« I'm with Ellen | Main | Commuter rail train arrives; raises M1EK's blood pressure »

Why don't progressives get it about panhandling?

From two comments I just made on this posting at Burnt Orange Report:

1. The people who really need (and want) help are getting it, perhaps less than we would like, but not at street corners. The guys at street corners are what we used to call 'bums' - if you actually offer to give them work or food, they will inevitably decline; and if you give them money, you can win on 10-1 odds that their next stop is the liquor store.

2. If you want an economically healthy city, you absolutely cannot tolerate normal citizens being harassed by panhandlers. And a healthy city helps the people who really need the help a lot more than the donut-hole-wasteland that results from an unhealthy city. Try convincing a fence-sitting business' CEO to move downtown when his employees and clients have to dodge panhandlers.

This marriage of self-identified progressives and bums has got to stop. It tempts guys like me to vote Republican.

By healthy city, I mean that if businesses move to Round Rock because Austin is the panhandler-ridden cesspool that some of you seem to prefer, the city of Austin has fewer tax funds to spend on helping the people who really want and need the help. And I guarantee you Round Rock isn't going to pick up the slack.

This kind of wooly-headed thinking by self-identified progressives has bothered me ever since I saw the first (but not the last, by far) local TV expose of what panhandlers really do with your donations of money (or in some cases food) and what they do when you offer them work. Folks, the people who need your help are in shelters and soup kitchens. The guys on the corner are hustlers who can simply make a better living by fleecing unsuspecting drivers than by honestly working.

It's as if these people can't possibly conceive that guys holding up signs at street corners could possibly be dishonest. GMAFB - if Congress can get lied to in order to drag us into an ill-advised war of choice, as I'm sure all of these folks believe (as I do!), then you really think a bum on the corner won't lie to you too, to get some beer without having to work?

There are lots of reasons to vote against Jennifer Kim. But this one is just stupid - Kim is, whether for purposes of getting elected or actually being responsible, doing the right thing this time.

This entry was posted in the following categories: Austin , Politics (Outside Austin) , Walking in Austin (Pedestrian Issues)


While I don't come down on the same side of the solution as you do (I'm not really bothered by panhandlers), panhandling is definitely not done predominantly by the homeless. Most of the people who panhandle have homes. I used to talk a lot to a guy who lived off of his brother's disability and when that ran out he panhandled. They had an apartment together. Used to talk to another guy who made $80/day panhandling. His comment was why would someone who has some sort of barrier to work (criminal history, lack of education, disability, etc) attempt to work daylabor (backbreaking work where they might not pay you at the end of the day), or a minimum wage job (where they probably won't hire you), when you could make $10/hour panhandling?

So we can attempt to get rid of panhandling all we want, but the economics are going to always make it a reality.

It's like busking. How exactly do you make people not want to get paid to practice their craft in a free rehearsal space?

The economics are not on the city's side.

On my last 4 visits to Manhattan, I've always seen busking but never seen obnoxiously obvious panhandling. If they can manage to do it, so can we.

If panhandlers faced a day in jail, the economic incentive might shift. Might shift more if they could be fined out of their day's proceeds.

I kind of like busking.

Austin panhandlers don't bother me, either, although I don't give them any money. I went to school near NYC in the early 90s, and it was a horrible problem then. A lot of the "requests" for money were borderline muggings -- you felt it was in your interest to make a donation.

Like I said, I'm not really bothered by the panhandling now, but if you really want the panhandling to stop, make it a misdemeanor to give money to a panhandler at a traffic intersection. Post some undercover cops at a few of these intersections for a month or two, bust some motorists, and you'll never see another panhandler there again.

As some one who visits from nice clean San Diego, I can say that I was initially shocked and uncomfortable when originally visiting your cool city. For those who want to keep out the Californians, keep encouraging the pan handling and more will come and at the same time some of the Californians will not. For those who want California $$ and business growth, I suggest insisting work is better for these people, whom our children are trying to figure out. When I was a young partier I could have dealt with it better. But now I just find it interesting when staying at the local hotel next to city hall, as young people come out of the creek and ask me for money. They sure like Austin.

Growing up in SF, I didn't mind panhandlers much--it's different visting home with a kid, though!

Panhandlers definitely create a pedestrian-hostile environment, which is a transit hostile environment too.

When (us) progressives are too sympathetic too panhandlers, we're pretty much turning into the mushheads conservatives think we are. Don't!


While me and you disagree one alot of items, this is one item we seemingly see eye to eye on.

I also try to point out to people that by giving money to the people who are actually homeless, have mental issues, and/or drug issues that you're enabling them not to go to the Salvation Army, or other such organizations, who have years of experience in helping them out of those situations. I think that is something alot of people lose track of. You want to help people, donate to those organizations that are designed and have experience helping those issues. That maybe we don't always need to have a government agency to try to fix everything and cost us more.

I've met with Kim and McCracken on this issue and have told them that we need to talk more to the above point as well. I'm also pushing to make it so that all solicitors must register, like protestors, and that to enter traffic without getting a j-walking citation, that they must wear orange safety vests.

This is one of the few times I've disagreed with you Mike. I hear the grifter/scammer argument for this a lot. Really though, how many of the panhandlers fall into this category? Are there any statistics or studies on this? From what I've seen, I feel pretty certain that the majority of panhandlers I encounter aren't heading back to their apartment with a six pack after a light afternoon of panhandling.

I suppose I just can't wrap my mind around the feeling that having to deal with panhandlers is such a hassle that we want to fine them or incarcerate them and further overburden our justice system. It seems to me that these kinds of initiatives are more about pushing the homeless and other 'undesirables' out of sight and out of mind than it is about cutting the support to panhandlers who are in not of legitimate need of acquiring money through it..

AC: Punishing those who are giving to the homeless/panhandlers? We recently saw a pretty good example of how that line of thought worked out for Orlando.

Matt: Correct me if I'm wrong, but judging from the crowds outside ARCH, I hardly think that the various organizations around town that assist the homeless are capable of accommodating Austin's current homeless and transient populations. While supporting these organizations is important, I don't think that it's a fair substitute to giving some change or snacks to a panhandler.

Secondly, registration and orange safety vests? It seems to me that those sort of measures are going to only going to punish the actual homeless who don't have the means to register and/or acquire the safety vest.

P.S. Mike, the black on grey scheme on the preview page is pretty difficult to read.

Sean M,

Again, the evidence when the theory is tested is fairly convincing that MOST, not just a few, but MOST of the panhandlers are the scammer/grifter type. I suppose we'll have to wait until another local TV expose (like that'll ever happen here), or you could trust the cops, but that's been the results everywhere else (and the cops say it's true here too).

Actually ARCH isn't one fo the groups I'm talking about. I say that because they do not require people to better themselves to receive their charity. That enables people to not improve themselves. Humans tend to lean towards doing the minimal possible work to survive and places like ARCH make that minimum level of effort even lower. Now I'm not saying the people at ARCH are evil, more just misguided.

Post a comment