Saturday, October 25, 2008

Help hide the homeless: Northampton aims for anti-panhandling law

It's not too hard to pretend that poverty doesn't exist in Northampton, MA, if that's what you want to do. Street kids tend to blend in with college kids, the housing projects are tucked far away from downtown; and a scattering of tents by the railroad tracks aren't visible from the highway. Just about the only time poverty and homelessness is really in your face is when you're approached by a panhandler.

Thus the City of Northampton is getting ready to pass an anti-panhandling law which, while not banning panhandling outright, prohibits asking for money while sitting on a park bench or standing on a corner, or asking anyone while they are waiting in a line, or within fifteen feet of a public telephone, bus stop, bank or ATM. You also can't be within five feet of a building entrance or fifteen feet of a parking meter or overpass. What's left, you might ask? Not much. And if you break this restrictive law, you can be fined from $50 to $300. This makes a lot of sense-- you don't have money so you are fined-- and if you don't pay the fine, then what? More unnecessary criminalization. The Daily Collegian covered this story well earlier in the week.

Why ban panhandling? I can hear the downtown business people talking about how panhandling drives away businesses. Beyond that, many people are uncomfortable when asked for spare change. Well, then, just say no!

My own rule is, one person a day. I live too close to the margins myself to do more than that. But as tight as my own budget it, at least I have an income.

Arise member Caty Simon has formed a group in Northampton called Poverty is Not A Crime. That group, plus the Freedom Center, the ACLU and Social Change in Mind are all fighting this ordinance. If you live or shop in Northampton, call Mayor Claire Higgins at 413.587.1249 and let her know: help homeless people, don't criminalize them. Leave panhandlers alone!

Photo by Emily Grund/Collegian


Sick of you pukes said...

How about all you lousy POS leeches get jobs instead of stinking up our city???????

Michaelann Bewsee said...

Hmm...what's POS? Anyway, guess you don't know this blog or you'd know I DO work fulltime and have most of my life....Are you from Northampton?

Caty said...

Hey, for future reference, I didn't form this group, some very brave student activists did, though I am doing a lot of work for it. My job is coordinating its work with the Freedom Center, its supporter.

Anonymous said...

Hey- no need to start name calling

I have been away from the USA for a while and returning now am surprised at how agressive strangers have become and how we all need to relax and be kind to each other


It is hard when someone asks for money it feels shamefull for them and me I feel bad for them and bad for us- why do we let this situation go on- begging is wrong and not acting to solve begging is wrong too

I have traveled to many places where those with money are ashamed that someone -anyone would need to beg.

It is a mark against how great this country is and can be.

despise our poor does nothing but lower our society.

David Beyer said...

Great blog post! So calling Mayor Higgins will show her public opposition...but the final decision rests with City Council. Michael Bardsley (413.586.1431) is a City Council member who's on the fence, and he's an "at large" council member so if you're a northampton resident, he's your constituency. You can also call and set up a meeting with your city councellor of your word...

Ward Map:

City Council contacts:

jenna said...

i guess it's easy to pretend poverty doesn't exist here, but it's JUST as easy to take a walk through pulaski park at night & check out people struggling to sleep on the benches & under the play structure... hula hoop in the park at night for long enough & you get to know who some of these people are. i am really disgusted by people who take the attitude that everyone should "get jobs" and be self-sufficient... have they NO empathy nor any sense in their heads that these people would all much rather have homes & food if they could? poverty itself is a full-time job especially if you have a disability of any sort. it takes TIME to deal with the beurocracies, wait in lines, and it's totally degrading having to live by rules that the shelters impose, still having no privacy or anything. life is really, really horrible when you're struggling to survive and if people think it's such a joy ride why don't they just try on poverty/homelessness themselves for a few months, see how they like it? and see how easy it is for them to get a job!!! you have to have a home to get a job. you need an address, and a place to bathe & store your clothes, to begin with. for starters. and there are SOOOO many people who have homes now but just one little bit of bad fortune could push them over the line & they'd be on the street too. once you're on the street there is no easy way out & i really think it's simple-minded & thoughtless to even complain that "these people" might "use the money you give them for drugs or alcohol" because SO FUCKING WHAT????? if you were freezing on the street you'd want to blunt it out too. don't judge! you don't ever know what someone has gone through! i just cannot believe this mindset we have in our society that poor people are lazy scumbags. i know we're taught it from birth, that anyone who TRIES or WANTS to can "make it" in america, but i think it's becoming more & more clear to more & more people what a total lie that is. not to mention that the very ethos of it is sickening. the individuality we embrace, the "self-actualization" blah blah blah, we are so brainwashed into not helping one another. most people manage to go along w/what society tells them to do (even though it may mean giving up anything they ever believed in) & live the expected american lifestyle, but NOW people are learning that it isn't true... all lies... they did what they were told & consumed & ran the treadmill of life & now look, they're being foreclosed. so are they better than the people who couldn't fit into that paradigm in the first place? are they any better NOW? i can't wait to see everyone who's ever said "get a job" living in a tent city. GRAAAAAAARGH!!!

Michaelann Bewsee said...

You are so right. You hate to see other people suffer; on the other hand, the ones who are uncharitable already need to learn a hard lesson..

I was out with a friend last night and a guy stopped me as I came out of the store, asking for spare change so he could go to Taco bell. I almost always say yes, but literally had no money on me. When i got back in the car I asked my friend if he had any change and he did-- a handful of pennies. So I went back to the guy, who was now talking to someone else, saying, "OK, i've got enough, meet you at your house." Then he saw me and said, "That guy's going to help me fill out a food stamp appli8cation."

I said to my friend as I got back in the car, "Frankly, i don't care WHAT he's going to use the money for-- if I can give it, I will." I mean, of course I DO care......