subsistence for people who can't/don't want to work (unpopular, but a requirement, imo)
- Mental Health services that actually qualify for the label (exist, need more money)
- Temporary housing for those entering any of the above processes

Before I put down this pipe I'm smoking, maybe I should mention that it'd probably be a good idea to spend a few hundred million dollars on re-framing the idea of a police officer from "badass with a gun and a taser who takes down drug fiends and murderers" to "the person (that you probably know, 'cause you see them every day) you call when there's a social problem you can't fix yourself."

I often wonder if it's actually possible for a person to have enough money to do these things and still have the desire to do them, given what I've read on the subject of how privilege affects humans.
posted by Mooski at 12:43 PM on August 7, 2012 [10 favorites]


The problem is that all the cities can affect are their local policies. These cities would be happy to subscribe to a national policy of social services, but when other areas decline to go along with it, what can they do? All they can control is what happens within their borders.

And, yeah, they can (and do) provide social services of their own. But even that often seems counterproductive to me. Instead of serving as an example for a national homeless policy, they're held up as examples of "loony liberal" policies -- with Aunt Mabel's visit to San Francisco serving as exhibit A.

Result: cities will bankrupt themselves trying to deal with a national problem, while everyone else is patting themselves on the back for refusing to help, even as they 'encourage' problematic locals to head to the cities.
posted by alexei at 12:45 PM on August 7, 2012 [3 favorites]




Oops, that link should go to the front page: Pyramid Scheme hits the homeless.
posted by kaspen at 12:47 PM on August 7, 2012


frowner: Sure, there are kids like that - the ones I heard calling Mom for a wire transfer from their fancy cell phone, for example - but the majority I've met have been either from really poor/harsh circumstances, physically or sexually abused at home, addicted to something, kicked out because they were gay or otherwise unacceptable - in other words, people who are not homeless because it's fun.

I was unexpectedly gobsmacked by this statement. It seemed to be so completely unecessary to actually say this. I thought everyone already knew it, that people live on the goddam street for a reason. Do some actually think this is analogus to spending the summer hitch-hiking around Europe?
posted by mule98J at 12:50 PM on August 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


There are backpacker/street camping kids in Victoria who have somehow made there way all the way west, and seem to be desperately trying to get out. They typically hold out a hat in intersections of all places, hoping a passing motorist will give them some money to make it out to the ferry. I have no idea how they actually collect anything in the middle of a busy road.

It's a frightening situation, really, and I often worry what is going on in their lives.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:54 PM on August 7, 2012


There are a number of worthwhile comments upthread on solving the root social and economic problems that result in people begging on the street. This is not such a comment. Instead, I want to talk about this term "aggressive panhandling" and the perception that such a thing exists, let alone that it is a problem in various communities. I've never experienced it myself. On a couple occasions, people that I've been with or near have later described an incident as "aggressive".

There was the yelling woman incident, that upset my companion but that didn't bother me or that I didn't experience as aggression from her because it seemed pretty obvious to me that she wasn't with it enough to be directing her yelling actually at myself and my companion, nor could she physically harm us in any way. She was in no sense a threat.

There was the time I was getting a ride in a car with an ultimate frisbee teammate who declined to pull up to an intersection, leaving a giant space between himself and the couple cars in front of him that were stopped at a light, because he didn't want the squeegee person cleaning his windshield, and apparently this seemed easier to him than politely saying "no thank you" as the person approached.

There have been other occasions where I've witnessed people (acquaintances and strangers both) being really quite rude to those who are on the street -- sometimes requesting something, sometimes merely sitting -- and seeming shocked, surprised, and threatened when the person whom they have just made to feel like shit does or says something unpleasant back to them.

We are so well trained to treat people differently based on their socioeconomic class that it seems that most folks don't even realize how poorly, how disrespectfully, rudely, or sometimes even abusively they treat those among us who are the worst off when we have to interact with them in public spaces. At least, this is the only way I can understand the apparent surprise among people whom I otherwise like and respect when these human beings react negatively to such treatment, as human beings are wont to do. I have never seen someone who is homeless or panhandling just completely randomly exhibit aggression to someone else on the street. It obviously happens sometimes. Yet statistically, homeless people are far more likely to be the victims of street aggression and crimes. From personal experience, from working in anti-poverty groups, and from reading up on the actual facts of poverty, I remain unconvinced of even the existence of "aggressive panhandling".

(Since I'm generally accused of naivete when I express such sentiments: yes, I've spent time in a number of different communities with large homeless populations, where people have engaged in all different sorts of panhandling, including communities where "aggressive panhandling" is perceived to be a problem by some residents, with various levels of social services to support those at the margins of society, both in the US and Canada. I have friends who sleep and beg on the street, and friends who are in the 1% (though not the 0.1%). I've walked down the street and been asked for money while dressed, as my mother would put it, "like a bum"; and I've walked down the same streets and been asked for money while dressed in finery or with shopping bags displaying my purchases from not-cheap stores. In other words, my doubt over the existence of "aggressive panhandling", and of its status as a social problem requiring legislation, comes from experience, not from naivete. (Though I guess, reading this, you will just have to take my word for it, which is perhaps no different than the word of someone else on the internet complaining of how prevalent aggressive panhandling.))
posted by eviemath at 12:59 PM on August 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


I've been aggressively panhandled at Union Station in DC, picking up a friend from the Metro. It felt more like getting mugged, to be honest, as I felt that if I didn't give the guy money he would have attacked me physically. I am a woman, but I feel that a guy would have been intimidated as well, unless he was built like a quarterback.
posted by longdaysjourney at 1:14 PM on August 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


The funny thing is, I've actually known a bunch of traveling kids too, and what I found was that - to my considerable surprise - many, many of them were not from indulgent middle/upper middle class homes and just traveling for kicks.

I dug some out some data on this once, to combat the notion that street kids in the Bay Area all come from the Oakland hills. The stereotype is that these kids are overwhelmingly white and 'playing' at being homeless. Why is the race relevant? It turns out that black homeless youth were much more likely than white youth to be in contact with their families. Why? The cause of homelessness and geographic origin broke on racial lines. Black youth were more likely to be local and those in contact with their families had often left home to relieve financial pressure on the family (making one less person to house and feed). White youth tended not to be local and tended to have been chucked out or had to run away.

My experience with Evanston, I think, leads me to conclude that the homeless, for a variety of reasons, will migrate and congregate where they are the "most" tolerated, even if the differences are minute.

Evanston's not exactly got a lot of visible homeless people that I recall, though. I'm trying to think if I've ever been asked for money in Evanston. I don't think so. I've not spent huge amounts of time in downtown Evanston, but it's not somewhere where I'd even think of people having reason to moan about panhandling. (And if they did, they should take a Megabus that arrives at Union Station after say 8pm. That's the one time/place where I start feeling hostile to people asking me for money.)
posted by hoyland at 1:17 PM on August 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


I am sympathetic to the plight of the homeless, very aware of the death of the middle class and a duly angry member of the 99%, but there's a lot of BS on both sides.

My last two panhandling incidents occurred within 20 minutes of each other downtown this past weekend. 1) A very large, in every dimension, panhandler occupying most of a bus stop bench asks me for something. I shake my head. He yells "Fuck you you fucking asshole!". 20 minutes later: 2) young street person talking on an iPhone as he walks toward me, pauses in his conversation, turns his head slightly towards me and asks if I can spare a dollar.

So there we are, two supposedly imaginary stereotyped situation which supposedly hardly ever happen, and they just happen to be the ones that happened to me the last time I set foot downtown. And I am not making this up, distorting it, or collapsing events that happened on different occasions. I'm aware that this is not by any means representative of all homeless, but to pretend they're vanishingly rare or don't happen at all is disingenuous and will distance any experienced person you're trying to reach.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:22 PM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I live just south of Arcata and rarely go to the plaza anymore. Even though I do not feel directly harassed by the panhandlers in town it is the fact that they are everywhere around downtown. The last time I went to Arcata a woman with 4 small children was on a corner with her sign and her kids singing and dancing. When they left they go into an almost new mini-van. I have problems with things like that. We have many people in Eureka with signs outside Costco/MickyD/Coop. Some I'm sure just really need the help and many others are scamming. How does one tell the difference? It is easy to blame the system for all of these problems but in my experience volunteering with a social service agency, people make one bad decision after another that compounds each bad decision. It is then very, very hard to get back on one's feet. How much help does society give and how much effort must an individual put forward to help themselves? It is a problem I don't know how to answer. I no longer give any panhandler money.
posted by cairnoflore at 1:31 PM on August 7, 2012


Before I put down this pipe I'm smoking, maybe I should mention that it'd probably be a good idea to spend a few hundred million dollars on re-framing the idea of a police officer from "badass with a gun and a taser who takes down drug fiends and murderers" to "the person (that you probably know, 'cause you see them every day) you call when there's a social problem you can't fix yourself."

A-fucking-men. This is our path to a more civilized society. Police officers should be social workers who have the right to arrest someone when they break the law.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 1:32 PM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Okay, fine. Since you've put this out here, I'll get in some practice. I should explain that, in this exercise, you'll be playing the part of my idiot, tea-partying stepbrother against whom I have to defend my citified liberal elitist ways whenever I go back home.

You know, since at least the Victorians, people have been trying to figure out how to tell the "deserving poor" from the shiftless, lazy bastards so they could feel good about helping the former get a leg up while smugly rejecting the latter for their lack of proper values and leave them to their fully deserved squalid fates. It was bullshit then, and it's bullshit now.

I listen to you go off about you just don't believe healthcare should be a right, and how awful your students are - mainly the black ones who you describe as self-entitled and crippled by their addiction to welfare - and insisting that you don't owe anything to anybody, even though you have almost literally nothing that wasn't given to you by someone else. The land by your grandfather, but everything else by one government or another between your military career and your job riding herd on (I can't really call it teaching) unruly urban kids. And I get that what ultimately drives you to show up at town hall meetings and unleash your spittle-flecked rage at your Congressman is a deep, gnawing conviction that your hard-earned tax dollars are going to give someone out there, somewhere, something that they don't deserve.

