By: Jason

Today’s article is the second installment of a three part series on the issues surrounding panhandling.  You can find Part 1 over here. Originally intended to be just one article, it has been expanded to three. The final section will publish on Monday, June 17th. 

Over the past several years there have been measures and laws passed (and sometimes enforced) that have made the effort to curb what is called “aggressive panhandling”.  The current law, passed last fall, makes it illegal to solicit monetary funds within 15 feet of the entrance or exit of a building, or someone who is standing in line to enter or exit a building. Also out of bounds for the panhandlers is anyone at an ATM or parking meter. You read more about the specific rules of this law here.

There are many who believe that such measures are counterproductive and are aimed at criminalizing the homeless without offering true solutions to escape poverty and find permanent housing. “Counterproductive” is a popular word in this debate. While some believe that anti-panhandling laws hurt the poor, many others believe that an endless stream of handouts is doing the person soliciting more harm than good. While many see giving to panhandler as a direct service to a person in need, others see it as a discouragement to those men and women from seeking long-lasting, sustainable help; ultimately translating into supportive care when needed, and most desirably: self-sufficiency. A good taste of this debate is found here.

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So what does that mean for us? Well, panhandling is not illegal, but it is heavily restricted. Someone who is badgering, threatening, or physical is in violation of the law.  While many people believe that all panhandlers are just trying to get money for drugs or alcohol, it’s also been suggested and believed that many who panhandle throughout the city are not even homeless nor truly in poverty. What if there was an alternative way where TESTREPLACE people could give, but with the confidence that those funds were going to necessary items that are desperately needed by the solicitor?

It turns out that these programs do exist in other cities throughout the country.  The basic idea is simple. You walk up to a special vending machine, a participating retailer, or order online and exchange your cash for tokens. When a person approaches and asks for money, you are then able to offer these tokens which are set up as a closed currency with other shops, barbers, etc.  Now the fear of funds going to eventually destructive ends is removed and the generous citizen is morally free to give gracefully. This type of program exits in Portland (givetokens.org) and Chicago (Chicago Shares).

But what does Atlanta have to offer? Well, several years ago there was an effort to install parking meter-like devices throughout the city where those who were willing were able to make a donation, which then would be collected and distributed to local agencies that are organized and trained to provide good, clean, efficient services (such as Gateway Center). However, participation with this program has been limited and certainly does not include much of the human and personal element that can be so motivating.  The question is, and we welcome your comments, if Atlanta organized an effort similar to the ones in Chicago and Portland, would we participate, handing out tokens so that a man or woman can buy diapers or a blanket or a toothbrush?

In our final post on Monday we will discuss the issues of giving to an individual and an organization, as well as the mindsets we can adopt that will make our interactions positive and more effective. Thank you for staying tuned and for your positive and helpful comments.