perspectives on homelessness
January 23, 2003 2:06 PM   Subscribe

The sixth annual National Homelessness Marathon takes place on February 5-6. The 14-hour public-radio broadcast, which will originate this year from Portland, Maine, takes place overnight, outside, in the freezing cold. This year it will be joined by the first annual Canadian National Homelessness Marathon. The event is meant to raise awareness, not money, though the recent decision in Key West to ban panhandling in the downtown district for the good of tourism, and fine panhanders $500 for their crime, indicates that there's still a long way to go in raising awareness about this issue. Particularly troubling are comments like the one made by Key West Commissioner Tom Oosterhoudt, who explains, "We have to send the message that we don't want these people to come to our city and control our streets. We control our streets."
posted by damn yankee (22 comments total)
I misread your first link as "Homeless Marathon" and thought (for one fleeting moment) that homeless people were going to run 26.2 miles.

God forgive me.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 2:12 PM on January 23, 2003

I realize that the Key West situation may have reached "epidemic" proportions, or some such bs, given the climate and the regular influx of visitors with money, but the AP story doesn't even bother to give any background -- not that it would justify the sort of mentality that this measure is backed by.

I mean, I pass the same handful of guys on my way to and from work every day, and they always hit me up for money, and I never have any, and I always feel bad, and sometimes they're rude, and sometimes that makes me angry -- but I don't think that they don't have a right to be there.

[on preview: crash, you're not the first. ;)]

And I know I might sound like a jackass, saying I pass the same people every day without helping them or stopping to talk to them. I know I might sound overly idealistic to some, as well, by refusing to see panhandling as a problem.

I don't have any answers. This Key West thing just made me really angry, and I've been following the Homelessness Marathon because it's going to be in my city this year, so the two seemed a natural fit to post together.

Are there really any solutions to the multi-facted problem of homelessness?
posted by damn yankee at 2:14 PM on January 23, 2003

don't worry, crash -- you're not the first to make that mistake, or to joke about it. ;)
posted by damn yankee at 2:16 PM on January 23, 2003

arghgh, posting problems. sorry.
posted by damn yankee at 2:16 PM on January 23, 2003

Just a few thoughts:

Panhandling is not the same thing as homelessness.

There will always exist in society people in the situations which currently cause a person to be homeless.

Cities can't expect people not to panhandle if they are in need and have no options.

Without a national plan to address homelessness, no city will create real and meaningful programs to help those in need for fear of becoming a magnet for the indigent.
posted by 4easypayments at 2:24 PM on January 23, 2003

...and have no options.

and have no other options.
posted by 4easypayments at 2:25 PM on January 23, 2003

y'know - this reminds me of something that I was talking to my co-workers about a few days ago... being in NYC, and realizing that itis FREAKING cold... if one was in the prediciment of being homeless... why the heck do you stay in northern climates? I mean why not walk to Florida, or Texas, or ANYWHERE warmer? It's not like you hae anything holding you here (at least I would beleive that most do not).

I hope that doesn't sound insiensitive, becuase, I understand that no one WANTS to be homeless... but I'm just saying... why be cold?
posted by niteHawk at 2:26 PM on January 23, 2003

Sounds great. This proposed $500 fine for panhandling will be a fine, dependable, revenue source for years to come. more proof that part-time city councils rarely know even remotely what they're doing, or have any common sense whatsoever.
posted by PrinceValium at 2:28 PM on January 23, 2003

niteHawk: on that same note (why be cold?) i lived in hawaii for several years, and while this may be urban legend, i heard more than once from completely unrelated sources that other cities were known to buy their homeless population one-way tickets to honolulu.

any hawaii mefites out there ever hear this one?

it doesn't make much sense to me, mostly in that i didn't see all that many haole/mainland-looking homeless types in the city. at least not to the proportion that would indicate a forced mass-migration.
posted by damn yankee at 2:34 PM on January 23, 2003

I heard the same thing about one-way tickets for the homeless, but the tickets were to Santa Monica instead.
posted by faustessa at 2:48 PM on January 23, 2003

some homeless are more mobile then others. In my younger days I used to split the homeless into two camps, the older and usually disabled homeless who tended to stay in one area year round, and the younger and usually addicted "tramps" who migrated south for the winter. Friends of mine would hitchhike or jump trains up and down the I-5 corridor according to the season. Tramps didn't tend to use social services and relied more heavily on direct handouts then the older homeless, who tended to live in or near shelters.People seem to believe the way to end poverty and homelessness is to remove any sort of social service and make homelessness 'undesirable'. Often, however, the few people who find themselves without homes are physically, mentally or (ahem) chemically unable to change their lives without social services.


I had the image of homeless people pushing grocery carts 26.2 miles to the nearest recycling center. Does hell have a broadband provider?
posted by elwoodwiles at 3:02 PM on January 23, 2003

Huh? Often, however, the few people...
posted by elwoodwiles at 3:03 PM on January 23, 2003

Does hell have a broadband provider?

posted by mr_crash_davis at 3:05 PM on January 23, 2003

I live in downtown Atlanta where homelessness and panhandling are pretty much one and the same. I always carry a pocketful of change when I walk just because it's easier to share than say no to people who are obviously in need. They ask for odd amounts like $0.36 to complete their goal for whatever it is they are trying to buy. But most are happy if you simply acknowledge them.

