Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Confronting the Panhandler "Menace"

Remember how a couple of years ago our city leaders got themselves in a lather over graffiti? Now it seems the big menace to our

Posted By on Wed, Apr 22, 2009 at 12:19 PM

Remember how a couple of years ago our city leaders got themselves in a lather over graffiti? Now it seems the big menace to our peace and prosperity is panhandling.

According to a report by KTVZ, Bend's city attorney is researching the possibility of enacting an anti-panhandling ordinance. Writing one that will pass legal muster will be a challenge, though, because such ordinances passed by several other Oregon cities were overturned on constitutional grounds.

It appears the impetus for the anti-panhandling effort is coming from the group loosely identified as "the local business community." Chuck Arnold, head of the Downtown Bend Business Association, told KTVZ that "it can be a little bit of a deterrent for someone wanting to go into a business" to see a panhandler nearby.

The KTVZ story has provoked quite a few interesting - and in some cases puzzling - comments, such as this one from "Roy":

"I do know 15 years ago more or less Sacramento (actually Roseville) tried to find a solution because they were everywhere which led to them seeking to tax the income of panhandlers after they found out how many of them were making 6 figure incomes a year. I am not kidding there were people with nice home, new car in the driveway (one had a new Mercedes), and supporting a family."

This sounds like one of those "I-knew-a-guy-who-knew-a-guy-who-lived-in-Sacramento-and-he-said" stories. It reminded us of Ronald Reagan's fables about welfare moms riding around in brand-new Cadillacs. But if we can find any panhandlers making six-figure incomes in Bend, then by all means, tax 'em.

Speaking personally, The Eye has never been prevented from entering a store by the presence of a panhandler, nor has anyone else we know. And panhandlers are not exactly a new phenomenon in this town either; they were here when The Eye arrived more than 20 years ago. They do seem to be a little more numerous now, but that's to be expected, considering how much Bend has grown and how deep in the crapper our economy now is.

So why is panhandling suddenly perceived as a big problem now? It's not as if we have swarms of beggars thronging downtown streets, or as if our panhandlers are being aggressive, like some of them are in some big cities.

Our guess would be that the sight of a shabby guy standing on a corner holding a cardboard sign reminds us that, with a couple of bad breaks, many of us could find ourselves in the same situation - and that's not something we like to think about, especially when times are tough and all of us are feeling a little insecure.

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