chance martin streetsheet@sf-homeless-coalition.org
Sun, 28 Jan 2001 12:56:26 -0700

Searching business publications is SOOO useful in determining how to counter
the latest anti-homeless tactics and rhetorical attacks of pro-business
groups. After all, they've gotta keep the tourists safe from us.


Baltimore Business Journal - January 22, 2001

Exclusive Reports
From the January 19, 2001 print edition

Seeking change

Baltimore lags in curbing panhandling
Larry Rulison 

On a bitterly cold January day, Lonnie Ray was standing on City Hall plaza
with a rolled-up sleeping bag under his arm. Ray says he's been homeless for
nine years and often begs for money in Baltimore's Inner Harbor.

He says he isn't a threat to the tourists who descend into the harbor each
day to spend their money. But to Baltimore's tourism and convention
business, Ray symbolizes one big headache that won't go away.

"I don't see why," Ray said. "We aren't doing no harm."

Although it hasn't been blamed for the loss of a convention or major event,
panhandling in Baltimore sends a message that the city isn't safe, tourism
officials say. And they want it to stop.

"It's a perception," said Gary Brown, a vice president of the Baltimore Area
Convention and Visitors' Association. "When they are approached by someone
who is in a disheveled way, some of the public doesn't know if they might be

Brown said that in surveys his organization hands out to conventioneers, the
No. 1 complaint is that people do not feel safe downtown -- a somewhat
surprising result, considering that the Inner Harbor area is one of the most
well-patrolled in the city.

"We get generally good grades as a city," Brown said. "Of all the categories
that we rate, the safety issue comes up time and again."

The problem isn't new to urban centers like Baltimore, and aggressive
panhandling is illegal in the city. But Baltimore has been less pragmatic in
its approach to the problem compared to other cities, some of which have
taken bold, and often controversial, steps to stamp out panhandling.

`It's a problem' 

Baltimore City law defines aggressive panhandling as solicitation that would
cause "a reasonable person to fear bodily harm." Beggars are not allowed to
touch or follow anyone, intimidate them or get in their way. The crime is
considered a misdemeanor and punishable with up to three months in jail or a
$250 fine. 

The Downtown Partnership, which is funded by downtown businesses, hands out
flyers encouraging tourists and residents to give to charities instead of
panhandlers, and the safety guides that the Downtown Partnership employs are
encouraged to stand next to panhandlers in an effort to make people feel
safer. Guides also hand out "street cards" to panhandlers with information
about homeless shelters and other services.

But is it enough? Down at Harborplace, the epicenter of Baltimore's tourism
industry, panhandlers are as plentiful as souvenir shops and restaurants.
Maria Holman, manager of the Lost City Art store in Harborplace, said she
gets approached by two to three panhandlers a day inside the mall. She said
it's bad for business.

"I think there is too much of it," Holman said. "When they're coming into
the store and asking me for money, you know it's a problem. Sometimes it
does scare the customers off -- more so, people from out of town."

Tom Yeager, vice president of the Downtown Partnership's Clean and Safe
Services, which deploys the city's safety guides, said he'd like to see the
city take a more innovative and comprehensive approach to the panhandling

The legislation dilemma

"What I'd like to see is stronger legislation," Yeager said. Other cities
across America, such as Philadelphia, Denver and Raleigh, N.C., have passed
comprehensive laws regulating panhandling.

In June, the Denver City Council outlawed panhandling after dark, a move
that was part of a wider law banning aggressive panhandling. Such groups as
the American Civil Liberties Union criticized the action.

The city of Raleigh, N.C., requires panhandlers to get licensed. Panhandlers
who don't get the free licenses can be arrested, and it's a way for the
police to ensure that panhandlers know the law when it comes to begging.

In 1998, Philadelphia passed a very restrictive panhandling law that not
only outlaws aggressive panhandling but also makes it illegal to sit or lay
on the sidewalk. The American Civil Liberties Union was a harsh critic of
that law as well. 

The problem with legislating the panhandler problem is that Baltimore
doesn't have the resources to spend millions more on homeless services right
now, Yeager said. Philadelphia earmarked millions of dollars for homeless
programs, mental health services and drug treatment when it enacted the new
law, and Baltimore would have to do the same, he said.

"There's a common thread when you look at some of the cities that have
comprehensive sidewalk laws like in Philly," Yeager said. "You have to do
more with the needy. But it's costly."

Baltimore's Office of Homeless Services administers $27 million in state and
federal grants to local nonprofits that help the homeless. The city kicks in
$252,000 of that amount. Philadelphia spends nearly $69 million annually on
the homeless. 

The ACLU of Maryland would probably also try to block any panhandling
legislation, including a so-called "dusk-to-dawn" ban on panhandling such as
Denver enacted, arguing that it violates freedom of speech rights protected
in the U.S. Constitution. It was the ACLU of Maryland that helped strike
down previous attempts by the city to toughen the panhandling laws.

"They have to be very careful," said Dwight Sullivan, managing attorney with
the ACLU of Maryland. "We would certainly have an interest if the city did
try to enact a panhandling bill."

Taking action 

Mayor Martin O'Malley, who came under fire this winter for banning the
feeding of homeless in front of City Hall, said he hopes the city can
accomplish what other cities have done to reduce their panhandling problems.

"I don't think that anybody is in favor of people approaching people in an
aggressive way. I'm against aggressive panhandling," O'Malley said.

Although he has not proposed panhandling legislation, O'Malley said his
administration is looking to Philadelphia, where social workers have been
sent out with police officers in an effort to reach out to panhandlers and
the homeless. 

"We need to pair outreach workers with police so that contact (with
panhandlers) just isn't a punitive thing," the mayor said.

Not all cities have had to legislate to deal with the problem. The Downtown
Cleveland Partnership, which is similar to Baltimore's Downtown Partnership,
developed a program with the Salvation Army to compete with panhandlers for

During months and times when panhandling is at its worst, the Salvation Army
employs former homeless people to collect money for homeless programs at the
places where panhandlers like to beg. It basically creates competition for
the panhandlers; people are less likely to give to beggars when they have
the option of giving to a respected charity.

The program, which has been in use since 1996, shuts out 80 percent to 90
percent of panhandling in the targeted areas, usually during lunch time and
during sporting events, said Ken Stapleton, a senior vice president with the
Downtown Cleveland Partnership.

The program earned $30,000 in 1999 alone for homeless programs, Stapleton
said, and that's after operational costs, such as paying the bell ringers.

"We think that it's better than anything else that's been done," Stapleton
said. Yeager said he wants to talk to the local Salvation Army about such a
program, and he's explained the concept to Greater Baltimore Committee
members in the hospitality and tourism industries.

Short of radical new plans, Yeager would like to get the convention
association to pass out leaflets to conventioneers asking them not to give
to panhandlers, although the convention association has been wary of the
plan because it doesn't want to stir people's fears. Yeager said such
literature was handed out to people going into Port Discovery this summer, a
popular spot for panhandlers to beg for money. He said that when people read
the literature and stopped giving, the panhandlers went away.

"The problem disappears. It's location, location, location," Yeager said.
"If panhandling is working in a certain area, they're going to continue."

Lonnie Ray, the homeless man, said panhandling can be done in a way that
doesn't scare people. He said he uses a sign as a passive way to ask people
for money. 

"All people don't get scared," Ray said. That's only if you follow them. If
they give me something, I say `Thank you, God bless you.' "

Copyright 2001 American City Business Journals Inc.


**In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107,
this material is distributed without charge or profit
to those who have expressed a prior
interest in receiving this type of information for
non-profit research and educational purposes only.**

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