Just say no: Downtown business group unites against panhandling

Wednesday, July 11, 2007 at 2:25am

To give or not to give?

Dealing with those who ask for money on Nashville’s streets can pose a daily moral dilemma for those who live and work downtown, and in some other parts of the city.

Moreover, in addition to posing discomfort, members of Nashville’s Downtown Partnership say panhandling negatively affects the city’s economic development.

“This is a basic economic development issue. Visitors to our city make decisions based on their experiences here,” said Tom Turner, president of the Nashville Downtown Partnership. “The decisions employees make about whether to work at that location or patronize a business [include] a ‘comfort factor.’ Panhandling makes people feel unsafe, and aggressive panhandling is assault.”

Panhandling in Nashville has been a growing concern among local economic development officials for several years, according to Turner, prompting collaborations with Metro Police.

On July 2, the Downtown Partnership launched what is likely the city’s first business-prompted public campaign against panhandling. The campaign is intended to steer panhandlers to existing social services and away from individual solicitations.

Turner calls Nashville’s panhandling an “increasing crisis,” brought about by more business, residence and entertainment options downtown. The partnership’s campaign — which consists primarily of education — mirrors the actions of other cities, including Memphis, Denver, Philadelphia, Minneapolis and Seattle.

Asking for money in public places is not illegal here, Turner said. What the partnership calls “aggressive panhandling” — demanding money, physical touching or not leaving pedestrians alone — can fall into the category of assault, Turner said, and is illegal.

The campaign does not move for any changes in laws.

“Giving to panhandlers is a lose-lose situation,” according to information from the campaign. “You lose because they often use your money to support their addictions to alcohol and drugs and they lose by continuing these destructive behaviors.”

Instead of responding to a solicitation by giving money, the campaign suggests politely saying no. Panhandlers can be referred to call 211 to be connected with social resources, or given bottles of water or food gift certificates instead of cash.

But some members of the local social services community say they disagree with the campaign’s assumption that not giving money to panhandlers will alleviate the problem.

Cathie Buckner, a formerly homeless woman now active with the Homeless Power Project and a member of the educational committee of the Mayor’s Commission to End Homelessness, said the program does not show many signs of being developed with information from the local social services community.

“Businesses are trying to do the business of social services,” Buckner said. “The answer is housing with services. We need it. Nashville does not have enough shelters.”

Referring people to call 211 doesn’t usually help solve immediate problems, as homeless people have an increasingly tough time accessing telephones, she said, noting that the number of outdoor pay phones has dwindled downtown.

Buckner also disagrees with the assumption that Nashville has adequate social resources to alleviate the serious problems of all the city’s panhandlers — if there were enough shelter space in town, people wouldn’t sleep on benches, she said.

She said that some of those who panhandle in Nashville are not homeless, and have simply found solicitation to be a source of income. Panhandlers who really are homeless tend to have been walking the streets for many years; otherwise, they would have better options, she said. Buckner said full-time panhandlers aren’t likely to earn much money in this way.

As to how to tell the difference between someone who really needs the money and someone who may not, Buckner recommends following your instincts.

“You have to just go with your gut feeling, and a lot of time, that’s right,” Buckner said. “For the ones that are in need, I wouldn’t want to be the person who didn’t feed someone when they were hungry. But that’s me.”

Filed under: City Business
By: johnamoss on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Having traveled in a number of other American cities this past year, I find that our own city has the most aggressive & scary panhandlers. I actually felt safer in NY than here. I owned a business on West End near Vandy a dozen years ago & had serious daily problems with panhandlers & my customers. I'm frankly fairly unsympathetic.

By: frank brown on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Panhandlers are going to be the biggest obstacle in developing the downtown area. These people are really scary...

By: idgaf on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Just a simple panhandling statute/ordinace will do and be more effective. If we listen to THEM[quote]Asking for money in public places is not illegal here, Turner said. What the partnership calls “aggressive panhandling” — demanding money, physical touching or not leaving pedestrians alone — can fall into the category of assault, Turner said, and is illegal. [/quote]You will need a complainant who may be from out of town whereas a cop could prove the case for panhandleing without incoveinanceing citizens/tourists.

