Letters to the Editor

Poverty, panhandling

November 14, 2009


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.


Amy Heeter 8 years, 6 months ago

There are more resources in this small Lawrence community than in other cities. There is a difference between the true homeless and the panhandlers. The thing is it is only difficult to get hired for a job when a person isn't applying for jobs. It is impossible to reintegrate into the community as a functioning member when a person schedules such priorities between bottles. Sure some people have background issues that limit the possiblities but that only limits the kind of jobs they can be hired for initially. Once a person takes action future actions move along more smoothly. The real problem here is tha Loring Henderson is bent on having a wet shelter that refuses to hold those who utilize services accountable. Do you people even bother to look at the amount of funds that are granted to the local shelter? Bottom line those who are running the shelter are in favor of throwing good money after bad rather than alter the process in order to achieve successful outcomes. While shelter admisitrators are doing this those who could utilize those funds for positive outcomes are left out in the cold. Aron Cromwell is correct in his appraisal of this problem. However the city needs to extend the ordinance against panhandleing to everywhere inside the city limits rather than just the market district. If this is done those who are the largest part of the problem will move on allowing the generosity of this community to serve those who have the willingness to come in from the cold.

Amy Heeter 8 years, 6 months ago

They better get more money into this community if the focus is going to be supporting drunk vagrants. Mom and Pop shops are not going to bring in the commerce needed to support the Taj Mah shelter Loring is wanting to build.

roggy 8 years, 6 months ago

Loring would be the first person to say don't give money to the panhandlers. I have heard him say this. There is food available to those that are hungry and a place to sleep (sometimes) for those without a bed.

Amy Heeter 8 years, 6 months ago

Are you kidding Loring is the biggest panhadler this community has.

50YearResident 8 years, 6 months ago

Life will be good, a government SS (or other gov assistance) check every month and some panhandling change, all the liquor you can drink, maybe a little weed and a nice warm bed to sleep in at night with all expenses paid. Life is "good" so I will call some out of town buddies to share.

Menazort 8 years, 6 months ago

To allow visible panhandling is tantamount to advertising the failure of the current socioeconomic system in which we are all active participants. The exposure of flaws and instability in this capitalist/consumerist culture is a potentially dangerous thing. Why? Any compromise to the collective myth and shared behaviors of a society will ultimately lead to anxiety and spark terror (on at least a subconscious level) of one’s mortality.

Our genes would fail to shuffle on to subsequent generations if we failed to maintain a social system and beliefs, which adequately suppress and quiet the inherent terror and fear of death. Thus, banning panhandling, thereby suppressing visibility of the dominant system’s failure (one sign of it at least) seems a rational decision toward the ends of preservation of the culture. Is that really a good thing?

The homeless, jobless and panhandlers are outside the protective cocoon of the system in which we live. Being engaged by a panhandler is aversive, it can expose one to perhaps contemplate the fragility of life. This type of dissonance, as long as it is nonviolent, might not be a bad thing in so far as it shocks one out of the unquestioning flow of everyday existence.

In our culture of delusion, distraction, cacophonous tech chatter (text, IM, Facebook, Twitter, LJW comments, etc.), busyness and consumption, it may be good to have panhandlers and other symbolic forms of subversion in which to create a modicum of discomfort in hopes it may spark, for a moment at least, some greater awareness and thought about how we live and why.

Jimo 8 years, 6 months ago

Cromwell needs to attend a First Amendment workshop before he manages to cost Lawrence taxpayers a lot of money from litigation. I, you, Cromwell, or anyone else may approach any person to be found in public and ask them their views of the weather, directions to the nearest park, or ... for money. It is not Cromwell's place to qualify speech with restrictions on content he dislikes.

wordgenie8 8 years, 6 months ago

Ms. Crickard has written an eloquent, persuasive letter--may the powers that be give her sane and compassionate words due consideration.

jafs 8 years, 6 months ago

When does asking for money become harrassment?

Or intimidation?

bb837988 8 years, 6 months ago

Keep them from downtown??? Where else do you suggest? If someone's options are so low that they need to beg for money on the street, where else are they going to go? The odds are a lot better when the number of possible donors are higher.

I am downtown on a regular basis. Yes, there are people asking for money but I have never had any reason to be afraid of them. A passerby can ignore them or give them money. No one has ever been aggressive.

This attitude feeds the merchants' push to have the homeless shelter moved away from the downtown. I can understand it as I don't want the new shelter in my neighborhood either. While panhandling may keep some customers away, I imagine that there are a few others - a bad economy, they may have to walk more than half a block to get to the store and not everyone is a college student or has the high disposable income to afford the products downtown.

Mel Briscoe 8 years, 6 months ago

i only saw one "panhandler" downtown last friday when i was in lawrence. and he wasn't aggressive. maybe its worse on the weekends.

seriouscat 8 years, 6 months ago

My issue with panhandling isn't one of 'make it go away' as much as it is a marketing problem for the real issues that real homeless people have. The people who are panhandling downtown are inadvertently putting their habits and their faces onto the entire homeless issue, and are handicapping efforts to help society recognize homelessness not as an issue about bums who are by and large men between 20-40, drunk or on drugs, who bounce around from shelter to shelter, crash pad to crash pad, with no intentions of addressing the personal problems that led them to live that way. The fact that the local shelter is a 'wet' shelter only reinforces that perception.

Homelessness is way bigger issue then just some smelly men who are being a nuisance to business owners and shoppers. What about the families living out of their cars (if they are lucky enough to have one), moms who end up in prostitution in order to feed their children, entire tent cities popping up across the country in hidden enclaves off of highways and under bridges that we all drive by everyday? I really do want to help people, especially moms who just want to have a normal life for their kids, get out of their predicament. I want there to be a helping hand for desperate people, I know they're out there but where are they? They certainly aren't downtown panhandling. All I see there are 20 something punks trying to scratch out another bottle and another hit.

honestone 8 years, 6 months ago

A hard line needs to be taken against the drunks, addicts, beggers and cronic hopeless. Don't just move them to the east side...move them out-of-town

rrgdeb 8 years, 6 months ago

Thank you so much, Menazort and Jimo. Just...thanks.

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