To the editor,
I am writing to express concern with Commissioner Aron Cromwell’s proposal for a ban on all panhandling in downtown Lawrence. According to the Lawrence Journal-World’s Oct. 26 story covering this issue, Cromwell expects strong public support for this ban. However, I believe an all-out panhandling ban would serve to criminalize and stigmatize individuals experiencing poverty and economic hardship. I’m also doubtful this ban would address the problem as intended or be any more enforceable than current ordinances, which are confined to “aggressive panhandling.”
Commissioner Cromwell has stated that panhandling “is not a homeless issue.” However, conventional wisdom would indicate that individuals engaged in soliciting downtown lack access to economic resources. Indeed, panhandling is a highly visible symptom of poverty, and being asked for money is a very personal encounter. I think it’s a natural impulse to want to look away or even to try to assign blame to those in need. However, as a community we cannot afford to look away or place blame.
Poverty is with us and cannot be hidden, relocated or explained away. Given current economic conditions, more of us in living in Lawrence could have our own experiences with joblessness and poverty. Lawrence will undoubtedly continue discussions on how to improve our downtown and how to put a stop to aggressive panhandling. At the same time, we need more dialogue about how to help people experiencing economic hardship, reduce homelessness and improve the well-being of all residents in this community.