Why the Pushy Beggars Downtown?

The cover story of the current C-Ville Weekly asks what’s behind the rash of beggars on the Downtown Mall? There’s the obvious point that we’re in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, which would explain the (apparent) increase in numbers, but what’s up with the new faces, displaying signs and soliciting cash? It’s not clear that there are more beggars, but there are some new faces, employing new tactics, eschewing the passivity common among the chronically homeless who beg downtown. As of 2007, the local homeless population was more likely to be local than the population at large, which busted the “Charlottesville is a homeless mecca myth. This January’s survey showed an 18% increase (with 274 homeless Charlottesvillians in total). Now we’ve got The Haven, the day shelter on Market Street, just a block off the Downtown Mall, and it’s certainly possible that facility has something to do with this. The folks who run it argue that they’re in the habit of upbraiding people for panhandling and, more important, helping people get employed (and employable) so that they’re not homeless.

I visited Reno a couple of years ago, and they had a clever solution to the problem of the hordes of pushy panhandlers wandering around downtown. Near the busiest intersections, in front of the garish casinos, large, eye-catching collection boxes were set up, with signs saying that the best way to help the homeless is to donate to the organizations to assist them, not to give money to individuals. That had the effect of pushing panhandlers away from that block. That may be overkill for Charlottesville, but it could help.

29 thoughts on “Why the Pushy Beggars Downtown?”

  1. I’ve never encountered a pushy beggar in Charlottesville. To the contrary, the homeless I’ve encountered here are quiet and respectful. Their mere existence does not equal aggressiveness.

  2. Considering I walk up and down the mall pretty much every day, I have seen a goodly portion of the indigents downtown. And I have to say, I’ve seen some “pushy beggars” (actively asking for money, usually from people sitting at restaurant patios), and I’ve seen several regulars sitting quietly (and legally) with signs, and it’s never been the same people.

    While I don’t think panhandling is a viable solution to the homelessness problem, I feel a bit uncomfortable with an active campaign to further restrict the activities of those who have proven to be polite and lawful. I’ve never been solicited by one of the people holding signs, and they have routinely been respectful of requests to move from high-traffic areas. The people who cause the problems are already breaking the law, and will continue to do so even with stricter restrictions.

    Besides, the sign-bearing panhandlers are providing a service — namely, taking up spaces normally inhabited by horrid street musicians.

  3. I’ve never seen a “pushy beggar” on the Mall. I’ve seen people sitting or standing holding signs. Sometimes I give them money. Sometimes I don’t. I don’t feel I need more ordinances to “protect” me from interacting with fellow citizens who have a different style of life than I do.

  4. The last pushy beggar I encountered on the DM was a crackhead (displaying ALL the signs, at least) who accosted me near the Pavilion one morning on my way to work and asked me for $5. I saw him a few more times, but he never stopped me again. The panhandlers I see seem to be polite and quiet, for the most part, and don’t really bother me.

  5. I have run into some vocal and pushy panhandlers, but not on the downtown mall. Instead it’s at bus stops and convenience stores, and one truly rude incident while riding the free trolley.

    My favorite line was years ago in Washington D.C. A homeless guy asked me for $20 so he could renew his subscription to Fortune magazine. I didn’t give him $20, but I helped him out because he had a sense of humor.

  6. This isn’t backwoods Africa where millions have no hope of a job. In the US, where people flood in from Mexico to work here, Americans are jobless by choice. They refuse to accept the jobs openings we have. Look at the want ads; there are plenty of jobs to be had here.

    Beggars prefer to beg than take a job below their station. They’re “too good” to do menial work.

    That’s their choice. Expecting people to support that choice takes their gall and your stupidity.

    A musician, a juggler, a unicyclist, or other alternative worker I will donate to. A beggar, never.

    The idea of (secure!)stations on the mall to donate to the organizations who help the homeless instead of giving money to the beggars themselves makes sense to me.