By: theplantsman on 12/31/69 at 6:00

That we offer ANY shelters is the attraction. Do not build it and they will not come. More so, it may be to the business community’s best interest to send these hobos/vagrants/panhandlers to their nirvana - San Francisco, California. Otherwise, perhaps the Downtown Partnership should insist that the hobos/vagrants/panhandlers register, buy a business license and wear a vest declaring them as hobos/vagrants/panhandlers.

By: chrisd on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Ship them to MemphisWhy is San Francisco their nirvana?

By: KevinBarbieux on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Actually, the reason shelters were built in the first place was to get the homeless off the streets. The homeless were already here. It's the homeless who attract the shelters, and other services, not the other way around.And I have been to other cities, and the problems of panhandlers and homelessness are the same everywhere. Besides, panhandlers are a different breed, and not necessarily homeless. Most homeless people don't panhandle. There are many different types of homeless people, all with different needs, and different requirements for solving their homelessness. One of the biggest problems homeless people face is that they are all treated the same - and mostly with contempt.The claim that panhandlers and homeless people are a deterrent to economic growth is incorrect. Although homeless people are found thoughout downtown Nashville, this area is still experiencing unprecedented economic growth. Panhandlers are certainly a nuisance, but their existence is not preventing anyone from conducting business.

By: Dragon on 12/31/69 at 6:00

The Ottawa Panhandlers Union was formed in early 2003 (within the IWW, Industrial Workers of the World). It is a lobbying group and has coordinated protests and a "mass panhandle". Sure hope the Nashville panhandlers don't unionize.Anyone know where the term panhandler comes from? I think they should be called beggars. Don't care if it hurts their feelings or not.

By: capt4chris on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Something has to be done about the panhandling in Nashville. It's worse than any city I've been to. It's not even this bad in New York City!It happens outside gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, the park. It's difficult to be out in the community.I feel bad for these people, but when it happens multiple times in a week with the same story (my car is down the road and I just a couple bucks for gas, etc) I get pretty jaded about it.

By: KevinBarbieux on 12/31/69 at 6:00

The act of panhandling lasts, what? 5 seconds? (they say, got a dime? you say, No. and go on about your business.) And yet some people let that moment consume their whole day? I'd say those people have a much bigger problem than being panhandled.

By: 37205Democrat on 12/31/69 at 6:00

We live close to Vandy and now have door-to-door panhandling. If you want to help these folks, give to a charity that truly services them.

By: KevinBarbieux on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Hey 37205Demo,door to door panhandling? You want to give us some facts concerning that?

By: 37205Democrat on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Knock, knock. Who's there? Two little girls asking for money for their "inner city church."Later that day...Knock, knock.Who's there.Two teenage boys asking for money for thier "inner city youth program."

By: KevinBarbieux on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Dan Gremillion, No city has come up with a "solution" to homelessness and panhandling. If you read newspapers from other cities you would understand that homelessness is the same all over. Nashville's situation is neither better and nor worse than any other city's.Sure, I believe there is a solution to the problem of homelessness, but no city has yet properly addressed it. The best chance for all concerned is with the programs being developed by the ICH.GOV. Like other cities, Nashville is in the process of developing such a program for itself, but, like all the other cities involved, has yet to achieve it. It does require the involvement of the private sector, as well as metro governments. Pretty much all that Nashville needs to have the public involved. Overall, the "public" seems indifferent to this calling.l That, and the Nashville Homelessness Commission has done a fairly poor job of promoting its work, and need for community involvement.

By: Time for Truth on 12/31/69 at 6:00

The more poverty there is, the more panhandlers there are. Curing the cause cures the problems. Unfortunately current thinking, especially among righties, is that tossing people into jail is easier than working on society's problems. It certainly is a real problem, though, and I've been in several cities worse than Nashville. Miami is probably the worst I've seen, and Atlanta and Cincinnati are fairly bad too.

By: Time for Truth on 12/31/69 at 6:00

dan, the old library was also filled with homeless people.

By: idgaf on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Seems like everyone has forgotten that our Mayor strived to make this a place friendly to the homeless (as well as illegals) and we have made the top 10 list for both.

