Curbing aggressive panhandling

November 29, 1993

While homeless advocates hissed, the Baltimore City Council, in a 14-3 vote, last week endorsed a measure banning aggressive panhandling. If the ordinance wins final approval Dec. 6, panhandlers would be barred from using obscene or abusive language, blocking the path of a person or car, or persistently begging for money after having been refused.

The measure would also outlaw the "squeegee kids" who attempt to clean motorists' windshields. It would prohibit begging from drivers stopped in traffic, as well as panhandling at automated teller machines and bus stops.

The proposal is modeled after a law enacted last spring in the District of Columbia to regulate aggressive panhandling in areas like Dupont Circle. That law seems to have worked well -- even though civil libertarians are antsy.

In many areas of downtown Baltimore panhandling has gotten out of hand. We urge the City Council to put limits to begging that is so aggressive that it fills passers-by with fear and makes people uncomfortable on public streets. As Council President Mary Pat Clarke put it: "Justice for the homeless is a very severe need. So is justice for little ladies who are trying to go to church on Cathedral Street."

Poverty, homelessness and mental illness are acute problems in today's Baltimore. They must be dealt with through more effective public and private action.

Panhandling is not the answer. A few coins may provide truly needy beggars a temporary palliative, but small change in no way addresses their long-term problems. To those panhandlers who are either scam artists or need money to feed an alcohol or drug addiction, passers-by are not doing any favors when they hand over money.

The Downtown Partnership recently initiated a campaign to discourage individual giving to panhandlers. Instead, that organization urges Baltimoreans to support the "Make a Change" Fund, which is addressing the long-term causes of homelessness and poverty. The fund is administered by the Baltimore Community Foundation, 2 E. Read St., Baltimore, MD, 21202.

We support this fund and other charitable efforts that assure donors that the money given will be well spent and aimed at resolving the complex problems of homelessness, poverty and the variety of dysfunctions that contribute to them.

During the holiday season, panhandlers will be much in evidence; their misery deserves our sympathy. The way to help them is to give to programs that are well-run, accountable and ensure that your money helps to achieve the desired result.

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