    Anyone who doubts that money they donate to individuals doesn’t go in part for drugs and booze is naive or in denial.

  7. That’s the term I saw used at the start of this thread. But you’re right. Let’s refer to them as “spare change collectors.” Hey, everyone needs a hobby.

  8. Just a random thought, but a “sign-bearing panhandler” is a bit of an oxymoron. Panhandling is a verb, and is defined as approaching someone for money; hence a panhandler is one who approaches another person for money. The folks holding signs are not approaching anyone, so they are not “panhandlers”.

    It’s an important distinction since panhandling does have a degree of implied protection within City Code (and some distinct limitations as well). I don’t know how “holding a sign” is defined by City Code.

  9. I’d been looking forward to commenting on this. But the version of the article which had Dave Norris attributing the possible *aggressive panhandling* increase to *out of area* elements- well that version of the article seems to have disappeared.

    And no. I’m not joking. I really saw a version of that article/or issue a little while ago. Now however I can’t find anything. And it’s not because it didn’t exist.

  10. FWIW, I went back and forth for a while on what word to use here. I couldn’t find any word that I liked, and went with “beggar” reluctantly.

  11. Wasn’t Jesus a beggar?

    FWIW, I went back and forth for a while on what word to use here. I couldn’t find any word that I liked, and went with “beggar” reluctantly.

    I think beggar is an appropriate word.

    And since someone brought religion into this… I think anyone that makes their living solely from passing a collection plate every Sunday. That would fit my definition of Beggar or Pan Handler as well.

  12. Having worked on the downtown mall for 10 years, the amount of panhandlers on the mall has seemingly doubled in the past 2 years. The poeple who are usually doing this are not suddenly out of work people looking for a job, but rather people who have not had jobs for years and the same groups tend to be down there year after year.
    Our office overlooks the mall and I have witnessed a lot these groups doing business.
    For one, the people holding up signs are not individuals asking for money, they seem to be in some sort of group/alliance with each other. They will pass the signs to each other and take turns in shifts. I especially like the one last summer where a girl was holding up a sign that said she was pregnant and travelling and needed money yet she was smoking cigarettes (one after another). I was at a vantage point above them and noticed one guy who was asking for money pulled out a huge wad of cash out of his backpack.
    I can see why the downtown business association would be lobbying city council to do something about these people as they seem to be taking up most of the bench seating on most days on the mall and tend to linger around the areas with outdoor seating although I have never seen one of them approach a patron of a restaurant.
    I thought it was interesting looking at the city codes and seeing how they have banned panhandling at certain intersections (i.e. 29 & Barracks, 29 & Hydraulic) yet they allow it on the mall.
    I wonder why that is?

  13. Jeff, it’s much easier to make the argument that safety is an issue in the middle of an intersection than it is on the Mall.

  14. So, as I understand it, Tony LaBua of Chaps doesn’t want these folks to stand around near his business, asking for money and possibly scaring off his customers. Some people would say that these folks have free speech rights that trump LaBua’s concerns about his business, but I’m sure he disagrees with those people.

    What I’m wondering is how LaBua, a member of the local Tea Party, feels about Tea Party anti-Perriello protesters disrupting the businesses near TP’s office and scaring away their customers?

  15. I freely admit that I am completely off the subject, but . . . .

    Waldo, I do appreciate your consideration in choosing the word “beggar”. I would agree that “beggar” is a more effective word choice than “panhandler”. However, I still don’t know if “beggar” is a completely accurate description (and I understand your reluctance).

    A “beggar” is one who “begs” or is “begging”. “Begging” involves “asking for charity”. So, assuming the folks with signs are simply holding signs (and not verbally asking for money), then whether one is actually a “beggar” would depend on the actual verbiage used on the sign. Are the folks “asking” or otherwise “putting forth a question”?

    Hence, to say that all the folks on the Downtown Mall holding signs are “beggars” may or may not be truly accurate.

