Three Cities Cope, or Fail to Cope, With Unsightly Homeless People
Two weeks ago, Palm Beach County unveiled a plan to dissuade do-gooders from giving money to the homeless by encouraging them to donate -- via text-message -- to established homeless charities. "For every panhandler asking for a handout," City Commissioner Priscilla Taylor told the Palm Beach Post, "there are hundreds of men and women asking for a hand up."
Today, New Times asked her where she got that figure. "We didn't have any exact figures on that," Taylor said. "The Homeless Coalition and the Homeless Advisory
Coalition, where I sit, they basically give us the numbers, and they come up with that." The Coalition could not be reached for comment.
"You have to realize," continued Taylor, "the reason we came up with this from the very beginning. Here, we have certain corners within our communities, where people who aren't homeless come in on a van from different areas and ask for donations -- and these people have children.... I don't think [panhandling] is worth the safety risk of letting them get hit by cars."
The other new anti-homelessness initiative comes from Miami, where the City Commission voted to expand the panhandler-free zone in the area immediately around the Arsht Center.
"They can punish us for panhandling all they want," says Caleb, a homeless man from Ocala, now panhandling near Oakland Park. "It don't change what we've got to do. You can go to a shelter, get discharged because you had a beer, and then you can't get no more food. You're hungry. You ain't gonna break the law if you're hungry? Bet you are. Bet the politicians would too."
An initiative proposed at a City Commission meeting last Wednesday in Oakland Park would have jailed panhandlers, because -- unlike billboards, sandwich-board advertisers, or an over-abundance of sinister-looking police cruisers hiding in the parking lots and alleys of Oakland Park Boulevard -- panhandling "distracts drivers from their primary duty to watch traffic and potential hazards in the road."
But the ordinance would not only jail the panhandlers. It would also punish the do-gooders who give them cash. Both could have been tossed into jail for up to 90 days. (Lest you think the measure heartless, let City Commisioner Jed Shank disabuse you of the notion: He insists the measure would have been good for homeless people, because panhandling is an awful way to have to earn a living. Which is true. But he never bothered to explain why it's not better than making no living at all. That initiative failed.