So you want a world that's just. Where everyone gets what's coming to them. Well good luck with that. (And maybe if you thought it through a little more, you wouldn't want that quite so much.) So you're juiced that taxes are 'confiscatory!' as if that by itself is the end of the argument. Well okay, sure, they are. So the fuck what? I freely admit I want to tax successful people to deal with the less successful, and I honestly don't give a shit if it's fair or not. See I don't want a world that's fair. (Well, okay, sure I do, but I also want my own Milennium Falcon.) I want a world that works. And in a world that works, you can't just ignore shit because you've applied whatever standards you've come up with to it and decided it isn't your fault.

Remember that storm last month that brought down those trees and took out half the old calf pen? Why'd you put up with that shit? It wasn't your fault. No way that was your fault. Some 80 mph wind out of nowhere takes out a tree that's been there since at least your granddad's day, and just smashes the shit out of the fence? Fuck no. Wasn't cheap to rebuild that fence either, was it? So why'd you just stand there and take it? Why didn't you just tell it all fuck no, tree, get the hell off the fence and stand back up? I'm not paying for your bullshit?

Let me tell you something that happened to me when I was out in Seattle a few years ago. I'm walking down the street, not the best part of town, when some homeless woman steps out in front of me - looked like hell, clearly strung out on something, her mind not really engaged with the world around her, typical undeserving drugged out homeless annoyance. She's wearing gray sweatpants and a hoodie, and right in front of me she just drops her sweatpants, squats down and takes a shit, right there on the sidewalk.

And I'm like, what the fuck? What kind of world is it where people just take a shit on a busy public sidewalk like that? What the hell is wrong with this woman that she thinks that's okay? And why should I, and everybody else out here, have to put up with it? What did I do? I followed the rules and did all the right stuff. I keep myself straight and clean and pay my taxes and work my job. Seriously, what the fuck? I didn't make this woman mentally ill. I didn't sell her the crack or the meth or whatever she's on. I didn't decide that getting fucked up and living on the street was a better choice than the ones that led me to my comfortable middle-class life with my own bed and my own private place to shit where people didn't have to look at it.

Whoever was to blame for this, I was pretty damn sure it wasn't me. So why should I have to be confronted with it? Why should I have to step over her shit just because I'm walking down the street? I had it pretty well worked out that this was NOT. MY. RESPONSIBILITY.

And yet there she still was, shitting on the sidewalk. She didn't vanish any more than your tree got back up and fixed the fence around the calf pen.

Just like the storm, poor people happen. Drug-addled homeless wrecks happen. Ordinary middle class people who got spit out by the machine and found themselves on the street happen. (They happen equally, in fact: whether or not they share your values or whether or not they got there by accident or through a bunch of really short-sighted decisions doesn't enter into it.)

And we have to deal with them one way or another. We can get them off the street and into a better situation. We can hire cops to poke them with sticks and drive them into some place we then don't go to. Or we can watch them taking shits on the sidewalk when we go outside. Whatever we choose, there's a cost to their existence that we have to pay, whether it's fair or not. It can be a financial cost or a social one, it can be paid through social workers, cops, prisons, degradation of our common spaces, or anywhere else we choose to push it, but it's got to be paid. Even though it's usually not our god damn fault.

So if we're going to have to pay to deal with these people anyway, why don't we get something better for our money than just moving them somewhere where they can suffer out of our sight? How about we not pay to actually inflict suffering on people? Talk about wasting your tax dollars. And especially why don't we stop trying to do the moral computations to work out which ones deserve help and which ones deserve to suffer? (Because have you really stopped to think about that lately?)
posted by Naberius at 1:35 PM on August 7, 2012 [19 favorites]


I have never seen anything I thought was human feces in the DTES and I certainly have never seen any human actually do her business in an alley way or in the sidewalk

Come to San Francisco some time, we'll go on a little walk. It's that time of late summer now where I no longer try to walk home out of downtown because the piss and shit smell is so bad. So now I'm waiting for the rainy season. Also in San Francisco there's so many people shitting in the public transit escalators it shuts them down.

San Francisco lacks for public restrooms, although we did set up a bunch of free fancy private toilet cabins. They haven't worked very well, in part because they are convenient places to shoot up. About every day I go downtown, I see a guy with urine or shit stains on his pants. The problem is more than just not having a place to go.

I'll say it again: the number of sick and addicted people living in the streets of San Francisco is the city's greatest shame. And we are apparently powerless to fix it.
posted by Nelson at 1:36 PM on August 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


I want to talk about this term "aggressive panhandling" and the perception that such a thing exists, let alone that it is a problem in various communities. I've never experienced it myself.

oh for crying out loud. Ye olde 'never happened to me, the rest of you are all making shit up for kicks and propaganda'.
posted by jacalata at 1:38 PM on August 7, 2012 [7 favorites]


sidhedevil and ruhroh: Yes, my statement wasn't meant to in any way condone the actions of either the blue-shirted terrors or panhandlers. If a city can run the delicate balance to allow good buskers and street performers while keeping the panhandlers and petition solicitors off the public way, I'm all for it.

I'd also point out to those who are coming down on a "the poor panhandlers" side of things: Please, work with the homeless and the poor some more. Volunteer for your local homeless services organizations. You may not come to the same conclusion I did, but that process has very much led me to a "No money for panhandlers or corner sign holders. Ever." policy.

And, yes, we as a society don't know how to deal with these people because we're unwilling to write people off, to warehouse them. Our social services are actually generally targeted towards helping people turn their lives around.

The real problem here is that we're for the most part talking about ramping back up involuntary commitment to mental health institutions. Anyone who's lived in a conservative area of the country knows why that's so freaking scary, but that's what it's going to take to get the hardcore off the streets. And I don't have any good answers, but anything that keeps the panhandlers at bay is a start. And meanwhile I'll take the money I would have given them and keep funnelling it to my local shelters and kitchens, and try to better figure out where I draw the line on mental illness and involuntary commitment.

Also: Let's pull the stigma from "mental illness", I know a woman who's hanging on to her subsidized home by a hair because she can't overcome her anxieties about doctors enough to get to the psychiatrist enough to be certified to collect SDI. She's mentally ill, so are most panhandlers, whatever the circumstances that have brought them to that place.
posted by straw at 1:46 PM on August 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


That stretch of 101 has always been sketchy. Once a very long time ago, I picked up this hitchhiker in a pouring, freezing rain. All of a sudden, there are two guys in the car and I'm scared.

My intention had been to drive home to Oregon, but since these two guys were so interested in knowing how far the border was, for some reason, I told them I was only going as far as Crescent City.

The lucky thing was that I had some really really strong pot with me, which I offered them and kept offering them. By the time we made to to Crescent City (I'd picked them up just north of Garberville), they were so out of it that I just sorta coaxed them out of the car and drove off to a bar and tried to decompress and get my wits about me for the drive home.

But my point is that there is that kind of energy, a hybrid of hippie and pond scum, passing through those parts.
posted by Danf at 2:06 PM on August 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


he didn't want the squeegee person cleaning his windshield, and apparently this seemed easier to him than politely saying "no thank you" as the person approached.[...]I've never experienced it myself. [...] I remain unconvinced of even the existence of "aggressive panhandling".[...] I have never seen someone who is homeless or panhandling just completely randomly exhibit aggression to someone else on the street.
My experience differs from yours.

And you really didn't characterize "rude" that completely in your post. What are you considering rude? I mean, I'm not about to insult some stranger, but I'm not going to necessarily give them special attention either.
posted by smidgen at 2:18 PM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am from Berkeley. The Berkeley of the north is Madison, WI
posted by parmanparman at 2:25 PM on August 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


When they left they go into an almost new mini-van. I have problems with things like that.

You can't - you really can't - judge how poor people are by their immediately obvious possessions. There was an article linked here not long ago about a woman who was homeless and living in her van - and social services people tried to get her to sell it because "well, you can't be that poor if you still have a van". But of course, it was where she lived and kept the remnants of her stuff, it kept her warm in winter and out of the rain - and she'd be a scant few thousand richer (not enough to get off the streets) and sleeping in a shelter bed (if that) if she sold it*.

I used to know a homeless guy who went by "Pops" - he's probably dead now, since he was old and this was years ago. Pops used to hang around the local crack dealers and run errands and get beat on when they felt like beating on someone. He had a profile on him that could have been carved on a coin - one of the local radical photographers took a picture of him that I saw in a gallery once and he could have been maybe some kind of aristocratic Tuareg dude. So there was one winter when Pops had a new coat he'd gotten somewhere - from a shelter, probably. It was camel-colored wool and looked very expensive, like something you'd pick up at Ralph Lauren. Dressed up in that coat and walking down the street, you'd think Pops was some kind of elder statesman, a wealthy retired musician maybe, or the former president of some successful business.

And then there's my para-homeless friend who is struggling to raise her baby - she's couch-surfing, more or less, and in and out of work. She has an iPhone - it was the last purchase she made before the bottom fell out of her life, and she's held onto it like crazy because she needs it for jobs and bus schedules and all kinds of life stuff.

This is one reason why I don't judge people who ask me for money. I fork it over if I have it and say no if I don't, and I don't care what they spend it on. We're human being to human being, not Victorian charity board and victim.

*And this is precisely what Victorian charity boards would do to people - they wouldn't help you until you'd sold all your possessions. Winter coat? Forget it. Spare dress? To the used clothes shop! Baby's blankets? Sorry! So until people were so destitute that it was virtually impossible to climb back out of it, they got no help. Monstrous, monstrous people - but in a hundred years I expect that our arbiters of social policy will look much the same.
posted by Frowner at 2:27 PM on August 7, 2012 [18 favorites]


The solution to the problem is an adequate social safety net. In other words, we will never solve this problem in the USA.
posted by Mental Wimp at 2:28 PM on August 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


(I add that I was "aggressively panhandled" by a drunk and broken-toothed guy a couple of years ago and it was scary. I totally, totally believe it happens. And honestly, I get tired of the "and I just need ten dollars to get back to my car to drive to the train and I'll pay you back if you give me your email" scam, so I usually cut people off and just give them a couple of bucks. I mean, being panhandled, yeah, it isn't an awesome experience. How could it be? You're being confronted with the human wreckage of capitalism and it's no fun.)
posted by Frowner at 2:30 PM on August 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


Police officers should be social workers who have the right to arrest someone when they break the law.

