NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 22, 2005

Because of increasing complaints that panhandler-weary conventions are shunning the city, the Atlanta City Council is considering a new law that would ban begging within a "tourist triangle," says the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC).

Despite predictable protests from advocates for the poor and homeless, a downtown "no-fly" zone for panhandlers deserves study. Ultimately, the goal of advocates and city leaders ought to be a thriving downtown, because that means more jobs and opportunities, says the AJC:

  • Atlanta has struggled to curb panhandling for more than a decade, trying to balance the constitutional right to beg against the adverse impact on downtown merchants.
  • The city already prohibits aggressive panhandling everywhere and even polite begging within 15 feet of pay phones, ATMs and public toilets, yet, the badgering persists and lately seems on the rise.

So far, the city just hasn't found a way to sort through the vagrants, winos, hustlers and homeless who wander downtown streets and direct them to appropriate services. Tough limits are the only solution, says the AJC:

  • Minneapolis is talking about licensing panhandlers and requiring a government-issued photo ID, duplicating the approach of Greensboro, N.C., and Cincinnati.
  • License proponents argue that charities soliciting donations must register, so why exempt panhandlers seeking charity on their own behalf.

The Atlanta homeless advocates opposing the "tourist triangle" would also likely object to licensing as an infringement on the rights of poor people to earn a few pennies. But surely advocates want a better future for the impoverished than cadging quarters off nervous tourists. If the price for unfettered begging eventually becomes a deserted and desolate downtown Atlanta, advocates will have done their city and their constituents a terrible wrong, says the AJC.

Source: Editorial, "Atlanta needs a no-begging zone," Atlanta Journal-Constitution, June 22, 2005.


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