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Don’t Give, It Hurts

I’ve known about this for a while and now it’s official, the City of Indianapolis is stepping up its efforts to crack down on panhandlers.  It’s going to ask the Legislature to pass a law restricting where panhandlers can beg for change;  including banning panhandling  within 25 feet of any ATM or active parking meter.  It’s high time the city did this.  

I was downtown yesterday and approached by a panhandler and told him I couldn’t help him so he immediately approached a woman who was standing on Meridian street trying to stay out of the cold and he got in her personal space and started begging.  I made it a point to stay close by in case things got silly, but luckily they walked away to go beg to someone else.

The downtown begging had died down for a while, but it is getting ridiculous again.  Instead of sitting off to the side and holding a sign, the beggars are literally standing in the middle of the sidewalks, obstructing pedestrian traffic, begging for money and then having the audacity to get an attitude if you don’t part with your hard earned money.

The anti panhandling law is long overdue.  And while we wait for something to happen, I also want to suggest that we need to stop giving these people money.  Panhandlers would not beg if there was no money in it.  Remember how your favorite pundit begged for change this past summer and made $30 in two hours?  Just for the record, I donated it to charity.   Which I suggest you do the same should you ever be approached.


  • patriot paul

    I’m going to offer a disagreeable comment. It is a free country. When we start restricting citizen’s movements simply because it is an embarrassment, an annoyance, nuisance or because we feel ‘uncomfortable’ when approached or even see someone with a sign asking for help, then we invade his space just as he invaded ours. Public sidewalks are free for walking, standing, smoking, laughing, protests, etc. I don’t recall hearing panhandlers mugging citizens while using a vending machine, parking meter, or ATM machine. Parking meters are not where our crime is. When approached, you can always say you contributed at the donation box and move on. Freedom of public movement is not criminal and should not be retricted. Should we tell an officer to arrest the person in front of us because we’re walking behind a trail of smoke that offends us, or because she’s wearing a fur coat or he has alligator shoes, or a vendor selling hotdogs is in the way? This is part of a free society. It is startling to see this taking bold headlines on the Star’s front page, along with the comment “Ballard said the lobbying push is a small part of his larger effort to make the city more livable by curbing an acitivity that makes many people uncomfortable.” But “uncomfortable” doesn’t translate into criminal. We do not need sidewalk speech police.

  • mike

    maybe we are different since we seek them out under the bridges where they live. We give them food and make sure they havent frozen to death through the night.. I really doubt the deposit box money makes it to these folks.

  • Think Again

    Paul, your argument is laudable, but faulted.

    For instance, smoking in any common area, which I believe includes sidewalks, is thankfully outlawed. If only we could fine the ridiculous butt-throwers…

    Seriously: I wish it were this simple. Abdul is right. Panhandlers have gotten out of control, and much more aggressive. I travel frequently, and we’re about par with other similar-sized cities; it’s more aggressive in larger cities.

    The donation box thing isn’t working. And yes, we do need sidewalk police. For a multitude of reasons. Civility is a lost art.
    In some cases, there are health issues to consider.

    It’s just gotten out of hand.

  • Muckraker

    Paul, unfortunately you are wrong! Nobody has a right to obstruct my ability to move on the sidewalk and get in my face. You don’t recall hearing panhandlers “mugging citizens”, probably because you weren’t there…and from your post you probably would do nothing if someone were robbed in front of you, your thinking that the robber “has a right” to take from another by threat of force.

    In case you didn’t know it there have been highly publicized incidents, such as the woman who was kidnapped, raped & forced to get money at a downtown ATM. Read a few reports and I dare say you’ll find many robberies started with someone “asking for change”, then going further.

    Paul, this is Indianapolis, not Liberalland. Everyone has a right to be secure in his person and while in a pubic place, free from intimidation and obstruction.

  • varangianguard

    Hey Paul, can you spare me a couple of bucks?

    Serioulsy, similar behavior in the workplace would earn one a trip to HR. Why then, would it be any more acceptable on the street?

  • Muckraker

    P. S. Paul, I suggest that you do NOT approach me and block my path and refuse to let me by without paying for the coercion when I’m walking downtown…your nose may wind up in need of some medical attention.

  • patriot paul

    Hmmm. Civility measured by a tape measure. Never leave home without it.