My practice wife was a social worker for family court services in St. Paul, MN. This is exactly what they were: as officers of the court they could turn someone over for custody to the sheriff is they didn't comply with the law.
posted by Mental Wimp at 2:30 PM on August 7, 2012


The solution to the problem is an adequate social safety net. In other words, we will never solve this problem in the USA.

I'd look on the bright side. If the USA is like the UK, once its economic, military and cultural dominance recedes, it will become more accepting of outside influences. In 50 years, the US may well not be the dominant country in the Americas, let alone the world, and things will change, just as they always do.
posted by howfar at 2:36 PM on August 7, 2012


You're new here, aren't you?
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 2:40 PM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


In 50 years, the US may well not be the dominant country in the Americas, let alone the world, and things will change, just as they always do.

But getting to that point where things CAN change is not going to be pretty.
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:56 PM on August 7, 2012


But getting to that point where things CAN change is not going to be pretty.

Almost certainly correct. I'm just injecting the note of optimism that, appearances often to the contrary, the possibility of positive change is always present, and that there is always something we can do to help the process.
posted by howfar at 3:08 PM on August 7, 2012


I am extremely sympathetic to the homeless, addicted, and/or mentally ill, and I think it's pretty much society's fault they are stuck on the streets getting sicker and sicker. It's horrible, and we ought to be ashamed of how we treat the homeless. It pisses me off when people persecute them for daring to exist where they can be seen by the non-homeless.

But aggressive panhandling definitely exists. I'm a relatively small woman, and creepy panhandlers have often attempted to use that to their advantage. Trying to corner me. Making sexually-charged comments. Calling me a bitch if I turn them down. Approaching me in pairs or trios when I'm walking alone. I don't think I should have to excuse or tolerate that under any circumstances.

Most panhandlers have been decent to me, but the large minority of creeps is too much for me to bear. It jacks up my nerves, and one of my friends had a full-scale panic attack after we were approached by a particularly aggressive panhandler who was following us down the road (until I had one of my unfortunate flip-outs and ordered him to leave us alone).

When I interact with panhandlers, I'm always polite as a default. And when I was younger, I was very nice. Being so nice just seemed to open the door to further harassment by the creepy ones. So I'm polite, but distant, and I am not apologetic about that distance. I've gotten sick of people trying to use bodily intimidation against me. It is borderline delusional to deny that this happens.

If I ever have any spending money again, I will be utterly delighted to donate to a reputable organization that does good work for the homeless.
posted by Coatlicue at 3:16 PM on August 7, 2012 [9 favorites]


Catchfire, my references to human feces come specifically from complaints by Arcata residents covered in the Arcata Eye. Either residents and law enforcement in Arcata are lying, or people are defecating in the city plaza with some frequency.

Human feces present different public health challenges than do dog/cat/squirrel feces. Public funding to provide people with clean, sanitary places to shit is important for everyone in the community.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:24 PM on August 7, 2012


Meanwhile vacant houses outnumber homeless people ~4:1.

I am really tired of hearing that statistic cited like it's a tragedy and something should be done, with the implied idea that the homeless should be put into the empty houses. People paid for those houses and built those houses with funds. The idea that they should be taken away from those people just because some people don't have houses is kind of awful.

I have never seen anything I thought was human feces in the DTES and I certainly have never seen any human actually do her business in an alley way or in the sidewalk, yet listening to these conversations I'd expect it to happen all the time.


I certainly have. I've seen homeless people shit on the sidewalk, and I've seen homeless people pissing on the sidewalk, or in train stations, just kind of pulling their penis out and going to town.
It's awesome that you haven't seen it, but I assure you that it does happen.

We are so well trained to treat people differently based on their socioeconomic class that it seems that most folks don't even realize how poorly, how disrespectfully, rudely, or sometimes even abusively they treat those among us who are the worst off when we have to interact with them in public spaces. At least, this is the only way I can understand the apparent surprise among people whom I otherwise like and respect when these human beings react negatively to such treatment, as human beings are wont to do. I have never seen someone who is homeless or panhandling just completely randomly exhibit aggression to someone else on the street.

Um, no.
You know what I do when dealing with an aggressive panhandler? I simply don't acknowledge them, and keep passing. It's not rude - I am not somehow obligated to respond to every human that wants a piece of my attention. And I assure you, for this I've gotten yelled at, shouted at, and other such things. Aggressive panhandlers aren't acting that way because the meanies with the money are treating them badly - they're aggressive because they're mentally ill, on drugs, or have a sense that they're entitled to other people's money.
posted by corb at 3:31 PM on August 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


Instead of focusing on the red herring of public defecation, it would be cool to hear Catchfire's perspective on how things are going in Vancouver DTES. I have the assumption that things are slowly getting better there.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:36 PM on August 7, 2012


People paid for those houses and built those houses with funds. The idea that they should be taken away from those people just because some people don't have houses is kind of awful.

Why would you have to? Not every piece of socially minded legislation requires the direct expropriation of private property. Wealth taxes on unoccupied property would encourage owners to rent, increasing competition in the housing market and bringing down rents, as a f'r'instance. You'll obviously despise that idea too, but at least it's not a caricature of what you think people are thinking.
posted by howfar at 3:41 PM on August 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Wealth taxes on unoccupied property would encourage owners to rent, increasing competition in the housing market and bringing down rents, as a f'r'instance.

It's a little more complicated than that, for several reasons (aside from the morality of a wealth tax which you are absolutely right I would hate).

First, most unoccupied houses are not zoned or built for multiple-family occupancy. They're built for single-family occupancy, which means that to be profitable, it needs to add up to more than the property taxes, full utilities, including water, sewer, and heat, and any remaining mortgage on the home. This does not exactly tend towards cheap rents. Also, most of the empty houses are in areas that either have low public transit or are short on jobs, making them not exactly ideal for homeless people. (And how are the homeless going to get even such artificially cheap "rent" together?)

Secondly, landlords are required to provide certain standards of services for tenants, and in many locales, are not allowed to evict tenants who don't pay their rent or who are destructive to the home without a lengthy and complicated process.

Thirdly, aside from the mere fact that renting out houses drives down home values (thus further penalizing said homeowners), renting out houses to previously homeless families absolutely drives down home values in an absolutely plummeting way. The fastest way to get people with the means to maintain their homes to move out of an area is to move in people who are inadequately prepared or invested in maintaining the community. And when people with means move out, values fall overall, the school system likewise plummets, and before too long you've just created another slum.
posted by corb at 3:49 PM on August 7, 2012


And in case it wasn't obvious and I need to spell it out:

Said example of dude shitting in the middle of the sidewalk, you really think that guy's going to take good care of a rented house? And leave politely when he's requested to, so the owner can move their family back in? Not to mention fumigation needs for dealing with vermin and such.
posted by corb at 3:51 PM on August 7, 2012


Housing homeless folks with mental health issues has to be paired with some sort of treatment or support.

Victoria, interestingly enough, has another example of this - Cockrell House. Some Canadian veterans end up living on the streets or in the bush for various reasons, among them PTSD and other mental health issues.

So housing has been found to help out, along with support and treatment for mental health issues. So it is possible to do.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:59 PM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Pope Guilty: “Meanwhile vacant houses outnumber homeless people ~4:1.”

corb: “I am really tired of hearing that statistic cited like it's a tragedy and something should be done, with the implied idea that the homeless should be put into the empty houses. People paid for those houses and built those houses with funds. The idea that they should be taken away from those people just because some people don't have houses is kind of awful.”

I can't speak for Pope Guilty, but I don't know that this statistic is generally cited with the intention of recommending some dictatorship of the proletariat where property is redistributed. Personally, I would agree that flatly confiscating all vacant houses and giving them to homeless people would be a disastrous violation.

But the statistic does mean something. It indicates that we're a society that doesn't really have checks on its wastefulness. That has to do with a lot of different things – in this case, it almost certainly has to do with the fact that the financial sector, in collusion with the Fed, convinced everyone that they ought to have the luxury of their own home, and that they ought to borrow far beyond their means to get it. That drove up homebuilding and homebuying until there was a bubble that burst, and now we find ourselves in a debt-based society which assumes that its members will perpetually owe money to someone or other. That seems like a massive problem to me.

It's very hard to know what to do about all this. Again, I think I agree that coercive governmental tactics won't help, but it's certainly true at this point that neither will the free market. The United States now represents the greatest income inequality ever in the history of the world – and that fact is gradually tearing our state apart.

Because we tend to blinder ourselves, our citizens tend to see one half of the problem at any given time, and choose political sides based on what we see. Conservatives see that the cherished ideals of liberty, autonomy and privacy are being threatened by those who want to forcibly enact social justice; Liberals worry that social justice is under attack by those who want to forcibly maintain the traditional and essential American liberty, autonomy and privacy.

But those are both sides to the same coin. This is the problem that liberty, autonomy and privacy on the one hand, and social justice on the other hand, are now more than ever in great tension with each other. That is a monumental problem. And I have no idea how to solve it. Simple socialist redistribution clearly won't do it, but ignoring the problem and hoping it will resolve itself is just as foolish.
posted by koeselitz at 4:06 PM on August 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


Count me in with the people who've seen 'aggressive panhandling'. It basically blurs the line into mugging. I mean, they're using physical intimidation to get money from you - how is that not mugging? Muggers don't always make explicit threats or openly brandish weapons.
posted by Mitrovarr at 4:07 PM on August 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yeah, and I have to say – in this case, the law Arcata is using to combat it really doesn't make sense. As someone said above, the signs are probably the best aspect of panhandlers. It'd be minimally intrusive if panhandlers simply sat there silently at intersections with signs. It seems like it's the physical contact (and the shitting) that is the problem.

Sometimes I wonder if really simple fixes could be had. Like: outlaw panhandling, and then offer free beds and food to people who are willing to do manual labor. But I'm sure I'm being too simplistic about that.
posted by koeselitz at 4:10 PM on August 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sometimes I wonder if really simple fixes could be had. Like: outlaw panhandling, and then offer free beds and food to people who are willing to do manual labor.

