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Are you bothered by panhandling in downtown Lawrence?

Asked at Massachusetts Street on August 8, 2007

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Photo of Jennifer Brown

“No, it doesn’t bother me. In fact I see it as a way to donate money directly to those who need it and avoid the overhead involved with most charities.”

Photo of Sean McCue

“Honestly, yeah, I’m kind of annoyed by it. But I don’t think there needs to be any law against it. It never gets out of hand, and I don’t ever feel threatened. I think they know where the line is.”

Photo of Brittany Dorf

“It doesn’t bother me in that it makes me mad; it bothers me in that I feel sad that I can’t do more to help the poor here in Lawrence and throughout the world.”

Photo of Ryan Ward

“Sometimes. I think most people are bothered by it. It’s kind of a hassle. I don’t mind the street performers at all, it’s the people who are making up some story about why they need the money. I just don’t like being lied to.”


monkeyhawk 10 years, 10 months ago

I give them Boog dollars. They don't get it, either.

nlf78 10 years, 10 months ago

I've never been bothered for "donations" downtown. But if it's not a street performer, I won't give to them. I donate to the organizations that help the homeless, but giving the panhandlers money is just enabling them.

H_Lecter 10 years, 10 months ago

Even though they may not have the brand-name wrappers...

blackwalnut 10 years, 10 months ago

I am downtown nearly every day and I haven't noticed panhandling is out of control as this article would suggest. I seldom see anyone panhandling, and I've never had them speak to me let alone harass me.

This seems exaggerated, to me, based on my experience - and based on comparison to other cities.

local_support 10 years, 10 months ago

Hang out in any metropolitan area for a little while and then come back and tell me that Lawrence has a panhandling problem.

Duffman 10 years, 10 months ago

I would like to suggest that if you see someone give a bum money..... then you should harass them for contributing to the problem.

Linda Aikins 10 years, 10 months ago

TOB, I'm still fanning myself at the thought of the arms and the man smells. Please - I'm working here!! My coworkers are starting to stare and sweat!

drip drip

mick 10 years, 10 months ago

Feed the pigeons and they will come.

Linda Aikins 10 years, 10 months ago

Happy Birthday SGT! May you be the man TOB is. And come back soon so we can sing to you!

jonas 10 years, 10 months ago

After the "DVD watch bag?" people in Shanghai (god there's like 2 million of them!) I don't think I'll even notice.

coolmarv 10 years, 10 months ago

Isn't a "street performer" just a panhandler with talent?

Adrienne Sanders 10 years, 10 months ago

What bothers me is people that give them money- if no one gave them anything they'd have to go someplace else. I just ignore them and in over ten years have never been seriously hassled.

stuckinthemiddle 10 years, 10 months ago

It's no bother at all... and it's been a part of living in cities for as long as there's been cities...

amazonratz 10 years, 10 months ago

I recently gave a buck to an old guy, I usually don't mind donating. They gotta live too, right? But then the guy proceeded to sexually harass me for about 5 minutes. I nearly had to shove him to get him to leave me alone, yelling repeatedly at him to move on. Now I won't give money again, except to agencies. Guys like that are the folks that need to be addressed, they ruin it for the more peaceful panhandlers.

OldEnuf2BYurDad 10 years, 10 months ago

A sharp distinction must be made between "street performers" and "vagrants". Street performers are doing what we've been saying all along: "get a job" (sort of). They are taking responsibility for their needs by doing what they can to make money. I'm for it. But I have to disagree with Jennifer Brown's rationale. She's NOT meeting needs by giving money to an addict. Those guys need food, clothing and detox - none of her well-intended "charitable donations" will go toward any of those things.

trinity 10 years, 10 months ago

i wouldn't give to 'em. and that response that said something about giving direct instead of to charities?? hah! that made me laugh. sure, hand 'em a couple bucks&watch what is done with that money. true story; a very benevolent&sweet lady once was accosted for money; she asked if the panhandler was hungry, and the ph'er replied "yes". she happened to have some pizza left from lunch, and offered it to him; he looked at it&walked away saying he didn't like that kind. i don't know about you but if i'm hungry to the point of begging? i think i'd take pretty much anything offered.

timetospeakup 10 years, 10 months ago

The vagrants (although they all have just had a "tragedy" when they give you their pitch) drive me nuts. In fact, the inability to walk a block without somebody with a crisis asking me for money is why I quit going downtown to shop.

