The Panhandling Pandemic

Okay, now that I’ve had my sarcastic outburst (never blog angry, folks), I do have some more rational questions and observations:

  • If we’re supposed to be taking it as a given that panhandling is a threat to our safety, where are the numbers that show this? I’ve lived in downtown Nashville for 7 years, and I can’t remember an incident of violent crime by a panhandler on a resident or tourist that I knew of.
  • Probably the best point of the afternoon was made by a guy from the homeless power project, who pointed out that “aggressive pan-handling” is a meaningless distinction — for what is the difference between aggressive pan-handling and regular criminal activity (burglary, assault, etc.)? His question was dismissed, and he (and the rest of the NHPP folks) were basically ignored the rest of the night.
  • One woman (apparently one of the few sane people in the room) raised her hand and said (my paraphrasal): “go home tonight and try to write a law against pan-handling without infringing on our basical constitutional freedoms. it’s not easy. Laws aren’t the answer to everything.”. Amen!
  • I will give the moderator credit in that he did at least make a point to say that we were there to discuss the problem of “aggressive pan-handling” and that this was not the same as homelessness, however I think this was a distinction lost completely on most of the people in attendance.
  • Then, of course, the quote of the night, as pointed out by Kate and myself already: “Homeless people don’t have rights, homeowners do.” I actually laughed out loud when she said this, because I thought she was joking, but she turned and faced me and continued. Sadly, she was serious.
  • Kate asked about ways for people to make charitable contributions to agencies that are actually helping this problem rather than just trying to legislate/mandate it away. The moderator noted “17 pages” (or something?) of agencies. Does anyone know who/what is on this list? I didn’t get a chance to see it. I suppose that’s evidence in and of itself that it’s not exactly a great solution, since I don’t have a copy. Do you have a copy? Do the pan-handlers on the street have a copy?
  • What does dialing 211 do? This is a serious question — I have no idea.

7 Comments so far

  1. fishwreck (unregistered) on July 10th, 2007 @ 9:03 am

    “2-1-1 is an easy to remember telephone number that, where available, connects people with important community services and volunteer opportunities.” –

    Generally funded by United Way, all of Tennessee is covered ( as are large parts of the rest of the country (

    I suppose the suggestor meant that one should offer the pandhandler the use of one’s mobile phone to make the call to 211.

  2. Christy (unregistered) on July 10th, 2007 @ 9:20 am

    Yeah, 211 is the central gateway number for social services, as fish said. One caveat as an almost-social worker, though: it’s truly one of the most convoluted and confusing ways to access services, ever. The website, though not a whole lot better, is slightly easier to navigate. This is ironic considering the lack of internet access among those who would be most likely to use it.

    Chris, you should give it a try. Pretend to be homeless and give them a call. And if that isn’t enough fun for you, pretend you don’t speak English.

  3. Andrew (unregistered) on July 10th, 2007 @ 10:29 am

    I think we have missed a point here amongst all this discussion. The “Please Help, Don’t Give” program is actually a good idea. No one has mentioned the fact that giving money to panhandlers is a very poor use of scarce resources.

    I don’t have a bone to pick with panhandlers because, though I may find them annoying, they do have a legal right to be there and ask me for money. But that doesn’t mean that I (or anyone in Nashville) should give it to them. Save your change and give it to the United Way, Nashville Rescue Mission, or the food bank at the end of the year instead.

  4. Kate O' (unregistered) on July 10th, 2007 @ 11:25 am

    No one has mentioned the fact that giving money to panhandlers is a very poor use of scarce resources.

    That was actually entirely my point, but I didn’t get into it in my post. When I asked my question last night, I first stated that I applaud the effort being made because it’s clear that the intents behind it — i.e., safety of residents and tourists; keeping panhandlers from diminishing the possibility of real assistance to the overall homeless population, etc. — are generally good, but I asked if someone would speak to any programs or efforts being made to capture the moment of generosity people often feel in those situations where they’re being approached by someone who looks down-and-out. Rather than simply telling people not to give assistance when they can, it strikes me that it could be a great opportunity to redirect that generosity in a constructive way.

    That’s when, as Chris said, the moderator brusquely cited the multiple pages of agencies, and moved right on to the next question.

    I consider this a missed opportunity. This program is most targeted to those people who would have been inclined to open their wallet anyway. So if some people’s inclination is going to be to hand over the spare change they’re being asking for, why discourage that generosity entirely, instead of just discouraging the hand-out to just one person? Why not offer an alternative option that can actually help multiple people and which is equally as convenient as handing over change? At the most basic, I can easily imagine a collection-jar-type program at the sales counters of downtown establishments, and “Please Help”-style posters that could redirect residents and tourists towards the program as a means of helping out when they can.

    Because in addition to everything else, I think the slogan sends a rather poor message of Nashville — some folks’ perception is likely to be that the best we can do for our homeless is to discourage tourists from giving money. Yes, I know that homelessness does not equal panhandling, but many people don’t, and a compassionate, well-meaning tourist is likely to think that a simple “don’t give” without some alternative is a rather callous handling of the situation.

  5. Cathie Buckner (unregistered) on July 13th, 2007 @ 8:23 am

    Concern: Rick Fox started this meeting with a narrative about how a homeless man, sleeping in his cardboard box home was disturbed by someone in his group knocking over his house when he was going to buy hockey tickets. When the homeless man got out of the box he was upset and followed them down the street cursing and hollering at them. He used this as an example of aggressive panhandling. I think if someone came and knocked down his home he would do more than cuss and fuss. But there was extreme anger at this meeting and as a formerly homeless person I felt like a Jew in Nazi Germany. They told us we didn’t really belong there and made us wait extreme amount of time to be recognized, if we were at all. Because the systems and the city designed services for homeless people in the downtown area and because there is not enough affordable housing or even alternative shelter beds if people can not or won’t stay at the Mission. They forget that homeless people were downtowns first residents. And any RA or discussion to problems downtown should include homeless people. I want my city to be friendly to all our residents. This campaign is not a help. We don’t have phones it would cost more to the business owners to install a pay phone under their signs. Further make it a crime to be homeless is the real crime. Their upcome Monday meeting they are going to discuss how to keep the homeless public out of the downtown public park.

  6. (unregistered) on July 24th, 2007 @ 1:08 am

    OH Please! How long will people of so called ‘good standing’ continue to act as if they are dealing with something other than human beings. Why do you never stop to consider that it could be you? No organization yet founded offers solutions so complete that it can help all people and all aspects of need.

  7. (unregistered) on July 24th, 2007 @ 1:11 am

    OH Please! How long will people of so called ‘good standing’ continue to act as if they are dealing with something other than human beings. Why do you never stop to consider that it could be you? No organization yet founded offers solutions so complete that it can help all people and all aspects of need.I agree, the law-makers are the law-breakers when it comes to penalizing the poor for being in need.

Terms of use | Privacy Policy | Content: Creative Commons | Site and Design © 2009 | Metroblogging ® and Metblogs ® are registered trademarks of Bode Media, Inc.