The following are excerpts from editorials in other New England newspapers:
Panhandling, in which people beg for money along the public streets and sidewalks, raises a wide variety of emotions in passers-by, from compassion to anger. These beggars usually hold up a sign bearing a pathetic message and ask people to give them money, work or food to help them out.
No one likes to see beggars on the street corners and medians, whether it’s because they feel bad for them or because they believe these folks are bums who give the area a bad image. Trouble is, it’s a difficult problem to address. Last week, some headlines read that the city of Portland had “banned panhandling” in an attempt to help clean up the city, but that wasn’t exactly true. Panhandling is protected by the First Amendment, so it can’t actually be banned.
Cities that have a problem with the phenomenon have had to find ways to skirt an outright ban, so Portland already has a law against “aggressive panhandling.” The city’s new ordinance will also make it illegal for people to loiter on highway medians. It’s being painted as a safety issue.
While these are certainly valid safety concerns, it’s hard to believe that’s the real reason for the ordinance change. Advocates for the homeless have noted that while dozens of homeless people died last year, none were victims of panhandling accidents.
Let’s face it: Loitering bans and other such measures are an effort to rid a city of the blight of panhandling, not to protect those who are begging. No city wants to have beggars on its street corners, as it often intimidates people who are walking or driving by and ultimately turns people off from an entire area, giving it a bad reputation.