They can get a job so they can have money too. I work 70-80 hours a week, and it's not so I can give my money away to somebody that refuses to work. For the ones that are genuinely mentally ill and can't hold work, well we have institutions to help that type too, if they're willing to take the help.

juscin3 10 years, 10 months ago

This story reminds me of the mickey d's commercial, where the guy gets out his guitar and plays a few notes till the couple give him a buck! TOO FUNNY! BUT, at least he was using it for food. I am leery (sp?) about giving money to panhandlers. I don't want to give it to them for drugs or alcohol.

Staci Dark Simpson 10 years, 10 months ago

If they are peaceful like playing music or something its tolerable. But the ones that follow you and say "C'mon you know you have change. Don't be a jerk" are the ones that irk me. I would rather give some food not money that can be spent on alcohol or drugs.

Flap Doodle 10 years, 10 months ago

Nobody bothers me when I'm toting an armadillo under each arm.

Centrist 10 years, 10 months ago

Trinity .... just a thought. Would YOU accept pizza from a stranger? ;)

I get your point though - starvation would preclude any prejudices about how food has been handled, one would think so anyway ..

I like that there are performers on the street. But it is true, unfortunately, that there are those "professional" bums who would rather accept money from people's charity than go get a real job.

I say get a job; if that isn't enough money, then perform in the street on weekends ....

snazzo 10 years, 10 months ago

I guess I'm not necessarily bothered by the ones that ask for change. They usually take a "no, sorry" and move along. What really gets me are the drugged up bums that hang out on the sidewalk and make lewd comments and calls to everyone walking by. They don't ask for money, but shouldn't they be picked up for some sort of disorderly conduct?

sgtwolverine 10 years, 10 months ago

I am not bothered by panhandling in downtown Lawrence. Not at all. In fact, I never even notice the panhandlers!

Now, downtown Ann Arbor, on the other hand...

Actually, in general, Ann Arbor keeps panhandlers out of the downtown area pretty well. But they don't do such a good job of keeping college students out of the downtown area.

Today I am celebrating my birthday by staying in the air conditioning. I mean, I know you all sent the stifling humidity up here as a birthday gift for me, but I think I'll just appreciate that gift from this nice air-conditioned room.

halfgreengirl 10 years, 10 months ago

You know, I think downtown would be a little strange without some amount of panhandling. Geez, when I was younger, I used to sit downtown playing bass guitar and singing for change. It was a good time. Well, not the lack of money part, but the part about the generosity of the passersby was wonderful. Some people even like to sit down and chill out with the panhandlers for a while and play some music with them, that is, if music is what they're doing to panhandle. I don't really mind it. Of course, every once in a while there's a bad apple that isn't as easygoing as the rest, but, y'know, there's always a few of those in the bunch.

Grundoon Luna 10 years, 10 months ago

I'm not bothered by the street performers, but some of the other ones do bother me. Specifically the 20 somethings. They appear to be very capable of working and should be out there getting a job instead of sitting on their buts begging for change. That may be a little easiers if their faces didn't look like pin cushions and if they hit the community building for a shower so they don't smell like ass.

Hilary Morton 10 years, 10 months ago

It only bugs me when I'm eating outside, on a front deck of a restaurant, and people ask me for money, then. That really drives me crazy. As for those playing instruments, the maracas lady is my favorite. I think there's an entire symphony in her head, that none of us can hear.

p.s. if "costly parking" keeps you out of downtown, let me be the first to alert you of 1) the 2 hour free parking garage on New Hampshire, and 2) park a block away in a residential neighborhood for FREE and WALK the block. Just a suggestion...

adriennerm 10 years, 10 months ago

I am from Chicago therefore panhandlers don't bother me. I would see them everyday downtown.

I don't like the rude panhandlers. Why yell at me b/c I don't want to spend my hard earned money on you? If I want to blow 5 dollars on coffee that's my right. I worked for the money so I can spend my money.

Nuker 10 years, 10 months ago

Good bum story: Was sitting on the porch of Free State the other night. A father and son pair of bums were there also. The son was so drunk he nearly puked. Told pops he'd meet him down the street in 30 minutes where pops would begin strumming his geetar. Son came back and introduced his highschool music teacher to papa bum, stumbling around. Thanks Jennifer Brown, para-educator.