  • Shorebreak

    So let me get this straight – in the future, when an IMPD officer witnesses a homeless or poor person asking people for spare change, they face police action? Wow. That’s fantastic. With the massive increase in job losses those of us with extra pocket change can rest assured that the newfound homeless won’t be leaving us with guilt pangs when we refuse to make sacrifices to relieve their relievable suffering.
    FYI – we already have laws on the books that enable police to prevent vagrants from harrassing citizens. We don’t need a new law – we need diligent enforcement of existing laws. As our economy continues to unwind, this new law seems to be designed to prevent an expected increase in desperate citizens from asking good-natured people for help. Outlawing begging is a disgraceful response that indicates a complete decline in civility and in respect for humanity. It says “You’re homeless, starving, and you need help? Too bad – go suck eggs.”
    If I lost my job tomorrow, I wouldn’t qualify for financial assistance. I have too many assets. At the same time, the maximum unemployment insurance would barely cover my utility bills, not to mention food and housing for a very large family. If I couldn’t sell my assets fast and if I didn’t have savings or relatives who might help, one of my recourses to feed my kids (as I seek steady income) might be sucking it up and asking for hand-outs. And local government would dare to tell me that I have no legal right to do so?
    I agree 100% with preventing panhandlers from harrassing people. But the solution isn’t to stop panhandling – it’s to stop harrassment. We don’t need to be inhumane to the majority of desperate people simply because a minority of them occasionally make us uncomfortable.

  • Dr. Joe

    Why don’t we have designated begging zones? These begging zones could be off the beaten path, that way people who want to avoid the beggars can do so and the people who want to give their money away can do so.

    I agree with Abdul; if you want to help the homeless please do so by giving to shelters and other programs that push jobs.

  • patriot paul

    To Shorebreak:
    Two thumbs up. I inferred from the outset this was not a popular position. Yes, you have correctly stated the issue. Our founding fathers would turn over in disgust at the notion that a 20′ tape measure would somehow regulate beggars or prevent crime. Would a 20′ tape measure prevent crime around an ATM machine in the isolated instance mentioned above or any parking meter. Crime happens everywhere. These elitists and authoritarians who seek to invent an arbitrary tape measure into our laws and call that civility need more appreciation for our freedoms instead of finding creative ways to restrict them. If they want to travel in a bubble down a sidewalk with pristine tunnelvision, oblivious to everyday society, that is their rightto ignore them; but to put them in jail? Give me a break. Our positions are not popular, but we need to get beyond class warfare, the speech police, and a 20′ tape measure used as a billy club.

  • DJ

    Honest to god folks, is this the best that Ballard can do for this crime invested forsaken city?
    The next thing our idiot of a Mayor will do is outlaw opium dens in his China Town when he builds it Haughville. No doubt he’ll receive plenty of votes for doing so from the crack dealers there.
    Ballard’s priorites like this idiotic panhandler smackdown are contrived with his head up his a$$.
    But we already knew that didn’t we.

  • Bill

    Target & provide due process for the actual offenders. As other panhandlers see that the city is “not kidding”, maybe this behavior will wane.

  • http://www.hoosiersforfairtaxation.com Melyssa

    Paul, you forgot the part of Libertarianism that says the government stays out of our lives unless we violate the consent of others, then laws are appropriate. Clearly the panhandlers are violating consent. I hope they make it illegal for them to beg at gas stations too. THat’s typically where I encounter them.

  • http://www.seanshepard.org/ Sean Shepard

    I am going to agree completely with Patriot Paul and Shorebreak here. Those disagreeing maybe need to consider the nuance in what is being said.

    I completely support the right of any individual to be out in public marketing their desire to get paid for nothing. I completely support people opting to give directly to charities that support worthy individuals and causes and often have safeguards or qualifications to make sure the money is put to proper use.

    To the extent that anyone impedes someones progress or harasses someone though, then they have violated the rights of another individual and that should be actionable as a legitimate role of “the state” is to protect the rights of individuals (from violation by others, including the state [a collection of ‘others’]).

    Obviously, the issue here is that there is money to be made doing this so it is a profitable endeavor [especially given the, presumably, tax ‘unreported’ status of the earnings]. This income being unreported, also means they likely are qualifying for government assistance/welfare programs as well.

    Several things fix this problem right away. (A) don’t give them money and (B) tax consumption instead of income and (C) enforce any existing laws, especially repeat offenses, when they impede the progress of individuals or cause some other problem and (D) scale back the welfare state. Item B would reduce the benefit to operating outside of the mainstream economy. Remember $15 an hour tax free is like making $20 or $25 fully taxable.

    States or cities with better (or longer lasting) welfare benefits can become a magnet for people working the system [which not everyone is doing – but some]. Reduce the strength of the magnet and the pull to other places becomes greater.

    I hate being bothered by panhandlers as well, but to the extent they do not violate my rights I can make no argument against their activities. One thought, perhaps, is a law barring someone self-employed in the panhandling business from receiving welfare benefits… that might be easier to get behind.