By: KevinBarbieux on 12/31/69 at 6:00

idgaf, WTF? What lists? Friendly to the homeless? Besides generally hating homeless people, you must smoke a lot of reefer.

By: Time for Truth on 12/31/69 at 6:00

id saw the campaign commercials with the desk on the lawn and thinks Purcell is really sitting out there talking to street people.

By: Time for Truth on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Don't blame Purcell for the illegals, id, blame businesses. Especially the one that city leaders want to hand 80 million to.

By: Nashvegan on 12/31/69 at 6:00

It's a hard problem to address. Some people don't want help, don't want shelter, they just want to be free outside and ask other people for money. Others are just in a transition time (I worked with a church group and met some who were really good people). It's hard to come up with a solution that tries to reform without punishing the latter while not rewarding the former. I haven't had a lot of problems with it, but I'm not downtown much. But, I will say that I avoid at all costs the park on Church across from the library. It's a shame that a nice park like that has basically been taken over by these people.One personal story - about 7-8 years ago I was approached by a man for money (on Church Street, corner of 5th). I told him no and directed him to the Union Rescue Mission (then on 8th & Demonbreun...not far away). He got mad at me and stormed off. A couple of weeks later I was watching the news and saw that he had been driving drunk and crashed into the front of Amerigo's, killing a man. Somebody tell me how giving him money would have helped?

By: TRHJR on 12/31/69 at 6:00

HYPO-CRITE....yes you ms truth or mr. don`t see ya downtown ( in ya Volvo )picking these folks up and taking them to your house......but ya always wan`t ta run that mouth.....

By: KevinBarbieux on 12/31/69 at 6:00

"they just want to be free outside and ask other people for money" If that was true (and it really isn't) the question would still remain as to why they would want to do that - especially given that people who stay outside and ask people for money are constantly being harassed by police and others - and being vulnerable to street predators for thefts and muggings etc. Any rational answer to that question would entail a description of mental illness.Actually, any person who lives 'outside', either because of choice, or no choice, would be found to be mentally deficient, regardless. A sane person would not choose to live "outside." (If the option were really his to take.) And, a mentally ill person would not have the ability to maintain a home and thus would end up living outside, proving that he doesn't have the option.Still, asking whether a person chooses, or not, to live outside, is the wrong question to ask when trying to find a solution to homelessness.Try answering this question: What would it take to get homeless people into homes?

By: russpro82 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Of course idgaf had to get his daily stab in at the illegal immigrants:) I worked in downtown for 3 years. There were a few times where I felt a little threatened by panhandlers, they are for the most part harmless. If you don't want to support whatever habits you assume they are using your money for, then don't give them money!Making blanket statements and assuming they all are bad people who don't deserve better isn't a good solution...

By: granddad on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Kevin, Nashvegan is mostly correct in that they want to be able to do what they want, when they want and to continue that lifestyle, they will ask you (well, maybe not YOU) and me for money to sustain themselves.To get the homeless into homes is an easy question with difficult and varying answers.Someone with mental illness cannot live in their own house, unless there is someone to help them, i.e., take any medications they may be on, pay the bills, etc. Of course, there are varying degress of mental illness as well, and that scenario doesn't work in all cases. But, for mental illness, MONEY is what it would take. Money and someone to assist them with the upkeep of living in a home.Now, the addicted, well, that's a different story all together. Most of them won't even stay at a shelter. To home the addicted it would have to be free and there could be NO rules or regulations placed upon them. They don't want anyone telling them they can't do their drugs or drink their liquor. And, if that is a requirement to home living for them, most won't take it.But, my opinion, if someone else is giving you a free ride, no matter WHAT your situation, you should have to live by their rules. If you won't or can't, then you lose out.The other option for all is treatment. The mentally ill would probably benefit from treatment and most of the reasons they are on the streets is because of the lack of treatment they have received for one reason or another.But, as far as the addicted, treatment will not work. A person actually has to WANT to stop their addiction before they can be helped. Forcing them into treatment will not help them in the least.I'd say have it available if they want it, but you can't force them.So, honestly, there really aren't many options to "home" them. BUT, the problem needs to be dealt with.My solution would be anyone that wants help should be able to get it, once. If that doesn't work, or you refuse the help, you should get a bus ticket out of the city never to return.