Don't even require manual labor. Give them the bed and the food and have a nurse stop by to bandage them up and a counsellor to talk to. It's a lot easier to discourage panhandling when it's not necessary to survive. Sell it to the business community, who funds it through local taxes, as keeping the core presentable and ready for business and tourism.

One of the reasons that Vancouver's safe injection site has been a rousing success is that it has a demonstrable record of public health and financial benefits: reduced incidence of HIV and hepatitis transmission saves millions of dollars for the taxpayers over the long run; higher uptake on detox programs and lowered crime rate that translate directly to reduced policing costs. Improving things for the homeless and at risk can be done on a cost/benefit basis.
posted by fatbird at 4:36 PM on August 7, 2012 [6 favorites]


Said example of dude shitting in the middle of the sidewalk, you really think that guy's going to take good care of a rented house?

And this is your problem. The majority of homeless people are not shitting on sidewalks and panhandling in the street, they're people who, for one reason or another, are unable to access housing resources. They are young people sofa-surfing, families in temporary accommodation, people whose home have been repossessed and all kinds of other things. The people who scare and upset you in the street are a subsection of the homeless, generally a section in need of appropriate treatment and care, but they aren't in any way representative of the problem of homelessness in developed societies.

Increasing home occupancy and bringing down property prices is a totally appropriate way to address the problem of homelessness, if only one understands what that problem is.
posted by howfar at 4:51 PM on August 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


The majority of homeless people are not shitting on sidewalks and panhandling in the street, they're people who, for one reason or another, are unable to access housing resources. They are young people sofa-surfing, families in temporary accommodation, people whose home have been repossessed and all kinds of other things.

This is completely true -- but the issue in Arcata is with the much more visible and atypical kind of homeless people, the ones playing bongos, leaving syringes in the bushes, and panhandling. They aren't representative of homelessness in the US -- but they are a challenge for Arcata's quality of life. The solution for homelessness more generally may not have much to do with how this kind of public space issue is handled, and vice versa; they have some overlap, but are really different problems.
posted by Forktine at 5:20 PM on August 7, 2012 [6 favorites]


Street homelessness is the tip of the homeless iceberg. But a high percentage of panhandlers are chronically homeless, as compared to people like me, who were temporarily homeless due to an unexpected circumstance. The needs -- and challenges -- of the chronically homeless community, which often involves years of substance abuse problems and untreated mental conditions (with related behavioral issues) that make them poor fits for the sorts of shelters that we now have, which are, to a large extent, set up to address the needs of the temporarily homeless.

There is no one-size-fits all fix to the problems of homelessness, because there are several different kinds of homelessness.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 5:21 PM on August 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


There is no one-size-fits all fix to the problems of homelessness, because there are several different kinds of homelessness.

This. I have a very good friend who works for one of the largest social services organizations in NYC. His job is basically to determine how many of the city's chronically homeless actually get better from using the resources available. The answer is really, really grim. As it turns out, we don't actually know how to cure mental illness or addiction, and no amount of money is going to fix that. You cannot force someone comply with their treatment plan, and you can't involuntarily commit them.

This is why I don't give money to panhandlers, and instead give it to the organizations that are providing services.
posted by snickerdoodle at 5:55 PM on August 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


This is why I don't give money to panhandlers, and instead give it to the organizations that are providing services.

Yeah, me too. One of the better solutions I have seen to panhandling is to encourage people to give money to shelters and social services organizations, rather than to individual panhandlers. I have tried to track down statistics on this, but they are in short supply, but from my own experiences the percentage of panhandlers who spend their money on drugs or alcohol is very high. Giving to panhandlers offers almost no, if any, solution, whereas social services organizations are extremely skilled at using the money to pay for soup kitchens and the like.

Not to say that people shouldn't give money to panhandlers. That's up to the individual. But if you want to curtain panhandling, make it easier for people to donate to organizations than individuals, and they will often make that choice.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 6:09 PM on August 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


howfar: "The people who scare and upset you in the street are a subsection of the homeless, generally a section in need of appropriate treatment and care, but they aren't in any way representative of the problem of homelessness in developed societies."

This is true in most places. Having spent some time there, however, I don't think it's true in Arcata.
posted by koeselitz at 6:31 PM on August 7, 2012


That has to do with a lot of different things – in this case, it almost certainly has to do with the fact that the financial sector, in collusion with the Fed, convinced everyone that they ought to have the luxury of their own home, and that they ought to borrow far beyond their means to get it.

I actually agree with you on this, though I find different people to blame. To me, one of the problems wasn't just the financial sector convincing everyone that they ought to have the luxury of their own home, it was the attempts at "Rectifying inequality" by encouraging first-time homebuyers, etc - essentially, putting people who had no financial reason to be buying houses into houses. But either way, you're absolutely correct - I think we do need to tackle the idea that everyone deserves to live in a house rather than an apartment and dismantle it, before more people keep spending what they can't afford for an American Dream that doesn't apply to them.

And this is your problem. The majority of homeless people are not shitting on sidewalks and panhandling in the street, they're people who, for one reason or another, are unable to access housing resources. They are young people sofa-surfing, families in temporary accommodation, people whose home have been repossessed and all kinds of other things. The people who scare and upset you in the street are a subsection of the homeless, generally a section in need of appropriate treatment and care, but they aren't in any way representative of the problem of homelessness in developed societies.

I agree with you, but I wasn't talking about those people - who generally are temporarily homeless and then get back on their feet. I was talking, as others have mentioned, about the street homeless specifically.

I have a lot of friends that are homeless right now, because I'm a recent veteran. Many of my friends from the service are homeless according to how this is defined - no permanent address, no lease, etc. Some of them have stayed on military cots or futons in my living room for a while. Some sleep in their cars. They're totally homeless, but we're passing them around, so you don't see them. We're working to get them their disability, so that we don't have to keep doing this.

These guys are fine once you get them into a place. They're totally neat and really conscientious. They may have mental health problems, but a specific kind that other veterans can deal with really well. They are unlikely to become chronically homeless, at least until all of us die out and there's no one left that can offer them a couch.

But that is nothing compared to the guys who are cheerfully pissing at you, or getting in your face, or terrifying your children or trying to touch you.

I also have a tough time with this. I believe in personal liberty - I don't believe in forcibly committing people to mental institutions. But at the same time, I pay tax dollars for protection from such incidents and I expect to be protected.

So what's the answer? Some places give them a bus ticket out of town to anywhere, but that's just passing the problem along to other towns. Others drop them outside city limits, but they can always walk back. There's a lot of no-vagrancy statutes in a lot of places to deal with this, but the laws usually wind up screwing average citizens who, say, just happen to fall asleep on the train.

So what do you do?
posted by corb at 6:40 PM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh yeah, another incident of how aggressive panhandling tends to happen for me:

Joe Panhandler gets on the train. "Hey anybody, can you spare any change, any food at all you happen to have on you?"

Corb:*hates giving money to panhandlers because they use it to buy drugs and alcohol* *looks down at her sandwich, or banana, or fruit salad, or tangerine and suddenly doesn't feel hungry, because she knows what being hungry is like, and remembers it, and knows it's not what she's feeling right now* *Thinks about her buddies who are starving on streets all over America* *Offers up her sandwich, or banana, to homeless guy*

Joe Panhandler: *takes steps closer and gets in Corb's face* "What the fuck is this shit?"

Corb: *furiously stews and tries to avoid a confrontation with crazy homeless guy that she was just trying to help with WHAT HE SPECIFICALLY ASKED FOR*
posted by corb at 6:43 PM on August 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


corb: "I actually agree with you on this, though I find different people to blame. To me, one of the problems wasn't just the financial sector convincing everyone that they ought to have the luxury of their own home, it was the attempts at "Rectifying inequality" by encouraging first-time homebuyers, etc - essentially, putting people who had no financial reason to be buying houses into houses. But either way, you're absolutely correct - I think we do need to tackle the idea that everyone deserves to live in a house rather than an apartment and dismantle it, before more people keep spending what they can't afford for an American Dream that doesn't apply to them. "

I'm glad we agree on that, at least. I'm interested in the notion that subprime lending was driven by a desire to eradicate inequality, which I haven't heard of - although I'm open to it. As far as I can tell, the biggest catalyst behind the bubble was Alan Greenspan's belief that the American Dream (or something like that) could be expanded to a larger number of people while also giving the financial sector a huge market to expand into. I'd never thought of Greenspan as someone who wanted to push equality on society, given his Randian tendencies, although maybe I'm looking at it wrong. It is certainly true that he believed he could help give average Americans something they otherwise would never have, and that is a kind of equalization.
posted by koeselitz at 6:55 PM on August 7, 2012


Just to add one more account, I've also had a guy drop trou directly in front of me (and about a dozen other people) and squat down to take a dump, on the grass about two feet from the sidewalk. He didn't wipe or anything, just pulled his pants back up and keep walking. It happens, and no one who gets to watch that will ever quite forget it. (Personally, I suggest that adequate provision of safe public toilets is a human rights issue, but that's perhaps a larger topic.)
posted by Forktine at 7:02 PM on August 7, 2012


Bunny Ultramod - "One of the better solutions I have seen to panhandling is to encourage people to give money to shelters and social services organizations, rather than to individual panhandlers."

Not having any luck pulling up web info and too lazy to walk down to 4th Ave to see if the meters have any info on them, but Vancouver (and apparently Ottawa) have installed Kindness Meter type thingies - they look like parking meters but the funds go to social services (of some kind). A few have been installed in more upscale/gentrified areas where there is a heavy panhandling presence (although the incidences of aggressive panhandling is not normally a problem in these neighbourhoods).

Panhandlers and (apparently) many advocates for the homeless despise these things.

I've never observed anyone putting money into one.

Anecdotally there appears to be at least two major homeless populations in Kitsilano; the sit-on-sidewalk-asking-for-money and salvage-stuff-trolley-people. The salvage types can be observed hanging out in groups trying to not be too disruptive and appear to be a close-knit group. I don't know if the panhandlers have as strong a community.
posted by porpoise at 7:15 PM on August 7, 2012


They are unlikely to become chronically homeless, at least until all of us die out and there's no one left that can offer them a couch.