Kam_Fong_as_Chin_Ho 10 years, 10 months ago

I was in NYC recently and saw an able-bodied thirtysomething bum in the bus terminal holding a styrofoam cup and saying, "Can you spare a dollar?" to everyone that walked by. I reached into my pocket and pulled out three quarters and put them in his cup. Upon hearing the coins fall into the cup, he looked at me and said "I asked for a DOLLAR!" Freaking bum. I felt like knocking the cup out of his hand.

Katherine Greene 10 years, 10 months ago

I find it threatening for anyone to chase me down the street, asking me for money. I have taken a cab home from downtown many times, to keep aggressive panhandlers from following me as I walked. Downtown does not feel as safe as it used to 30 years ago. As for the 'get a job' comments, I know from personal experience how difficult it can be to find work when you are homeless. It took me several years to get on my feet after being homeless and unemployed, but it can be done.

MaggotFace 10 years, 10 months ago

I'm definitely not a "snot nosed rich kid," (nor am I envious of those who are wealthy), but I will say this:

If you do not have an actual REAL problem like an impairing mental illness, then get a job and leave people alone.

I have worked many crappy, low-wage, no-insurance jobs just to keep my head above water. Also, yes, BABBOY, I give regularly to local charity.

ella 10 years, 10 months ago

Great Comment, MaggotFace!

For those of you categorizing all Mass St. panhandlers as "poor people", you need to take a "Get a Grip 101" class and go travel the world a bit.

One "poor person" I had the pleasure to be bothered by last week, held an interesting sign claiming his family had been killed by ninjas and he needed money for Kung-Fu classes. It made me chuckle. Sure. For just a second because it didn't take long for the harassment to start. I passed him twice on my way to lunch and was twice harassed.

I didn't feel threatened but annoyed. Maybe this poor bloke's family was indeed killed by ninjas and I wasn't willing to spare any change. What a cold hearted $#@%& am I.

Well, friends. This story has a "happy ending", do not worry. Later that evening, I just happened to park right next to the exact same guy @ McDonald's. I couldn't believe it. Same dirty looking dude, long dreadlocks, wearing the same stinky old clothes and colorful bandanna with the unforgettable set of "bongos" he had been playing earlier, tucked in the front seat.

This "poor person" was driving a fairly new Toyota Corolla and apparently going into McDonald's to eat which I'm sure every beggar in India, Brazil and Africa does on a regular basis: they beg for money all day and then drive their imported car to the nearest fast food joint to enjoy a hot meal.

Again, don't be so quick to qualify every stinky old dude on Mass as a "poor person". He may be a "stinker" by choice and until I find out who's telling the truth and who isn't (which I never will), I am not giving no downtown crazy my money.

I save my dollars to charities and to the needy during my visits to Brazil.


Grundoon Luna 10 years, 10 months ago

I am also from Chicago, and certain parts of it have more panhandlers than others. I have travelled to many, many metropolitain areas from LA and Boston but I have never seen anything like the panhandling that I did when in the Bay Area. Berkeley and San Francisco are absolutely horrible when it comes to panhandling. If travelling to the Bay Area, you have warned!!!

jdannebohm 10 years, 10 months ago

Just saw this in the Wichita Eagle ... thought I would share as it loosely relates to the subject at hand.

Homeless man arrested at downtown library BY STAN FINGER The Wichita Eagle

A homeless man was subdued and arrested for a series of offenses at the downtown library Tuesday afternoon, Wichita police said.

The incident began at about 3:20 p.m. when a library patron reported that a man had been touching himself inappropriately in back aisles of the ground floor, Lt. Jeff Weible said.

When a librarian took the 58-year-old man by the elbow in an effort to escort him from the building, Weible said, the man reached behind his back.

"The librarian thought he was going to get punched," Weible said.

But a security guard saw that the man had pulled a knife out of his pocket and was preparing to slash at the librarian with it. The guard intervened to protect the librarian, Weible said, and had to deploy his Taser before the man stopped resisting.

The knife had a blade that was at least 2 inches long, Weible said. The homeless man was booked on suspicion of lewd and lascivious conduct, aggravated battery and other charges.

The librarian was not hurt.

