The Baystate Objectivist

The Baystate Objectivist

Monday, June 30, 2008


Of the wrong kind.

I can't believe this plan I read about in the paper to curtail panhandling on the streets of downtown Northampton. I almost never give to panhandlers, but only because I can rarely afford to. Towards the end of the month I'm pretty much just a step above them - and not a very far step.

The proposed restrictions sound quite severe as reported in the article:

Among other restrictions, panhandling would be prohibited within 15 feet of a bank, ATM, parking pay box, pay phone, public toilet or bus stop. Panhandlers would not be allowed to solicit from any park bench, in any public park or under any railroad or street overpass.

Panhandlers would also be barred from passively standing or sitting while asking for money.

Gee, where is there a space not within 15 feet of the things that are on that list? Three square feet near the curb somewhere that if you stand on one foot and lean to the left with one arm outstretched you won't be in violation? But of course they forbid "passively standing or sitting" which leaves you to do what? Levitate?

Obviously the real purpose of this ordinance is to make panhandling impossible on the streets of Northampton, only no one has the honesty to just come out and say so. Part of the reason for that has to do with free speech. The courts have ruled that you have a right to say what you want in public, including the words, "Hey buddy, got a quarter?" Therefore they're trying to put up all these silly restrictions so that arrests can be blamed on the proximity to bus stops, parks, pay phones, etc. and not on a desire to restrict anyone's First Amendment rights.

Which is bullshit. And expensive bullshit too if you get caught, according to the proposed penalties.

Another proposal accompanying the panhandling ordinance would allow police to fine people $50 for a first offense, $100 for second offense, $200 for a third offense and $300 for a fourth or subsequent offense.

Boy, you'd have to bum a lot of quarters to pay those fines!

Who are these uptight people who are bothered by panhandlers? Why not just ignore them if you don't want to give them anything. Is your conscience bothering you or something? You know, the people who are asking for money are the same ones playing guitar and flute and other instruments, that hang around keeping the place lively and that add so much to the ambiance of downtown Hamp. It is what makes Hamp unique from other communities where you don't see that sort of thing. People hanging on the street is part of what makes the downtown special and vibrant and conducive to attracting the sort of creative people who like and require that kind of loose environment.

But some people want a bohemian atmosphere without having to put up with any bohemians.

They are the one's trying to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. If they succeed in creating the sterile environment they desire, then the panhandlers will be gone, but soon so will everyone else.

Over the weekend I was walking past the Hotel Northampton when I saw a wedding party heading inside the Calvin Coolidge banquet room.

Not a single panhandler was bothering them.

Late Saturday night I was walking past the UMass library and took this pic:

Arty, eh?


Anonymous said...

Tom, I have been approached numerous times by panhandlers when I was at the ATM in Northampton or putting money in the parking meter.

I do not feel safe when there is someone outside of the ATM at 10:00at night knowing I just got done withdrawing funds from my bank account.

If it happened once or twice, fine, but everytime I go to downtown Northampton, which is at least once a week, I get asked for money every 50-100 feet.

And most times, it's not just "hey buddy, got a quarter". Most times they are just downright RUDE. Swearing, name calling, etc.

There is a BIG difference between someone playing a guitar and adding atmosphere and a guy who smells like he hasn't showered in 9 days, looking high as a kite, smelling of booze, tattered clothes and an aggressive attitude following you for TWO BLOCKS DEMANDING money (really happened to me)

Unfortunately the situation is so bad that I have avoided going downtown on several occassions because I don't feel like putting up with them.

Tommy said...

Gee, I've never encountered anything like what you describe. Has other people?

Joey B said...

Tommy, as someone who worked in downtown Northampton for almost nine years, I can vouch for that comment. I actually had someone threaten me with physical harm (specifically a Colombian necktie) when I told him no. Did I think he was serious or necessarily capable of doing it? Hardly. But it creates a bad atmosphere to say the least.

You have to look at it from the perspective of the business owners as well. I worked at the big gallery downtown (I'm sure you know which one) Patrons would sometimes have to step over panhandlers to get into the building because they blocked the entrance. But the gallery owner wouldn't say anything lest he be branded a fascist. And then there were the teenagers panhandling that made you just want to smack some sense into them.

