March 24, 2014

Panhandling: It’s Not Safe; It Doesn’t Help


With the coming of spring, motorists in the County may notice that panhandlers have returned to local intersections. County officials want to remind residents of the campaign launched last fall to address panhandling in Montgomery County.

The campaign, that asks that those who want to help to “Give a hand up, not a handout,” provides information about how to help panhandlers by donating to local resources that can provide assistance to those in need.

And, while panhandling is legal under the First Amendment, the simple truth is that giving cash to panhandlers doesn’t help. Those who work daily with panhandlers in homeless advocacy and other social service groups know that most panhandlers use the money they collect to support their addictions – drugs, alcohol and tobacco. None of that helps panhandlers solve their problems.

Panhandling also can cause distracted drivers and dangerous intersections.

Also, it has proven difficult to determine how the money collected will be spent. Most panhandlers are not homeless. Many come from outside Montgomery County, or even outside the state. For some, panhandling is a profession.

Extensive information about the campaign and how to provide assistance to panhandlers is available at http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/panhandling/.

9 comments:

  1. Unfortunately, Montgomery County has decided that it will not prevent people from crowding intersections and walking in traffic to collect money because the Fire Department uses this method to collect during funding drives. Most people recognize the danger caused by walking in traffic asking for money. Many Montgomery County residents would like to make this practice illegal, however, because the Fire Department does it, the county doesn't want to consider stopping fund raising or panhandling using this dangerous method.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for your comment.

      Maryland State law prohibits soliciting rides, employment or business in the roadways but that does not include soliciting donations. In order to do anything different – whether prohibit soliciting for donations in the roadway or establish a permit system, the Maryland General Assembly must explicitly pass legislation to authorize counties to do something different. Some counties have been authorized to ban soliciting. Others, like Prince George’s County, have a permit system.

      The most the Maryland General Assembly has been willing to do is authorize Montgomery County to establish a permit system under which panhandlers would be required to get a permit – although the County would not be able to limit the number of permits or the number of intersections and would be required to let permit holders solicit along roadways, in the medians AND in the road. Given these conditions, the County has declined to exercise this authority – it wouldn’t make an appreciable difference and would explicitly legalize folks being in the roadway. Also, the County cannot discriminate as to content -- Firefighters versus ordinary panhandlers.

      That is background to our current effort. People panhandle because other people give them money. That’s what we – and advocates for the needy – are urging folks to stop doing. Again, it isn’t safe. It doesn’t help. And – right now – the law allows nothing different.

      The soliciting you refer to is done by the local chapter of the International Association of Fire Fighters, not the Department of Fire & Rescue.

      Delete
  2. As a lawyer, I don't believe that panhandling in the middle of a busy intersection is protected under the First Amendment. Some panhandling may be permitted, but legitimate restrictions can restrict place and time.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for your comment.

      Montgomery County does have a law against aggressive panhandling, defined as persistence, threatening, physical contact, blocking someone’s path, etc.

      Broader legislation banning panhandling has been consistently rejected by the courts as a violation of freedom of speech.

      Maryland State law prohibits soliciting rides, employment or business in the roadways but that does not include soliciting donations. In order to do anything different – whether prohibit soliciting for donations in the roadway or establish a permit system, the Maryland General Assembly must explicitly pass legislation to authorize counties to do something different. Some counties have been authorized to ban soliciting. Others, like Prince George’s County, have a permit system.

      The most the Maryland General Assembly has been willing to do is authorize Montgomery County to establish a permit system under which panhandlers would be required to get a permit – although the County would not be able to limit the number of permits or the number of intersections and would be required to let permit holders solicit along roadways, in the medians AND in the road. Given these conditions, the County has declined to exercise this authority – it wouldn’t make an appreciable difference and would explicitly legalize folks being in the roadway. Also, the County cannot discriminate as to content -- Firefighters versus ordinary panhandlers.

      Delete
  3. It's laudable that MoCo addresses the issue of panhandling and puts it in a larger context. However, several allegations in the piece seems questionable:

    - First, let's understand that panhandlers are not accountable for how they spend the money they collect. Their stories may or may not be true (who are we to judge?), but they are not public entities operating on tax payers' money, or charities benefiting from tax-deductible contributions. They are private individuals with a probably sad life story who receive a couple of dollars from other private (probably better off) individuals. The receiving end is in no way accountable - nor are the givers.

    - It's no secret that MoCo has been facing the challenge of growing homelessness for years. It's a pretty daring and unsupported allegation that a lot of the panhandlers we see here are, in fact, 'not from here", implying they are "imports' from other counties, states or countries. Even stranger is the insinuation that MoCo residents are supporting these 'population movements' by giving money to them - sort of like suggesting that wild animals in national park parking lots should not be fed in hopes that they will return to their natural habitat....

    - The allegation that panhandlers spend most of their collected money on (unspecified) addictions seems a bit far-fetched, especially since no supporting information or evidence for that claim is provided.

    - Thirdly, its is strongly suggested to give to a MoCo county entity instead of handing out money directly to people on the street. It would be helpful if such encouragements could be accompanied by a ling to facts and figures about what this fund has accomplished to date, and how much of each dollar given actually reaches the people in need.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Having worked with the homeless in MC for 24 years now, most I know are complaining now that a half-day of panhandling will "only" get them about $25.00. Most use it for cigarettes and snack food-not supporting a family as the signs say. The shame in this is that many would work if they could find work, but those "menial" jobs are all taken, and there really aren't any training programs or on-the-job-training opportunities available. I thought the multi-trillion dollar stimulus dump would have created job-training programs like the (scoffed-at) CETA Program of the 70's. Maybe we can just print up more money and do something like that?

    ReplyDelete
  5. When my husband and I were young and very poor, he met a woman at a 7-11 on Christmas Eve. She claimed she was homeless and desperate for cash for gas to keep herself and her three kids warm while they slept in their car. My husband gave her all his cash, and we scraped together another $20 with which he bought groceries there and left them with the clerk for her. The clerk told him that she was there all the time saying stuff like that and urged him to keep the food, but he left it anyway. A few days later, he saw the same woman at Giant, telling people she needed gas for her FOUR kids. The con didn't even take Christmas Eve off.

    On another occasion I was approached in my car by a man who said he and his buddy were homeless and hadn't eaten all day; he wanted money for food. I gave him some money, and ten minutes later as I drove back by, I saw them sitting on the curb, drinking beer and scratching scratch-off lottery tickets.

    I no longer give money to panhandlers.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Regardless of whether they are panhandling or not, people who are standing in a roadway outside a crosswalk are jaywalking, and should be removed if they are a safety hazard. Jaywalking, not any driver action, is the primary cause of pedestrian accidents, including those causing major injuries and death. We shouldn't tolerate it.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Panhandling is dangerous. Frequently I pass panhandlers, many with crutches and others in wheel chairs, at 40-45 mph while they endanger themselves standing or sitting in roadway medians. Regardless of whether they are protected under the First Amendment, which I think is a misinterpretation of the law, they are clearly creating a safety hazard. Anyone involved in an accident because of these street people, can clearly sue the County and State which permit this dangerous activity to continue. Montgomery County has spent tens of millions of dollars on speed & stop-light cameras to "improve" road safety but yet it allows the aged, physically impaired, and folks who risk life & limb to beg in busy roadways. It's time to have County Police remove these individuals to improve traffic safety for all drivers.

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for submitting comment to Paperless Airplane.