Reach Stan Finger at 316-268-6437 or

socogrl 10 years, 10 months ago

I've been told by my mother-in-law who lives in Garden City that when homeless show up there, that they are given a one-way buspass to Lawrence and told, "They'll take care of ya there" I believe Dodge City does this too. Not positive as too who exactly is buying these tickets but I assume it is amongst city officials, homeless show up at hospitals, picked up by police, etc... I think it is definitely something our city needs to look into. Or next time you encounter on on the street, ask how they came to Lawrence. I don't mind helping people out once in awhile, but I live paycheck to paycheck like most young adults and it pisses me off to think other cities are passing the buck to the good citizens here in Lawrence

swamp_rat 10 years, 10 months ago

No, they don't bother me. But, I do wnder about a guy I usually see downtown that wears a white or sometimes printed white sheet. He's sunburned, and I wonder how he wound up this way, on the streets. And how many paychecks I'm away from being in the same position.

In San Fran., you need to acknowledge them, if you ignore them they can become belligerent if not somewhat violent.

janeyb 10 years, 10 months ago

I rarely go on Mass street, but my brother was in town, so he and I wandered down about 2 weeks ago. We got out of our car, and was immediately asked by some skateboarder kid if we had any change. He was clean, smoking, and didn't look underfed. We had gone about a block and another guy was obviously drunk and stumbling around yelling insults at people. He must be a regular, because people were laughing and seemed to know him. This is at two in the afternoon! I haven't noticed this at night, but maybe it's because I'm usually with a large group of people.
My brother said when he was a freshman at KU (1999/2000) he didn't have anything to do one weekend afternoon so he took his guitar and sat and played downtown. He said people just started giving him money--he was young and dumb at the time--still is! He made almost $20. The next week someone was complaining on one of these blogs about the homeless in Lawrence being able to afford nice guitars. He loved it!

geekin_topekan 10 years, 10 months ago

Too many newbs downtown anymore.All the veteran panhandlers are eaither dead or in jail or sober.Sad.

acg 10 years, 10 months ago

socogirl, they do it in Topeka, too. I know a lady who works with the homeless and the Let's Help Organization in Topeka. They are always giving those folks bus passes to Lawrence. Stop sending us your bums, people. We're all stocked up!

OldEnuf2BYurDad 10 years, 10 months ago

" And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which WAS LAID at his gate, FULL OF SORES, And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked HIS SORES. And it came to pass, that the beggar DIED"

This is a story about a man who was so bad off that someone ELSE had to lay him down in a location so he could beg. I had a beggar RUN UPHILL in downtown KC to catch up with me (I was at a crosswalk, waiting for the light to change), then start in with "Hey, don't I know you from somewhere?". NOT the same as Lazarus, who clearly had serious physical issues. Lazarus probably smelled pretty bad, but I doubt that it had anything to do with vomiting up a bottle of Mad Dog 20/20.

ella 10 years, 10 months ago

socogrl & acg:

There is a reason why most National Parks post "Do Not Feed the Animals" all over their property. Well, one of the reasons is because if ya do, the animals keep coming back for more and they bring friends. Things get out of hand.

Same thing here: ya "feed" the "dudes" downtown and they not only bring more friends but other cities start referring their beggars here too. - Hey, man! They feed everybody at "Lawrence National Park"!

loftie 10 years, 10 months ago

I think the point that is missing here in this discussion is that many people who are in need of money are not asking for cash because they're lazy. There are many complicated issues related to why people are homeless, etc., the biggest one being one form or another of mental disease. And yes, addiction is a mental and chemical issue, not something that people do for fun. Losing your family, possessions, sobriety and credibility isn't really a goal for most people. The government doesn't adequately fund rehabilitation for someone who has no money unless they're ordered to go after they've been arrested under Senate Bill 123. Even then, it's horrendously sub-standard. In addition to the obvious issue (various addictions), it's no secret that state-run mental facilities are also terribly under funded. People with serious mental disabilities who have no family to care for them are many times left to their own devices, but are still unable to work. What to do then? Ask for money. Basically if you're poor, it's hard to get treatment. When you do, it's in adequate. People with little to no resources don't have many options. Reasons for homelessness could be debated all day, so moving on...

I'm a downtown resident, so I get asked for change all of the time. Yes, it is annoying, especially when all I'm doing is walking home from a long day of work. "Panhandlers" are people too however, and I am reminded of that when I walk out of my back door and see them look down at their feet in embarrassment when they notice I see them digging through the dumpster for some sort of meal. I would rather give them a couple of bucks than have them eat rotten meat in the alley. To discredit people who ask for money and brush them aside as lazy addicts is inhumane, cruel, and shameful.