Actually, veterans are over-represented among the chronically homeless. There's a good chance the old drunk guy taking a crap on the street is a veteran (1 in 3 homeless men (defined as being on the street, I think) are veterans). It's also believed that the problem of homelessness among veterans will get worse--veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan started turning up on the streets faster than Vietnam veterans did (Vietnam veterans make up the bulk of homeless veterans) and there's a greater prevalence of PTSD, which is considered a risk factor for homelessness. This situation is all kinds of problematic, but you definitely can't draw some dividing line between veterans and the guys on the street.
posted by hoyland at 7:16 PM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I also have a tough time with this. I believe in personal liberty - I don't believe in forcibly committing people to mental institutions. But at the same time, I pay tax dollars for protection from such incidents and I expect to be protected.

Two things. One, you enforce the laws that already exist to prevent assault and robbery, which is what "aggressive begging" actually is. Two, you have a functioning safety net. In developed societies, I think that safety net has to be some form of welfare state. I've lived in some rough, poor parts of big cities in the UK, including inner London, and never myself experienced the type of aggressive begging many people talk about occurring in the US (although I personally have never experienced it there either). The place I have experienced persistent and sometimes aggressive begging is in Lebanon, and I can't help but feel that has a lot to do with the essential absence of any safety net for those who fall through the gaps in society. It is much easier and more reasonable to stop people begging if you can ensure that they don't need to.
posted by howfar at 7:38 PM on August 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Actually, veterans are over-represented among the chronically homeless. There's a good chance the old drunk guy taking a crap on the street is a veteran (1 in 3 homeless men (defined as being on the street, I think) are veterans).

This is kind of my baby - some of my friends also do some major work in veteran homelessness, so I'm going to let you in on a secret.

This is a bullshit statistic that is not true.

1 in three homeless men IDENTIFY as being a veteran, absolutely. But when pressed for details of their service, they often had no ability to accurately recount even things that no veteran would forget, or got severely major details wrong.

Homeless people love to claim they're veterans, because it gets them a shit-ton of sympathy. It's my pet peeve, because it takes away support from actual homeless veterans, who often behave differently (and whom different metrics need to be used to track them)

There also isn't a greater prevalence of PTSD among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans - but when Vietnam took place, we weren't acknowledging PTSD as a disease or screening for it effectively - and by the time people started going to the VA for it, so much time had passed that often they were turned down for benefits because they couldn't prove that it was related to their wartime service.
posted by corb at 7:41 PM on August 7, 2012


I am uneasy with the "give money to social services, not the homeless" line, for several reasons: first, because I suspect that it results in less giving, because it's easy to think "oh, I will give at X point and not now to this person" and then it's late in the month and you're low on money and X point never comes, or something else gets in the way; second, because it concentrates funds, often into the coffers of Big Charity - organizations like the Salvation Army with unsavory labor practices and agendas who may not actually be in touch with the real human needs that are at issue; third, because frankly, half that "give money to nonprofits" is really "give money to support social services jobs for middle and upper middle class people who are "helping" the disenfranchised - it turns into social services jobs programs for people who already have a lot of advantages; fifth, I'd much rather, like, be able to give money to a clinic or a store or an apartment or something and have it go against homeless folks' bills than support a social worker who is just one more middle person who tells you how to 'access' very limited services*; and last, because it helps the ordinary human dignity of homeless folks to have a little bit of cash on them and it's degrading for people to say "I think you're too incompetent to handle money, so instead I will at some future point dish out $10 to the Sallies".

*Honestly, you can see tons of social workers in this town who will tell you how to 'access' the sliding scale clinic - but if you, for example, need a medical service like chemo or minor surgery or, god forbid, dental work that the sliding scale clinic can't provide, you are shit out of luck. There's always more jobs to tell poor folks how to 'negotiate' the services bureaucracy, but no one wants to provide the actual services, which is what people really need. Stop paying the social workers and start paying some fucking doctors, that's what I say.

And I also have an aesthetic distaste, frankly, for the impersonal sort of private charity. We should have social programs that are supported by tax dollars and to whose services anyone in need is entitled. My one homeless friend will go out of his way to avoid any gathering where social workers are present - again, based on some really shitty experiences he's had as a man of color. I mean, I have some friends who are good people who work for smaller, more local social services non-profits and who do some good work on the ground, but it's not a model that I think is going to solve the problem at hand.
posted by Frowner at 7:49 PM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


And dentists, come to think of it! You could improve the lives of MANY homeless people by staffing a free, full-service dental clinic....but of course, if we started giving free and desperately needed care to homeless people, it would be harder to justify withholding it from the working poor, and there goes your labor discipline, and whoops, that's the end of capitalism as we know it.
posted by Frowner at 7:54 PM on August 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


I am not certain that unsourced suspicions about social services, and a sense that the people who work at them shouldn't get paid for their work, helps the homeless either.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 8:03 PM on August 7, 2012 [3 favorites]



I am not certain that unsourced suspicions about social services, and a sense that the people who work at them shouldn't get paid for their work, helps the homeless either.


I can only offer the critique in The Revolution Will Not Be Funded and a lot of experience trying to help my friends get medical care, plus a shit-ton of really shocking interactions between my working class friends (or other working class people in various waiting rooms and offices) and social services, interactions which were obviously not meant to be witnessed by me, since people like me are not expected to turn up in the welfare office or at the counseling service. I'd say I have more experience observing this stuff and buddying around with social workers than many middle class people do, and it's only anecdote but it's made me very skeptical. A classic example: there are several large local nonprofits which are dedicated to helping families of color. The low-paying entry-level gigs are staffed by POC, but they won't hire anyone without a social work degree to do the fancier stuff or to set policy and under their rules you can't make up for lack of a degree by experience, so the people in those roles are overwhelmingly white and middle class...thus there's a lot of gatekeeping by people who did not grow up in the communities they're attempting to help.

I am pretty skeptical of the thick layer of state and nonprofit bureaucracy that poor folks have to get through in order to get medical care, food, education and housing, much of which is predicated on the underlying belief that poor folks are ignorant at best and lazy cheats at worst, so they need to have their options severely reduced. I am dismayed that it is easy to get in to see a caseworker who can "explain" the lavish $250/month in rental assistance and give you a chart of the bus lines to the free clinics but that it is impossible to get impacted wisdom teeth removed if you can't afford cash or get approved for a payment plan. I had a friend who was delirious from her infected wisdom teeth - a friend of a friend's rich parents paid the $1000 to get two (not all four, and she's suffered with the remaining two ever since) pulled, because there was no other way to get it done, and god knows what happens to the folks without friends' friends' rich parents. I feel like this is absolutely ass-backwards, that far more poor folks (like my friend) are capable of setting up an appointment and getting to a clinic but are not capable of paying for the services they need, and far fewer poor folks need the "here is where to get off the bus" level stuff (which I know that some folks really do). There is this tremendous reluctance to intervene in the "market" by actually providing medical care, housing, etc, and so everyone says that the solution is to "educate" poor folks about how to bootstrap themselves up and out of poverty.

On another note, honestly, there is a certain "sympathetic but briskly impatient" tone that middle class people learn to use with working class people when they are in need. I've heard myself use it and I know I've unconsciously dropped it if the person has turned out to be middle class; I've heard it when I've overheard social services people on the phone or at a desk dealing with clients. It's not a tone that gets used on me. It's a patronizing tone, and though it's certainly kindly meant, the various ideas about "deserving" and "educated" and "who knows best" that are inculcated in the middle and upper middle classes run pretty goddamn deep. That's another reason that I'm skeptical of social work.
posted by Frowner at 8:26 PM on August 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


because it helps the ordinary human dignity of homeless folks to have a little bit of cash on them and it's degrading for people to say "I think you're too incompetent to handle money, so instead I will at some future point dish out $10 to the Sallies".

I hear what you're saying, but when the person asking me for money is clearly drunk and proceeds to throw an empty bottle of vodka at me when I decline to give her money, I don't see how my handing over a dollar is helping anyone other than the liquor store owner.

It's not that I think she's incompetent; it's that homelessness is usually the last step in a long chain of shitty events, and I'd rather put my money toward preventing people from getting there in the first place. There are lots of alternatives to the Salvation Army, from emergency assistance funds to community health organizations to food banks. There's even Modest Needs if you really want the personal giving effect.

There are exceptions, of course. My brother once had his car break down after his wallet was stolen while driving through Alabama. He slept in an alley and panhandled until he could buy a calling card to call me so I could wire him money so he could pay the one-eyed mechanic in town to fix his car. Luckily, said mechanic had a soft-hearted old lady who let him stay the night and sent him home with sandwiches once the car was fixed.

I do occasionally give money if it seems like it'll make a difference. But the guys hanging out in the park every morning who are always swearing at everyone and getting into fights and are drunk at 9am? I'll give them coffee if they'll take it, but no, I will not help them drink themselves to death.
posted by snickerdoodle at 8:30 PM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


And dentists, come to think of it! You could improve the lives of MANY homeless people by staffing a free, full-service dental clinic....but of course, if we started giving free and desperately needed care to homeless people, it would be harder to justify withholding it from the working poor, and there goes your labor discipline, and whoops, that's the end of capitalism as we know it.

I don't know what dental care has to do with labor discipline, to be honest. Lack of access to basic dentistry is a huge issue in this country, though, and teeth remain one of the last visible class markers -- there was an article a few years ago about the incredibly long lines at a temporary free dental clinic, in LA I think, that made an FPP; the stories were heartbreaking. I would guess that the percentage of the population that lacks access to dentistry dwarfs the homeless population, probably by at least an order of magnitude. (A quick google search backs that guess up, with homeless numbers at somewhere around one million, plus or minus quite a bit, and something like 45 million lacking dental insurance.)

Even having dental insurance is no guarantee of care -- I have great insurance by US standards, and the actual coverage for dental stuff is pretty paltry; I am fortunate that I can afford to make up the difference with cash, but a huge number of people can't. So I'd call that a national issue, not a homeless issue.