  • http://www.seanshepard.org/ Sean Shepard

    Melyssa, when you go out in public it can be argued that you consent to encountering other people. Other people, however, have no right to accost you, impede your progress or intimidate someone.

    A gas station owner (or its empowered management) has a right to request someone leave their property. The state has no right to dictate who that property may or may not allow there so long as no one’s rights are being violated.

  • david

    why doesn’t the city just pass its own ordinance?

  • varangianguard

    Indiana already has plenty of Code instances that might be applied, if they were enforced.
    “Obstruction of traffic”

    All are either Class C or Class B Misdemeanors which can be subject to a fine or time in jail. Surely a financial disincentive to accost strangers on the sidewalk might provide sufficient deterrence for most panhandlers?

    Still, the police make lots more money (for the state, of course) off traffic enforcement than they ever would for rousting panhandlers. And, as every policeman knows, all the “real” criminals have a vehicle and that’s where arrest statistics can be most easily plumped. Win-win, eh?

    Seriously, Paul is right. No need to get the police involved. Just ignore them. If they rudely persist, then give them one of the New York treaments.

  • John Howard

    Some cities (well, at least Oakland CA) define ‘private property’ to extend a few inches from the facade of their buildings. This effective limits the panhandler from sitting and leaning against the facade or sleeping in a doorway.

    I don’t know how successful it is, as I haven’t monitored it personally. I just know they do it.

  • Shorebreak
  • http://www.timothyjmaguire.com Timothy Maguire

    What is this, Singapore?

    I have to agree with Paul on this one. It’s a free country and as long as panhandlers are otherwise obeying the law, I see no reason to penalize them or restrict their behavior via city ordinance or state staute.

    Abdul said it best, “The way to eliminate this annoyance of downtown life, is to stop giving them money.” Growing up in the Chicagoland area, I have perfected the art of avoiding eye-contact and I normally am not bothered.

    HOWEVER, if a panhandler is agressively intimidating or otherwise threatening any passerby, or even badgering them after the person has declined, then by all means, bring the full force of the law down upon the panhandler.

    If this proposed legislation is enacted, then I see the next logical step being the prohibition of passing out handbills and/or politicking on public or private property.

  • Greg

    I have enjoyed reading this stream of posts and what appears to be an ever increasing sense of logic and civility.
    Just ignore them. They have rights to be in the public. If they persist, demand legal action. Simple. I don’t like it, but I could make a long list of things I don’t like. If they allow me my space, I just ignore. I am confortable in making choices as to where, and to whom, I give my money.

  • http://www.hoosiersforfairtaxation.com Melyssa

    Oh Sean…the business owners DO ask for them to leave the property…REPEATEDLY. They keep coming back and annoying customers. THAT’s my complaint with them.

  • http://www.hoosiersforfairtaxation.com Melyssa

    Tim, a couple times I’ve even yelled at them like a crazy woman and said, “DON’T YOU EVEN THINK ABOUT HASSLING ME!” That usually makes them run.

  • http://www.libertyfile.com/ Sean Shepard

    Melyssa, if they are asked to leave or to cease and desist panhandling on someone’s property and they come back and continue, would that not be considered trespass and actionable by a call to the police?

    The downside, of course, is that a business establishment taking an aggressive stance against panhandlers who may live nearby with lots of relatives could take a PR hit in the community. There is a trade off there perhaps where a business owner has to figure out which side of the equation is in their best interest.

  • http://www.timothyjmaguire.com Timothy Maguire

    By the way, Abdul, I shouldn’t have used quotations, as I know it’s not a direct quote…I was trying to paraphrase what I heard you say this morning on 1430 AM.

  • http://www.timothyjmaguire.com Timothy Maguire

    Now, one thing I have always thought about… if someone can do some investigating and find out if certain panhandlers are lying about their circumstances, then I wouldn’t necessarily be opposed to prosecuting them for fraud.

    …although that’s only if we’re assuming that we’ve already taken care of all the murderers and rapists in the city.

  • Local Lawyer

    Why isn’t the Center Township Trustee taking care of these peoople through his poor relief program? Isn’t that, after all, his main reason for existing? With millions of dollars in the bank and millions of dollars worth of property there ought to be enough to go around for all the homeless beggars.

  • Daw-g

    Shorebreak: Should that scenario happen to you, go to Wheeler mission or any of the countless organizations people like me give money too. There are countless agencies in this city people can go to without having to resort to aggressive pandhandling.
    On another note, there is a bearded guy who holds a sign on I65/Raymond and is completely honest about his intentions. His sign read: Why lie? I want money for beer….as he was chugging a tall boy of beer.