I visited NYC for two weeks over Christmas(it was damn cold!)and naturally I just assumed I would run into a lot more panhandlers in a city like New York than I would ever encounter in Atlanta. Every day I did a lot of walking in the city but only saw one panhandler. It was near the end of my visit and for once I was not prepared. I told him I was sorry I didn't have any change. He looked at me in disbelief and said, "What do you mean change? I only accept dollar bills or higher!"

Congress wants a national comprehensive count of the homeless completed by 2004. Here is what one of our wealthy suburban counties encountered when they tried to do a count on January 10.
posted by oh posey at 3:06 PM on January 23, 2003

oh posey: I've heard and read about attempts to count the homeless in many cities. The homeless are very wary of being counted for very good reason: once the encampments are discovered the authorities quickly dismantle them. It's not the intention of the census workers, but some housewife in Cobb county who lives close to the bridge cited in your link is going to call the police, and the campers will be quickly evicted.
posted by elwoodwiles at 3:21 PM on January 23, 2003

Panhnadlers never bothered me. If I felt like it, I givee em change. If not I walk by. They're used to people walking by and not giving them things. The small amount of discomfort you feel at that moment is nothing compared to their lives. Be strong, people. Or just temporarily speed up your Segway.
posted by kevspace at 3:42 PM on January 23, 2003

Ah. That explains this recent article in the Seattle PI.

""It took a while to understand the beauty of just letting go." -- Kelly, written on her tent."

"Kelly was the favored child of a well-to-do family. Maybe because she was the youngest of eight, she developed an almost ineffable bond with her mother."

"The teen who knocked Kelly unconscious to the ground gathered two friends and returned to kick and stomp her, police say. They high-fived one other and bragged to residents of a nearby apartment complex, their boots bloody."
posted by Feisty at 4:43 PM on January 23, 2003

I mean why not walk to Florida, or Texas, or ANYWHERE warmer? It's not like you hae anything holding you here (at least I would beleive that most do not).

I think a good-sized percentage of homeless people are not (or do not expect to be) permanently homeless. Whenever you see statistics for homelessness, it will always say "on a given night, x people in this city are homeless," and that's because a lot of people will lose the place they stay in, then find another shortly.
posted by Hildago at 5:03 PM on January 23, 2003

I used to live about as far downtown as you could get in Atlanta (P'tree & Marietta -- the city began about 40 feet from my door) and was shocked at how often I got least twice a day. Many homeless lived in Woodruff Park just down the street. (Now I live in NYC and hardly ever get asked for money.)

I used to have a stack of one-ride MARTA passes for some reason, and I carried them in an inside pocket. I'd offer them to anyone who asked for money to get on the subway/bus. About three-quarters of the people who asked that were then pissed off that I didn't give 'em money.

I generally didn't give them anything (unless I had an extra sandwich or other food on me), but as oh posey said, most seemed happy that I didn't ignore them. Sad.
posted by Vidiot at 5:17 PM on January 23, 2003

Can someone answer me please this question>

HOW DO YOU FINE SOMEONE WHO IS HOMELESS (and usually pennyless) ?

IF the person has 500.00 to pay the fine, that I understand but I have never seen a homeless guy having 500.00 cash...

IF the person has no money ( I assume the majority), they throw him in jail, which is paid by taxpayers like me which is NOT FINE

SO the right answer is that taxpayers pay the fine and jail time for homeless people ? Right ? Or wrong ?
posted by bureaustyle at 5:59 PM on January 23, 2003

Unemployment is now running around 6% nationwide. This says to me that 94% of the people who want work, have it. I can imagine that there are perhaps 6% of our population who want work but are disabled and can't. Sure, there are problems among the panhandling population. But I'd say that about 90% of the panhandlers I come across are people who make a lifestyle choice - they are physically able, usually young people who, by their speech and often clever come-ons appear quite capable of working. They are certainly not in the botom 6% of the population. In my opinion, so long as there is a marketplace for people to get paid to beg for spare change, the enterprising masses will rise to fill the demand for such services. Look at what LBJ did with his "Great Society" program. By offering to pay for girls to have children out of wedlock, the number of unwed mothers skyrocketed. The invisible hand at work again.
posted by gregor-e at 2:01 PM on January 24, 2003

Unemployment is now running around 6% nationwide. This says to me that 94% of the people who want work, have it. I can imagine that there are perhaps 6% of our population who want work but are disabled and can't. Sure, there are problems among the panhandling population. But I'd say that about 90% of the panhandlers I come across are people who make a lifestyle choice.

Wow, ok. One thing though: 94% of people have jobs. How many of those are minimum wage jobs? How many of those minimum wage jobs are part time? You can be employed and still be poor.

Any statistic you happen to come across is misleading if it should lead you to conclude that there is not a homelessness problem in this country, or that most homeless people are homeless because they choose to be.
posted by Hildago at 7:46 PM on January 24, 2003

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