I never give to panhandlers, though I won't say someone is wrong to do so. I don't think it's a particularly effective way to help, particularly compared to writing a check to a local organization that is providing either direct services or advocacy to that population.
posted by Forktine at 8:30 PM on August 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


Well, perhaps you can respect my own experiences as somebody who was homeless, and came out of it with the help of social services organizations, which were, to the one, understaffed and underfunded, and yet worked their tails off to help people.

There is a creeping cynicism about social services, but I'll tell you this: Money given directly to panhandlers is gone the next day, did little to improve their lives, very likely made it worse if it was spent on drugs or alcohol. Certainly one should be careful to which charity one supports, but these provide institutional support to people who are in need, and institutions are going to be able to offer far more, better, and longer lasting support than individuals will from a quarter or two.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 8:30 PM on August 7, 2012 [6 favorites]


providing either direct services or advocacy to that population

That was meant to be: providing either direct services to or advocacy for that population.
posted by Forktine at 8:32 PM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I guess most people I know who have been separated from their money through threat of physical harm would call that a mugging, not aggressive panhandling, even if the initial ruse to initiate contact with the mark was an ask. Maybe that's a cultural difference or something. Maybe if I had been there I would agree that it was "aggressive panhandling". Maybe if I had been there I would add you to my list of people who, perhaps not with conscious intention, behaved in some fundamentally classist way that, though arguably not their fault (we all get raised to hold a ton of ingrained classism), resulted in a negative response from a panhandler. I wasn't there, so I won't presume to judge your individual experiences. If you don't wish to believe that I have a fair amount of experience and reading on the topic to supplement my own experience, I'm not going to try to argue and convince you, because I get really heated about this topic.

I get really heated about this topic, because, well, the injustice, but also it highlights a fundamental ethical failing that seems to me to be becoming more and more prevalent: the idea that somehow asking for help is wrong (unless perhaps sufficiently justified in certain narrow contexts). Asking, and giving without expectation of any sort of payback, create social bonds that hold a community and a broader society together, and that hold people together psychologically often as well. Yet there is always the assumption in conversations about aggressive panhandling that requesting money on the street is somehow just barely tolerable, and easily tips over the edge into being so wrong that it justifies special legislation (that always ends up singling out one particular, extra-marginalized class of people and not being actually applied equally to other folks asking for money in other ways). The very framing of these debates, in my experience at least, is always intrinsically classist.
posted by eviemath at 8:35 PM on August 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Your rich enemies like that you've gotten into a moral panic about who the deserving poor are. They like it very much.
posted by mobunited at 8:37 PM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm a relatively small woman, and creepy panhandlers have often attempted to use that to their advantage. Trying to corner me. Making sexually-charged comments. Calling me a bitch if I turn them down. Approaching me in pairs or trios when I'm walking alone.

Oh yeah. I've literally been grabbed on the street and harassed by homeless people in broad daylight. (And no, nobody does a thing.) What did I do to deserve that? I stood on a street corner alone while female and young, or I walked down a street with headphones in alone while female and young. In the case of the grabbing, there were regular panhandlers making comments about me as I walked by them from time to time, and one day they decided to by god MAKE ME pay attention to them, apparently. I guess I should have rolled over and spread my legs right there in public.

I am flat out terrified of homeless people, because you never know which ones are crazy and may do anything to you. I used to have a coworker who gave money to a regular panhandler, and the one day she had no money on her, he pitched a screaming fit in public. But of course California is out of money for social services, so.... It's not so much that I want to be an asshole and ignore their humanity, but dammit, I don't want to interact with people who may be completely unhinged either.

I don't know how I am going to deal with living in a city.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:37 PM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am flat out terrified of homeless people, because you never know which ones are crazy and may do anything to you.

If it helps any, actually getting attacked or hurt by a homeless person is statistically pretty rare. They are far more often the victim of crime than the perpetrators. When I see somebody in a fully vocalized manic state, I definitely give the person leeway, but they're not really after me or likely to harm me.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 8:47 PM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have never seen anything I thought was human feces in the DTES and I certainly have never seen any human actually do her business in an alley way or in the sidewalk

Then you do not know what human shit looks like. I work in the DTES and walk to and from my work at various projects, and people on the street shit everywhere. Look in the alleys, especially in the spaces between dumpsters, look in doorways, look in fire exits.

Where do you think homeless people shit? The automated public toilet at Pigeon Park and the Thunderbox at Hastings are not sufficient. Given they do not have homes, and bathrooms, and given they eat food and have digestive systems, they shit in the streets and lanes.

If you still have any doubts, do visit the alley entrance between Wing's Cafe and Nelson the Seagull on Carrall and sniff. That is sewage. I work with and know tons of panhandlers and homeless people but I see no point in denying unpleasant facts. Something else to remember; homeless people are people like us, and just as some housed folks are anti-social assholes; there are homeless people who behave like jerks and frankly feel entitled to do whatever they want, wherever they want, including shit.
posted by moneyjane at 10:00 PM on August 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


How exactly is begging not included in that thing we call "free speech"?

Oh, that's right. This is about America. Where guns are free, but free speech is an antiquated notion. Too many folks found dead from tongue lashings, I guess.
posted by Goofyy at 2:22 AM on August 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


What about ordinary middle class or lower class people, who can only afford "free" leisure areas or amenities, such as parks and libraries which then get overwhelmed by the homeless and quickly become unusable? And then, those amenities lose taxpayer support and disappear altogether. What about the areas where they live and shop and hope for some minimum of enjoyment and quality of life? They can't afford to move into the rarified world of the Romneys and the Koches.

A thousand times this. This is why we have suburban sprawl. A small percentage of people abuse the commons and that scares everyone else off.
posted by gjc at 5:22 AM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


1 in three homeless men IDENTIFY as being a veteran, absolutely. But when pressed for details of their service, they often had no ability to accurately recount even things that no veteran would forget, or got severely major details wrong.

Homeless people love to claim they're veterans, because it gets them a shit-ton of sympathy. It's my pet peeve, because it takes away support from actual homeless veterans, who often behave differently (and whom different metrics need to be used to track them)


You're welcome to provide evidence for this. But, as far as I can tell, there's no reason to believe this claim. It's the first thing you'd worry about in your survey design. This article about the methodology is particularly relevant. In particular, the recent much-vaunted drop in veteran homelessness came the year they started asking people on the street whether they were veterans, rather than estimating the people on the street based on the numbers in shelters. (And, of course, if someone has made it to a shelter, particularly for more than one night, you're going to be trying to get them services and thus checking their veteran status, so that count should be more accurate than just asking.) The VA's numbers also seem to support the direct count being accurate (can we agree that the VA can figure out if someone is a veteran?).

Also, it seems reasonable to me that if you'd spent 30 years drinking or doing drugs, you could easily be fucked up enough not to reliably relate the details of your military service.

I'm not so naive to think that no one has ever lied about being a veteran to get sympathy. I'm about 75% sure I've seen it happen. Once. In however many thousands of times I've seen someone hit somebody up for money.
posted by hoyland at 6:00 AM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


You know, since at least the Victorians, people have been trying to figure out how to tell the "deserving poor" from the shiftless, lazy bastards

It's a little earlier than that. In the UK, it's since mediaval/Tudor times at least.

Where I work, in beautiful downtown Bootle, there's a homeless man who leaves his empty cider bottles and a nice, freshly laid human turd outside our back door every morning.

But he does sleep in the alley. Where the hell else is he gonna shit?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 6:11 AM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I get really heated about this topic, because, well, the injustice, but also it highlights a fundamental ethical failing that seems to me to be becoming more and more prevalent: the idea that somehow asking for help is wrong (unless perhaps sufficiently justified in certain narrow contexts). Asking, and giving without expectation of any sort of payback, create social bonds that hold a community and a broader society together, and that hold people together psychologically often as well. Yet there is always the assumption in conversations about aggressive panhandling that requesting money on the street is somehow just barely tolerable, and easily tips over the edge into being so wrong that it justifies special legislation (that always ends up singling out one particular, extra-marginalized class of people and not being actually applied equally to other folks asking for money in other ways). The very framing of these debates, in my experience at least, is always intrinsically classist.

I don't think it is classist (necessarily), but the problem is the idea that because someone has a good excuse, they ought to be allowed to bother everyone they can possibly bother in a day. Asking for help is not wrong. But begging / panhandling isn't that. It's someone making their living by bothering people. It doesn't build community, it exploits it.
posted by gjc at 6:30 AM on August 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


corb: “So what's the answer? Some places give them a bus ticket out of town to anywhere, but that's just passing the problem along to other towns. Others drop them outside city limits, but they can always walk back. There's a lot of no-vagrancy statutes in a lot of places to deal with this, but the laws usually wind up screwing average citizens who, say, just happen to fall asleep on the train. So what do you do?”

I guess you start by providing food and shelter to everyone, and then police carefully enough and well enough to prevent public threats.
posted by koeselitz at 8:43 AM on August 8, 2012


If this thread motivates any folks near San Francisco to donate, in 2005 I Asked Metafilter about San Francisco charities for homeless people. Some good suggestions there. The organization I consistently see doing good in SF is Delancey Street, they're focussed on giving people stable housing and job training.
posted by Nelson at 8:44 AM on August 8, 2012


Frowner: “I am uneasy with the ‘give money to social services, not the homeless’ line, for several reasons: first, because I suspect that it results in less giving, because it's easy to think ‘oh, I will give at X point and not now to this person’ and then it's late in the month and you're low on money and X point never comes, or something else gets in the way...”

I'm not sure how well it worked out, and understandably you have other concerns, but in Denver they had a novel solution to that problem: the city put up red "parking meters" all over the downtown area, through which one could donate to programs to help the homeless. The idea was to encourage people to take the money they might have handed to a homeless person and instead immediately put it to a better use that would likely help them more.
posted by koeselitz at 8:48 AM on August 8, 2012


Re "I guess most people I know who have been separated from their money through threat of physical harm would call that a mugging, not aggressive panhandling"

I think this is quite similar to the threads on sexual harassment that we've had here on the blue. Is "I felt uncomfortable so I gave him a blowjob to get rid of him" rape? How about the web dating profile that gets dick shots? Is a big shabby person saying brusquely "anyone on this subway car with 3 small women besides me on it got any money?" a mugging? It's a continuum.

