Thursday, September 11, 2008

The panhandler post

I have been avoiding writing this post, because I don't think the issue is an easy one to deal with. I have pretty strong feelings about panhandlers in Atlanta, and I didn't want to write a post where I flew off the handle.

So, there have been numerous developments regarding panhandlers and the homeless in Atlanta.
Overall, I am pleased with the aggressive action taken towards panhandlers. My general feeling about panhandlers is as follows:
  • Services such as the Gateway Center exist and are very good at serving truly homeless people who want help. I generally support these services and would be fine if spending increased for them.
  • I know a few people who used to be homeless, and they generally say that they didn't want to get off the street, and clean and sober, until things got "bad enough." Giving money to panhandlers is really just enabling.
A clean and safe downtown is absolutely vital to my dream of a pedestrian friendly city. The city (and really the entire metro region) as a whole has a vested interest in seeing the area with the best street grid and public transit infrastructure gain residents and businesses. A viable downtown will really support the rest of the city, since MARTA would be a ton more useful. You could actually live without a car downtown if the right services (like grocery stores) existed. You won't get a grocery store until there are enough people, and its all a chicken-and-egg mess.

Panhandlers, drug dealers, and addicts are the single biggest obstacle to downtown's resurgence. I wholehearedly support spending whatever resources are necessary to clean up downtown, and I think it is worth trying any method possible to do so, including undercover officers and these donation meters.

I also agree with the Midtown Ponce Security Alliance folks that The Task Force for the Homeless is a mess. While the folks in charge may mean well, in practice the Peachtree-Pine Shelter is a drug trap. I suggest you occasionally talk to some of the folks asking you for money. I usually give people directions to the Gateway Center, since that gets most of the aggresive panhandlers off my case and might actually be useful for someone who actually wants help. In my experience, the ones that seem earnest about improving their situation will tell you that Peachtree and Pine is a mess.

I'd love to see some investigative work by the Police turn up some sort of code violation or illegal acts to close down that place. My libertarian sensibilities tell me this is a bad idea, of course, and that the government shouldn't target people or organizations they don't like. When panhandlers are shooting people, it is hard to remain reasonable. I don't think that event should be used as a rally cry or anything, but it is pretty damn hard to ignore. I'm fed up, and I'm glad that the city seems to be fed up, as well.

UPDATE: Just to add to the list of things homeless related that caught my attention recently: Apparently homeless were the cause of a warehouse fire on North Avenue I drove past earlier this week.

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