If you live in a city, you will live with all types of people. Get some compassion for your fellow man and be thankful that you have more options than others.

Sarah Rahija 10 years, 10 months ago

I'm so happy for two of my friends who find themselves "non-homeless" and who purchased a used vehicle this week because of a new job (and saving from the previous job)!! In the last 6 months I have personally known 5 people who have secured housing for themselves and moved out of the shelter. It does happen! I'm sure there have been more, but I've been away from the downtown area for a while, and am just getting reacquainted with folks who are working to get back on their feet.

Michael Capra 10 years, 10 months ago

the guy dressed in a sheet that sleeps on sidewalks and sh/ts himself is ok but yet lets say its ok to do this are you out of your mind

sgtwolverine 10 years, 10 months ago

I just came back from downtown Ann Arbor, and there definitely weren't panhandlers. However, there was one out by the highway.

Gootsie, I don't know if I can be the man TOB is, but I would like to make a return trip to Kansas sooner or later.

Py, I don't know what's up with the heat up here. I don't much care for it. Unfortunately, it looks like it's going to hang on for a little while longer.

spammer89 10 years, 10 months ago

build roundabouts on the sidewalks those confuse sober people, so a drugged/drunk bum would just go in circles.

karensisson 10 years, 10 months ago

timetospeakup says For the ones that are genuinely mentally ill and can't hold work, well we have institutions to help that type too, if they're willing to take the help.

Actually, we don't. Reagan's legacy was to close the state-owned mental health institutions. I know someone in Topeka who lived there during that time. After Meninger's closed, they have had a terrible problem with homeless mentally ill, and it has never gotten any better.

There is no longer money in this country to service the mentally ill. Most of the homeless are people with psychiatric disabilities. They may look able, but they aren't, and if you talk to them for a minute you'll know.

That's Reagan's true legacy. That, and that he fired the meat inspectors and air traffic controllers.

As for the guy who turned down the pizza, he might be crazy, or he might have too much pride to accept someone's leftover meal even though he accepted money. You don't know that man's story.

Bill Chapman 10 years, 10 months ago

The "white sheet guy" can be a pain in the butt - he has confronted me many times for walking beside my bicycle (on the sidewalk) instead of riding it in the street. I usually just ignore him.

Many of the downtown "street musicians" are NOT homeless. Some are Lawrence residents earning some extra income off the guberment tax radar. Others do it to improve their playing ability - learning to play is fine, but learning to play in front of an audience is some thing you can't do in a classroom. I never give money to anyone, and when they ask for it, I usually offer to buy a sandwich for them. Most refuse the offer. For the ones that try to force it, . . . well lets just say I'm not a small person and when I want can be very threatening - the "hard push" for change doesn't bother me very often. I suspect that much of the money given to panhandlers goes for cigarettes, or for drugs - but have no evidence to prove it.

letsgetwise 10 years, 10 months ago

The problem I have with panhandlers are the ones that force the issue. I have had teenagers who have been, let's say coerced into giving money because "maybe" they'll do something to that young girl they're with. You know...panhandlers who panhandle adults is one thing, but pushing minors around is another. I know there are all sorts of reasons and possibilities for why people become homeless, I know unforeseen events can trigger all kinds of misfortune. But, I believe there should be more stringent ordinances against this.

lounger 10 years, 10 months ago

Its like anything else in life-some are lazy and some are seriously down and out. I used to work at the salvation army shelter and store and I can tell you there are some brilliant people out there in the streets. The cost of living is so foolish anymore sometimes I cant blame them for dropping out. The poor people who get knocked down (A Layoff, childs death and so on) tend to get back up IF they are helped. On the other side of the spectrum look at your own family. You have to admit there is someone in every family who is plain lazy. This is the case in the streets as well. I do help them if I can. Not all of them. They need to be mindful just like anyone else. If they dont have any regard for people then I dont give them a thing. But usually I do give-and so do most people. The performers can be incredible sometimes if you give them a chance. Its all a question of balance just like everything else.

Evan Ridenour 10 years, 10 months ago

I just spent some time in London and am currently in Florence. The panhandlers in our downtown are much, MUCH more aggressive then any panhandler I have run across in a major European city. They will touch you, hassle you, and in cases can become verbally and physically abusive.

There is a need for harsher laws against panhandling in the downtown area.

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