Homeless meters not the medicine for panhandling

August 29, 2012 

There is another proposal afoot to address the homeless problem in Macon. The 2012 Leadership Macon class would like to put donation stations that resemble parking meters around the downtown area. The thinking goes that if one wants to really do something to help the homeless population, giving at a donation station is infinitely better than giving money to panhandlers. The money would be distributed to agencies that provide service to the homeless population.

Certainly, panhandlers have been a constant nuisance, mainly around downtown, since forever. Macon has had, since 2007, an ordinance making panhandling illegal after dark and not just downtown but citywide. The ordinance also makes it illegal to lie while panhandling (try proving that) or to panhandle aggressively by blocking someone’s path. Even with that law in place no one seems to have been successful in blunting panhandling, although when the ordinance was initially enforced it did succeed in moving the panhandlers, for a time, into other areas of the city.

Atlanta has had an ordinance against panhandling since 2005, however, at a council meeting this week, it was said the law wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on. Not one citation had been issued in the last six months. Police, not just in Atlanta, have other priorities.

Fortunately, the Leadership Macon class is not trying to curb panhandling. Rather, supporting agencies that work with the homeless is the mission. The Macon-Bibb County Urban Development Authority has already voted to act as the fiscal agent for the funds collected by the homeless meters. What could go a long way in curbing panhandling lies in the power of the people being approached for a handout: Just say no. As the executive director for the Urban Authority, Alex Morrison stated, giving money to panhandlers is the “worst thing” for the community and the panhandlers.

A majority of City Council has already expressed its support for the homeless meters. It doesn’t cost the city a dime, and if the project works as well here as it has in other cities, those dealing with the homeless population will have a few more resources to help address the problem.

-- The Editorial Board

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