    I suggest that you may want to consider the word “businessman” (or perhaps, more accurately, the gender neutral “businessperson”). Definitely not a traditional use of the word, but I think there is a whole “supply and demand” thing happening on the Downtown Mall. If there was not money to be made on the Downtown Mall, we would not be having this conversation in the first place.

  16. What I’m wondering is how LaBua, a member of the local Tea Party, feels about Tea Party anti-Perriello protesters disrupting the businesses near TP’s office and scaring away their customers?

    That’s a very fair point!! My initial reaction is to support LaBua’s concern about the disruption of his business, but your factoid put’s his disagreement in a new light- one we frequently see with conservatives – Hypocrisy! Here’s an idea! Let’s gather all the downtown mall panhandlers in front of LaBua’s store- and see how he like’s a disruption of business similar to what the Tea Party people caused the Glass Building businesses.

    A “beggar” is one who “begs” or is “begging”. “Begging” involves “asking for charity”.

    No begging involves asking for something you don’t have, and asking to the point where you become a nuisance until you get it.

  17. Well, I don’t KNOW LaBua’s position on the protesters who disrupted Perriello’s neighbor’s businesses. I’m genuinely curious. I mean, if Perriello were located just off the Mall, like Virgil Goode was, and if protesters were loud and off-putting outside his Mall office with the result that people avoided going to Chaps as a result, what would he think? Yay for the free-speech rights of tea-party brethren? But not yay for the free-speech rights of an unemployed citizen who wants to hold up a sign asking for money near his business?

  18. Anyone want to hear the story about the 2 homeless guys giving/receiving a BJ at 8:30 am on a Tuesday across from Christ Church.

  19. Jeff makes a good point. This was around long before the present economic downturn.
    One thing that was not mentioned was that this also a problem at the UVa Corner, especially near the 14th St bridge. They probably think UVa students are gullible.
    I agree about not giving them money as they will probably spend it on booze or drugs. Also, give them money once and they will expect it if they see you again,and if you don’t happen to have any spare change that day , get nasty and belligerent. This happened to an acquaintance of mine who had been giving one of those guys money. Its the reasoning behind why its not a good idea to feed bears when they come around.
    I think the City is acting as an Enabler to an extent, giving them a place like the Haven to hang out at. On the other hand, that does get them out of the library.
    It amuses me though when to hear talk about how badly they are treated. Years ago they would have been charged with vagrancy and shipped off to a chain gang.

  20. I would like to suggest that downtown business/citizens respond to requests for assistance by informing homeless folks begging for help about the local Soup Kitchens. And if you want to help these people, you can volunteer or give money to local causes which serve them.

    Here is the soup kitchen schedule which I just found on the United Way site:
    Breakfast every day at the Salvation Army; 6:45 on weekdays; 7:15 on weekends.
    Lunch Sites,serving noon- 12:30 Mon-Fri.:
    Mon.: First United Methodist @ 101 E. Jefferson St.
    Tues.: Christ Episcopal @ 103 W. Jefferson St( also # First Baptist Oct.-Apr.)
    Wed.: First Presbyterian @ 500 Park St.
    Thurs.: Holy Comforter @ 3rd and E. Jefferson St.
    Fri.: First Baptist @ 735 Park St at 1PM
    Sat. and Sun. at the Salvation Army
    Dinner: Every day at 6PM at the Salvation Army.

    Many people work hard to make sure no one ever needs to go hungry in Charlottesville-Let’s all make sure that the homeless know of these options.
    Direct giving can create a tense unsafe public atmosphere which will ultimately not benefit anyone.

  21. Thank you, tomr.
    I remember about twenty years ago, I guy I grew up with asked me for money to buy a drink. I told him I didn’t have any. He then said, “You drive a car don’t you? How did you get that.” I continued to walk away. He then yelled, “I didn’t like you anyway!”
    The downtown merchants should have made their objections know before The Haven. If they now feel that their business is being harmed by the presence of some downtown denizens, they should move away from downtown to another business district.

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