And I don't know if you've looked at Arcata on the map, but there aren't huge population centers nearby. Sure, there are probably a few people from the local population, but for the most part if you ended up panhandling in Arcata it's that the weather is mild, the income from the tourist trade is good, Humboldt County grows lots of righteous weed, and if you're okay with shitting in public (and, hey, what disillusioned street punk isn't?) it's a chance to hang out with a bunch of like-minded people in a (formerly) accepting locale.

Panhandlers are going to Arcata because it's a lifestyle and a living, not because they have no other options. Yes, we could use more social safety net in this country, but as I mentioned, when I started volunteering with super low-income populations (families living on a few hundred bucks a month) I discovered that we collectively do offer more resources than I, in my upper middle class cocoon, thought.

I live in a county with an unemployment rate of 9.2%. I know a guy who's spent years in and out of prison, is out and sober (and describes himself as that way) who's managing to pay child support, keep a roof over his head and a few other people's, and says "yeah, I used to panhandle and hold a sign when I was a leech on socity". Now when he needs some extra cash he waves a sign on a corner for a business. It pays about $10 an hour. He knows he could make more by holding a sign that says "will work for food" but now that he wants to be a member of society he'd actually rather work for food and, oddly, when he started genuinely offering, people started taking him up on it.

I also know a woman with 5 kids from 3 different fathers who's struggling to keep 'em fed and clothed on several hundred dollars a month, and she similarly takes a really low view of the panhandlers.

The person crapping on your step in the middle of the night could get SSDI and live under a roof. We have enough of a safety net for that. If they're not, it's for one of two reasons: Lifestyle choice, or mental illness that isn't severe enough for involuntary commitment but is keeping them from seeking help. Neither of those is solved by giving money directly to that person.
posted by straw at 8:51 AM on August 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


the problem is the idea that because someone has a good excuse, they ought to be allowed to bother everyone they can possibly bother in a day. Asking for help is not wrong. But begging / panhandling isn't that. It's someone making their living by bothering people. It doesn't build community, it exploits it.

Lots of things bother me. Advertising bothers me. Lots more people make their living by advertising than by panhandling (and they make a living, not a mere survival). I'd agree that advertising is generally counter to community-building. Shall we put aside our differences on the panhandling issue and our apparently contradictory definitions of community and collaborate on a crackdown against advertising?
posted by eviemath at 11:45 AM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think this is quite similar to the threads on sexual harassment that we've had here on the blue. Is "I felt uncomfortable so I gave him a blowjob to get rid of him" rape? How about the web dating profile that gets dick shots? Is a big shabby person saying brusquely "anyone on this subway car with 3 small women besides me on it got any money?" a mugging? It's a continuum.

Agreed; I was trying to stick to one point and not write an overly long comment, but this thought occurred to me as well. As Bunny Ultramod pointed out, statistically violence against people living on the street or panhandling/begging is far more prevalent than violence from this group, however.

I strongly disagree that "We have enough of a safety net for that. If they're not, it's for one of two reasons: Lifestyle choice, or mental illness that isn't severe enough for involuntary commitment but is keeping them from seeking help." however. Accessing social services in the US is not as easy as walking into an office and applying.

First, there are many basic structural obstacles arising from social assistance programs themselves. Apparently (as friends have had the recent misfortune of finding out) it's quite rare for someone applying for disability to have their first application accepted, and the standard is that you have to work with a disabilities lawyer and apply two or three times before getting accepted. As noted above, people can be denied assistance for having property exceeding a certain value, which on the face sounds quite reasonable, but in practice means people being told that they have to sell their car -- that they need in order to go to interviews and find a job and get off of assistance -- before they can be eligible for benefits that are supposed to be only temporary assistance until they get a job again. In Canada, where the social safety net is a little stronger than in the US, I've seen political goals of a provincial government influence the availability of assistance. Depending on the political party in power, managers and social workers are given bonuses for the number of people they exclude and the amount of money they don't give out, rather than for the amount of assistance that they provide people in need. Programs are chronically underfunded and there simply isn't enough money to fill the need for some programs (the waiting lists for subsidized or public housing are quite long in many cities in the US and Canada, for example). In Halifax, many people are turned down for the special diets program despite having a note from their doctor, or for the home heating supplement, in part because these programs are simply underfunded, and in part because of political pressure from above to keep the programs small. Then there are lifetime limits on amount of benefits that can be received through certain programs. What if you've maxed out your unemployment, you are not officially disabled, not near retirement age, you don't have kids, or I think there may be one or two other cases that I'm forgetting that could make you eligible for services that don't have a specific upper limit on the amount of assistance you can receive? Yeah, you can look for a job, but (especially in today's economy), there actually might not be one out there. Especially if you're a young black male, maybe with a criminal record for whatever reason.

Second, there are structural obstacles that are not caused by the assistance programs, but nevertheless prevent some people from getting assistance. Lack of transportation, for example. In many places, you need a permanent address to receive a social assistance check at, and the local homeless shelter doesn't count. Some charities will let people who are homeless use them as an address, but no such services exist in many towns. Lack of knowledge that services are available is also a problem. Say you're a chronically underfunded social assistance-providing group of some sort. If you spend money on advertising the existence of your services, that's money that doesn't go into the pockets of people in need. And even without any advertising, you'll almost certainly find enough people in need, so forgoing advertising in favor of directly helping people seems pretty ethically solid. But that means that some people are going to fall through the cracks because they didn't know that services were available and had no way of finding out.

Third, there are myriad social and psychological obstacles beyond mental illness or addictions issues. Users of social assistance services across many communities in the US and Canada consistently report feeling patronized, looked down upon, guilty and unworthy, etc. when attempting to access services. Generally you have to give an awful lot of personal information away when applying for services, and for some people this has not been a safe thing for them to do in the past, maybe if they are not straight or cis-gendered, for example. While child protective services do many positive things, they have regulations that they have to follow even in cases where it doesn't make sense, and so young adults who have run away from abusive homes may be afraid that they'll be sent back home. Whether that's a justified fear in their particular case or not, maybe just some generalized fear that they've picked up from hanging around other runaways, it's a real obstacle preventing them from accessing services. You could look at these situations from outside and explain why these should be illusory concerns 'till the cows come home, but people are human, and such things affect us. It's nice that your friends have had better luck with the available social services. It's nice that some of my friends and family have as well. That was certainly helpful for the people that I know, contributed to my brother and I getting proper nutrition as infants, etc. And I also know a number of caring, hard-working people who are helping to provide those social services, and do not want to in any way belittle the work that they do. It's important that the social services that are available are there. Yet there are still people for whom (adequate, or any) services are unavailable, for whatever reason. That those people are unable to access services means that there are gaps in how we provide services, not that those people are somehow faulty.

Getting back to Arcata, you can say, using loaded, judgemental language, that for a group of street kids to congregate somewhere where they feel safe and respected with other people like themselves, and to try to support themselves through panhandling rather than dealing with social service institutions that they likely have had negative experiences with in the past, and to try to maintain their mental health through something that they find fun and beyond mere physical survival, is a "lifestyle choice". Have you thought of the implications of the fact that that's the best choice for many of those people? What that says about their other available choices?

For the small percentage for whom traveling is a lifestyle choice - yeah, I know a couple folks who will work in some town for a bit, then hop a train or hitch rides somewhere else, and busk or pan (eg. when their guitar gets stolen or if they don't happen to have a useful skill for busking) while they are traveling, until they get to their next town that they settle in for a little bit. I get along better with polite folks, so the people I know who do this tend to be pretty polite about it and try to provide some service rather than just panhandling, and they say that there are other folks on the road who are not so polite. But so what? We are talking about a very small number of people on the margins of society, generally creating a minisculely small burden on others. So what?

So Arcata, you say. That's not a minisculely small burden there. And besides, what about the principle of the matter, abuse of the commons and all that? This is where the classism comes in. Have any of the bothered people in Arcata tried talking to the homeless people that they find bothersome, as if they were an equal part of their community, and tried working together on finding mutually agreeable solutions to the particular behaviors that were bothering them? Given that the article talks about new laws that target these people's existence: no sleeping in public spaces, no merely sitting with a sign asking for money (we're not getting into "aggressive panhandling" or maybe-muggings, even), removing services that used to provide indoor restrooms and non-begging sources of income (eg. the recycling center), given that the conversation is about how "tolerant" Arcata is being of these (implicitly non-Arcatan) homeless residents, I seriously doubt it.

This is what I'm talking about when I say that the whole framing of the issue is classist. The framing is that these kids who come through regularly and spend a fair amount of time in Arcata, as well as the ones who are homeless but live in Arcata permanently, are somehow not also part of the community. Every community has different members with different tastes and habits that sometimes come into conflict. What sets this group apart that other members of the Arcata community feel they don't have to deal with them like any other members of their community? It annoys me when my neighbors make the lifestyle choice of using a noisy leafblower rather than raking their yard, or make the lifestyle choice of not cleaning up after their dog shits on my lawn, or make the lifestyle choice of not shoveling the sidewalk in front of their property or of leaving big banks blocking the sidewalk when they plow their driveways. I've mostly lived in college towns, and even before and while I was a college student myself, it annoyed me when my neighbors would be drunkenly loud in the middle of the night. Yet in all these cases, I did not assume that these people were somehow apart from my community and that I could just go advocating ordinances to push them out. The solution is to talk to them as neighbors and as equal members of a community, and to work with them. (This is a proven approach for dealing with conflicts between long-term residents of a university community and student residents, for example, and many communities have successfully gotten past long-term residents' earlier prejudices against student residents through respectful dialog, and ended up with stronger, more pleasant communities in the process.)
posted by eviemath at 1:09 PM on August 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


(I kind of wrote that last comment as if I was talking exclusively to you, straw, but it morphed into a more general "you" somewhere in between the third and sixth paragraphs. My apologies for any confusion or negative implications from my shifting pronoun usage.)
posted by eviemath at 1:17 PM on August 8, 2012


it was the attempts at "Rectifying inequality" by encouraging first-time homebuyers, etc

That was a tiny, tiny slice of the giant pool of money that sloshed into the American real estate markets after the 2000-2002 crash, and the ultra-low interest rates that drove investors seeking stability away from US government securities, and into real estate-backed investment vehicles.

