This was originally a comment on Andi’s post (which was in response to Karsh’s original, which I took as sarcastic), but it got to be so long I thought I’d just post it as an entry itself. Such are the privileges of the Metbloggers.
My understanding is that the panhandling ordinance was supposed to be tied to the Gateway Center — i.e. the cops were not simply supposed to shut down the panhandlers but send them to a shelter, the GC or something similar.
I don’t think the ordinance as proposed would pass a First Amendment test: panhandlers are allowed to be in the so-called Tourist Triangle, not to approach people, which means that speech is the thing specifically being restricted. I don’t think the ACLU is all that thrilled either.
I’m not sure what one does otherwise, though. Obviously the ideal would be that no one has any reason to panhandle, but that’s not going to happen anytime soon. Either you make it a criminal offense or you . . . practice laissez-faire? The only way to ensure there will be no panhandlers is to take drastic measures of the kind that preceded the Olympics.
For the record, I’ve been hit up by panhandlers much more frequently in New York and London than I have in Atlanta (once, two blocks south of Central Park, a woman wearing a black plastic garbage bag, and not much else, asked me for money. I gave her $20. A couple weeks later I saw her, still wearing a black plastic garbage bag) and much more often in Va-Hi than downtown (though I’ve spent more time in Va-Hi than downtown). The problem is, New York has a reputation, and people expect panhandlers the way they expect rude cabbies. New York can get away with it. As Kent noted, Atlanta still can’t.
New York supposedly has an outreach program you can call if a panhandler approaches you on the subway and they’ll send a social worker (not a cop) to talk to that person and get him/her to a shelter. In a year and a half of living there and taking the subway pretty much daily, both pre- and post-9/11, I saw plenty of in-car ads about the service, but never saw a person from the service, much less saw anyone call the service. (Technically it is illegal to panhandle or beg on the NYC subway; never saw or heard of anyone arrested for it, either.) Which suggests to me that people confronted directly by the problem of panhandling are very reluctant to take even non-criminalizing action that continues their involvement. They’ll give money, or they’ll hope the cop comes, but their problem is the panhandler, and their desired solution is to make the panhandler Go Away.
The long-term solutions — more jobs, more places for the homeless to go, less drugs — are obvious (even if how to get there is less so). The short-term solution — I don’t know.