  • Bemused

    Was it not you, Shabazz, who stated so blithlely on your Wed show “..if all people have to get upset about is a postage stamp sized area in your newspaper missing, then you are blessed?” In other words, being made to feel uncomfortable about a lack of prayer? Then why are you so uncomfortable about these legions of aggressive panhandlers? Funny how when its your own ox thats being gored, this is a serious issue. Spare me. If you are perhaps frightened of these scary people, move to a different location of town.

    Or is it that you are just once again championing our befuddled Mayor and his idea, which like most are asinine? Strawberry or lime-flavored koolaide, which is it? I dont think scotch is a flavor :)

  • IndyErnie

    For the record I personally know of an Ohio guy who trains beggars (no eye contact, shuttle walk, body language etc) and transports them to Indy daily for a cut of their action. He operates on the east side at highway exits. I have personally talked to him and watched him train his recruits. He does very well and its all tax free.
    Panhandle in NYC at Times Square and see how fast a cop will stick a baton up your ass if you don’t move on.
    Panhandle in Vegas and see how fast a cop will arrest you or show you the city limits.
    In one of the most liberal cities in America San Francisco, they require panhandlers to have some talent to perform and they sell a licensed spot. No license then you better not get caught and have done this for thirty years.
    Don’t get caught in Florida or you will be picking up trash on the highways.
    It’s time for someone to take a stand. If Ballard can erase this blight then good for him.
    Those of you who want to care for every indigent doper on the street, well you can join “adopt a beggar” and take one home with you. I for one will be glad when they are gone. By not enforcing the law Indianapolis encourages panhandles on every city corner and highway exit & entrance.

  • http://www.ogdenonpolitics.com Paul K. Ogden

    Think Again, where did you get the idea that:

    “For instance, smoking in any common area, which I believe includes sidewalks, is thankfully outlawed”

    Since when? With the exception of businesses covered by the smoking ordinance, that simply isn’t true.

  • good

    The wealthy man told Jesus, “look Jesus i gave the poor 50 gold coins and that woman over there only gave one cold coin, for I am holier than she”…Jesus replied: “no, for you have hundres of gold coins and gave a few, she had one gold coin and gave all she had.”

  • Gene

    Never give money to panhandlers, it all goes for drugs anyway. “Care not Cash” as Gavin Newsome says.

    There was a SCOTUS decision a few years ago saying panhandlers can do whatever they bloody well want, including following people around yelling at them.

    This isn’t fairness, this is lunacy. Only in America does a right to privacy guarantee the availability of abortion, but not the right to walk down the street without some meth head loser harassing me.

    They are losers, btw and I have no sympathy at all. We spend zillions a year to care for people but they don’t want care, they want drugs.

    A recent census in San Fran showed that 60% of homeless people actually HAD A HOME provided by taxpayers.

  • Think Again

    Paul, I’ll read the ordinance again, but I believe all public common areas ban smoking under the ordinance. I know that language was in it until the final negotiations.

    And if it remained it’s damned good language.

    I have a copy somewhere…will look it up.

  • Think Again

    In the spirit of “prove it” aptly defined by Paul:

    Gene: please cite the specific poll or evidence. I have a hard time believing it.

    And Ernie: I go to NYC often. There are panhandlers all over the place, absent anal batons. And the SanFran thing just doesn’t ring true.

    Now, off to find that copy of the smokign ordinance…

  • bit

    A new law Ballard is proposing Won’t. Make. A. Damned. Bit. Of. Difference.

    Let me say that again: a new law Ballard is proposing won’t make a damned bit of difference.

    It won’t make any difference because Indianapolis does not utilize police on foot patrol.

    There are more than enough laws on the books now (as others point out) relating to intimidation, trespass, harrassment, assault (without the battery) etc. to cover the actions that so seem to bother Abdul and others here. We don’t need more laws or a stronger law, we need enforcement of existing laws. It’s no different than illegal gun activity or immigration. The problem is one of government priorities. Put 2 cops on every block, on foot, at all times, from Delaware west to Capitol and Maryland up to Ohio downtown. The problem downtown goes away.

    It’s a matter of priorities. I personally think priorities lie elsewhere. I lived and worked downtown in Indianapolis going back to 1991, walking around nearly every day, and panhandlers don’t bother me because I don’t make eye contact, I keep walking and/or if I feel like it I just say no.

    Making this city “more livable” in my opinion has a hell of a lot more to do with addressing abandoned housing, and property crimes in neighborhoods north, south, east and west, and the hellish condition of a lot of our streets, and the enduring stench in neighborhoods that still suffer from flooding and sewer overflow than a few downtown panhandlers. And I’d be willing to be the majority of Indianapolis citizens agree.