Because land always holds its value.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:40 PM on August 8, 2012


No worries, eviemath. I think you have good points (whence my favorite), although I suspect that various members of the Arcata residents have reached out to the transient community, and I believe that there are situations in which there are no peaceful mediated resolutions (sometimes ya gotta call the cops on the unruly neighbors). And, yeah, that's classist because I'm of a class that can find the police as an ally; I realize that that's a luxury.

And your points about the difficulties of obtaining aid are valid; my experience is volunteering with people who've decided to seek some level of help (as previously mentioned, some still with huge anxiety issues that are preventing them from getting further help), who have been through shelters and are now in programs to help them assimilate into the community at large (Although I also recently got roped into being on the board of a non-profit that's got "customers" who are further up the chain, I haven't personally been involved with those folks yet. Mostly because I'm serving as a favor to a friend who's a part of the former class, trying to keep him in check and remind him that he can't save the world unless he keeps his own head above water first.).

I strongly suspect that you and I are not likely to find closer common ground on this topic without a lot more information both on the specifics of what's going on in Arcata, and statistics on the broader homeless communities, so that we can better quantify our populations and their motives.
posted by straw at 1:47 PM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm torn because while I feel homeless people probably have the right to beg, makes signs, loiter downtown etc., it really kills urban centers.

That's what business associations always claim, but it's exactly the opposite of my experience. In fact, it's more or less universally true that the parts of US cities with the most panhandling are *exactly* the part of the cities that I want to spend time in. Not because I'm particularly fond of interacting with panhandlers. (I'd choose it over having to interact with a restroom attendant or a clothing store clerk by a wide margin, but it's still usually an awkward and unpleasant experience.) But, because the things that make a town a good place for panhandling are exactly the things that make a town a good place for living: dense housing, pedestrian traffic, local shops, public transit, a culturally and economically diverse population, nightlife, and usually a vaguely left-leaning city government that makes some attempt at providing social services and humane policing. If you're in the US and you want to find a good noodle house, a theater showing interesting films, a genuinely friendly local bar, or a cheap haircut, just listen for the rattle of shopping carts. Unlike the working poor, the presence of the panhandling homeless are a sure sign that you're in an interesting part of town. If you want my business, that's where you'll set up shop. (And together we can gentrify the place, drive out the people who made it interesting, and then move on in search of another vital piece of the urban environment to consume. But that belongs in quite another discussion.)

It's true I've lived on blocks with some of the densest visible homeless populations in the US for most of my adult life, and I'm probably immune to some of the aesthetic complaints. . . but, I just don't understand why it's a problem. Who the hell cares if there are panhandlers on the street? Except, of course, in the sense that one feels moved to help the panhandlers. Park curfews and bench removal have a much bigger impact on my quality of life than any amount of "aggressive panhandling" ever could.

I can understand why our economic and political actors are driven to criminalize homelessness, but I've never been able to understand why an individual walking-around person could possibly be motivated to care. Whose life is so dull that they can be bothered to fight *for* bans on panhandling? (The same argument applies to rather a lot of prohibitions on things that are prohibited, of course.)

If you want to eliminate the vast majority of the ways in which the homeless negatively impact *my* life, stop bulldozing their encampments and build more public restrooms. (As a side benefit, there will also be public restrooms.) If you want to do something to improve *their* lives, provide social services that don't require that they trade in all remaining scraps of freedom and dignity, provide a reasonable amount of personal safety, and that don't set unrealistic requirements for their behavior. And, while you're at it, stop fining them for things they can't avoid and then arresting them for unpaid fines.

Given a choice between neighbors who ask me for change every morning and neighbors who would approve of laws to ban bongo drums, I'll take the former any day.
posted by eotvos at 4:51 PM on August 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


I am apparently in the minority: I give to panhandlers frequently, especially to women. I don't care if they are drunk or strung out, in fact I expect that they will buy drugs or alcohol. Most are polite or indifferent and I have been lucky to never experience aggressive or violent behavior.

But I expect my charity is coming from a different place than most: I identify a lot with the homeless. My personal set of mental issues causes my life to completely fall apart every few years. Without the support of my family, I would have been homeless many years ago. I would have been subject to the misery, uncertainty, hunger, disease, violence, discrimination, indignities, and horrors that these people face every day.

The last person I gave a bit to was a middle aged woman. She was painfully thin, tanned to leather and had a dog with her that was clearly disturbed by the proximity to the cars. I gave her a twenty and hoped she would have enough to get herself and the dog some dinner, even if she had a habit. Best case scenario: she made enough that day for a few nights at a motel or a tank of gas. Worst case: she uses it all on her substance of choice and gets to spend some time in oblivion. Neither of those things changes her homelessness. Who am I to judge if a bit of booze or drugs helps her deal with her life one more day?
posted by Vysharra at 8:23 PM on August 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


Worst case: she uses it all on her substance of choice and gets to spend some time in oblivion.

Worst case scenario: someone sees you giving her a twenty and beats the crap out of her for it. Or she uses it to buy drugs and that's the one time that literally kills her.

My entire family lived in a refugee camp for two years, and very, very poor until I was halfway through high school. It was only the kindness of strangers that led to us getting out. My dad was also an alcoholic at the time, and if the aid we'd gotten came in the form of cash instead of food, housing, and other systemic support, he'd probably have spent a lot more time getting drunk and hitting us instead conquering his demons.
posted by snickerdoodle at 11:16 AM on August 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


The problem with that argument, snickerdoodle, is that it's as applicable to a wealthy drunk as a poor one, and yet I don't see anyone proposing that we pay people's wages is food and housing in order to help them. Respect for individual autonomy is not unlimited, but it is important.

I give money to people in the street, and also volunteer with a homelessness and housing charity. When I get the worry that someone is going to spend the money I give them on drink or drugs, I tend to remind myself that that's pretty much all I was going to spend it on myself.
posted by howfar at 12:21 PM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sometimes I give a few bucks to the guys on the offramps or in supermarket parking lots. Sometimes it works out that I see them, but it's convenient for me, first, to stop off at Taco Bell or Mickey Dees and buy them a bag of food and hand it to them. All this usually happens through my car window, and I don't have to be afraid of getting mugged, or experiencing any undue angst by becoming familiar with their situation. One time I picked up a woman who was hitch-hiking on the freeway in California--walking on the freeway is illegal in California. She was not high, but she obviously was disoriented. She may have been diabetic (this could have accounted for her behavior), but the story she told me indicated other things were going on. I took her to a hospital in Fresno, and waited while she was admitted. I was not able to solve her problem, and I don't know if what I did even helped her in any significant way. This happened about 25 years ago, and I think about her now and then, wonder how things are for her.

I'm not able to solve their problems.

I'm familiar with the wannabee syndrome among veterans that corb alludes to. I cringe every time I run into it. I sense some form of the Stolen Valor effect in operation here, and I don't buy into it. My valor isn't stolen by any goddam wannabee. I get on that bandwagon when the wannabee commits fraud through his posing. Gotta go back to the red-haired uncle thing, and figure out which is the asshole and which isn't, not just write all the red-haired guys off on account of your asshole uncle. I guess this is one of those you haddabethere situations military folks go on about. It's interesting that the dynamic seems to carry over to this topic.

Anyhow, most comments in this thread seem to tacitly notice that people fall through the cracks, no matter what is done. I disagree with those who retreat into hostile postures on account of the assholes they've seen, or heard about. You have the right to your posture, of course, but I think its more productive to try to narrow the cracks than to dismiss the ones who fall through. We're back to the been-there, got-the-Tshirt situation.

Common sense tells me that shit on the streets is better handled by public restrooms than making the shitter leave the area. He has to shit somewhere. This isn't rocket science. It doesn't mean that that certain people will use the public restrooms, but you at least give a little relief to those who are just looking for a place to shit. If you don't want to contribute to the destruction of a juicer's liver, then give him a cheeseburger. Situational awareness helps you avoid muggers--all muggers, not just the crazy guy who needs to hold your lapel with both hands when he talks to you. The terrain in your neighborhood gives you navigational clues.

Anyhow, passing restrictive laws is a touchy activity that often brings up more problems than it solves. Kumbaya, you all.
posted by mule98J at 10:56 AM on August 17, 2012


So I'm just reading an article that made me think of this post and discussion. Here's the relevant part:
In America, the rights to own property, to serve on a jury, to vote, to hold public office, to rise to the presidency have historically been seen as belonging only to those people who showed particular integrity. Citizenship was a social contract in which persons of moral standing were transformed into stakeholders who swore to defend the state against threats external and internal. Until a century and a half ago, slave rebellion ranked high in the fevered American imagination of threats necessitating such an internal defense.

In the early years of our republic, when democracy was still an unproven experiment, the Founders were not even clear that all white people should be entrusted with this fragile venture, much less the bestial African.
In other words, even back at it's founding, there was this idea in the US (among some groups at least, who happened to have economic and political power) that not everyone residing in the US was really part of the community or the country. Social justice movements from the beginning of the US have been working on expanding the set of people who are considered entitled to political and social participation -- that is, expanding who is included in "us". Arcata seems to be taking a step backwards and limiting who is entitled to social participation in that town with the measures described in the FPP.

Of course, Arcata is not alone in this. Many communities are adopting local ordinances that criminalize homelessness and panhandling (at a time when the homelessness rate in the US is particularly high, I think not coincidentally), limiting who is entitled to social participation in their communities; concurrently, voter ID laws are pushing back against the gains over the past half-century in who is entitled to political participation. So to state my thesis in more moderate language than I used above: some of the consequences of having a large homeless population may indeed be quite annoying and disruptive, but I think it's fundamentally important to the American goal of building a true democracy that people attempt to resolve the issue in ways that don't rely on restricting, again, the class of people considered to be "us", part of the community, eligible for social and political participation.
posted by eviemath at 10:33 AM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


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