  • Bemused

    So..TA..should we have the foot patrols to enforce this sidewalk smoking you say exists? I mean, its an on-going harmful act to others, using the logic you agree with..almost sounds like a law enforcement merited act, to have a cop bust a Marlboro(tm) villain/ess.

    Please tell me you think not.

  • John Doe

    “It won’t make any difference because Indianapolis does not utilize police on foot patrol.”

    I work in LE, but not IMPD. Where I work, there is a small issue with homeless people/beggers. I put them both together because in my area, they are usually one in the same for the most part. Anyways, the only way the cops can catch these people breaking the current panhandling law, IC 35-45-17, would be to do undercover work. The only other way this law can be enforced is if victims assist in prosecution. 99% of the time, most folks won’t want to give their names. When I meet with them, they don’t want to deal with all the legal stuff (going to court, depositions (never know when the ACLU might take the case up for free), etc.). Too many civilians just want the cops to make it stop. Well, I am sick of that attitude. Some police admin. want cops to go and “talk with” these suspects, even though the victims refuse to get involved. If it is such a horrible problem for these civilians, they need to get involved. They need to be prepared to go to court and testify as to the behavior that took place. I have no problem taking your oral and written statement, typing up a probable cause, and submitting it to the prosecutor for a warrant. However, the initial part of this pie is the victim _must_ be willing to prosecute and assist with the prosecution. I refuse to go and “talk to” someone based on some anonymous/don’t want to get involved victim who has called to complain.

    The current law bans panhandling from after sunset to before sunrise. It bans panhandling: At a bus stop, public transportation depot, on a bus, in a vehicle parked on a public street or alley, in the sidewalk dining area of a restaurant, within 20 feet of an ATM, within 20 feet of a bank entrance, while touching the individual being solicited, while soliciting someone standing in line waiting to be admitted to a commercial establishment, blocking the path of the solicited person, blocking the entrance to a building or motor vehicle, using profane language during or after the solicitation, soliciting by more than one person, soliciting in a manner which causes the person solicited to be in fear for their safety or compelled to donate, and lastly, following someone solicited after they have declined to donate.

    I don’t care if you make it totally against the law to ask for a handout. If you citizens, as victims, refuse to go to court, to give statements, to even give your name, nothing is going to change. The only arrests will come from undercover work.

    Have these laws made their way through the court systems? If so, how far have they made it?

  • IndyErnie

    TA I go to NYC also. In the Times Square area I have seen the Police remove-chase away panhandlers routinely and they aren’t polite while removing them. Street entertainers is another thing which might be what you are seeing.
    In SF the licensed area is often passed down from father to son …so much for being homeless and yes it’s been in effect since 1970 when I first visited. Get caught panhandling without being assighned a spot and the police respond.

  • Jerry

    “So..TA..should we have the foot patrols to enforce this sidewalk smoking you say exists? I mean, its an on-going harmful act to others, using the logic you agree with..almost sounds like a law enforcement merited act, to have a cop bust a Marlboro(tm) villain/ess.

    Please tell me you think not.”

    When I first read TA’s mention of smoking on sidewalks I had to roll my eyes. I think smoking not allowed on sidewalks is a myth. Now if Sarah Palin was a smoker we would have an enraged TA! Wait, Obama smokes so I guess it’s ok. I bet Obama puts every cigarette butt that TA hates so much right in his pocket like a good little messiah.

    FWIW, I don’t mind street performers, at least they’re doing something. I prefer musicians, and if the drummer guy wasn’t jamming away after Pacers games it wouldn’t feel the same.

  • Gene

    “As for those living on the streets, 60 percent acknowledge receiving benefits which could be applied to housing—though the actual number receiving benefits is undoubtedly higher. ”


    From 1994 though.

    The thing about San Fran is that it attracts almost every a-hole in America (those not in Boulder and Santa Barbara), cause they give out cash, and of course Marxists in SF like having a handy underclass to point to in order to justify higher taxes.

    Most homeless people are insane, lazy, or – not lazy (they know how to work the system), etc. Very few are poor in the traditional sense. If you disagree with this than you have never really been outside of Hamilton County, Indiana’s answer to the OC.

  • http://none Mauri

    Hey guys why doesn’t the administration fence off the old MSA area and erect tents for all these panhandlers? They could provide food and health care and all the good stuff. Makes more sense than a “chinatown” area.

  • http://www.chris-spangle.com Chris Spangle

    I think we should tail muckracker… Sounds like a dangerous individual who should NOT be on our streets! Keep the streets clear of him!