I try to be compassionate, but it's hard sometimes when I'm working hard just to scrape by myself.

Joey B said...

To be fair, I should note that people like Steve (you MUST know him, right?), Mentos (and now son of Mentos) or the late accordian man were always welcome and made the sidewalk a little more interesting.

Anonymous said...

Northampton is really just the anti-West Hartford.

Sure, both communities are loaded money wise, high property values, intellecutal, etc.

However, in West Hartford it is all about the Louis purse, fashion, Lexus, BMW or Porsche, spending huge amounts of money on Crate and Barrel, etc. It's all about showing off that cash.

In Northampton, you are looked down upon driving a BMW. (sure those Longmeadow people going to dinner may not know) Even if you have money, you need to drive a used subaru, wear old Columbia vests and old pants. Showing that you have money in Northampton is sooooo uncool, even if you have it.

paolo mastrangelo said...

las night in church the lord told me to pray for everyone that is in favor of this law, as they know not what they do. he told me that they have fear and hurt and anger in their heart, and that i should pray that those feelings are lifted from their heavy souls. so i will and i have.

also, that last previous anon comment was pretty spot on. northampton residents are pretty affluent and classist, and a lot of other ists, they just hide it better. thats why lots of times, its easier to deal with repubs, cause they dont mince words. you know where they are coming from. demos on the other hand a sly crafty bunch you have to really pay attention to. fo real.

Anonymous said...

The aggressive ones are in the minority but they do exist and it doesn't take many belligerent panhandlers to give Main Street an unsavoury reputation among locals and daytrippers alike. As in the earlier comment, there is a big difference between the mellow musicians and the rude aggresive guys. Panhandling can cross the line between "free speech" and "annoying and accosting."

Anonymous said...

There are many more "panhandlers" on the two blocks of downtown Hamp than along the entire stretch of Main St SPFLD from State to the bus station. They travel here by bus from SPFLD and Holyoke because they can't make a dime at home. Don't give them $ and they will go away. I, also, have been harassed for $, sworn at and followed.Enough!

Liz said...

You have readers all over. I grew up in Western Mass, live in the Seattle area, and enjoy your well-developed opinions, good writing, photos, and anecdotes.

Thought you would like to read a summary of legislation against panhandling in the Puget Sound area. A friend in social services says, "if you're hungry in Seattle, you ain't looking hard enough." Housing is a different story, but there are a lot of food banks and meals served. They're needed, too.


Although some cities in King County are placing tighter restrictions on panhandlers, Seattle leaders are taking a wait-and-see approach, wondering if those new ordinances will be effective.

* Read the full article at:

Anonymous said...

Tom, you're WAY off on this issue and I suspect it's related to your own bohemian history, from what I've read of you in this, your own blog. For every stereotypically cool, laid back, Kesey-spouting Noho resident, there are tons more of us downtown who simply want to be left alone as we go about our business, regardless of our political leanings, whether we're "angry", etc. It is our right. Your claim that, if the panhandlers are driven away by our refusal to fund them, the city will lose a large segment of its coloful character, is completely preposterous. The Calvin and The Horse don't book great music because these sidewalk bloodsuckers are nearby, nor did that wedding party to which you referred come to town because they thought it might be cool for the bride to get hit on for spare change. I, for one, am tired of having to step over (more or less) healthy looking young people who can't be bothered to look for work, even if part-time. A bum is still a bum, even if he's wearing dreads and screwing around with a hacky-sack. Yeah, and I walked 8 miles one way to school each day in a snowstorm....backward. Seriously, enuff is truly enuff. I will pray as hard as Paolo did, only that the ordinance passes. At least, maybe then, we'll cancel each other out.

Parent said...

I've definitely been made uncomfortable by panhandlers, especially when I'm with my kid, who will strike up a conversation with anyone. (I bet more women than men would tell you they've felt uncomfortable, either because they're more likely to be targeted by aggressive strangers, or because they're more likely to feel vulnerable in public places.)

BUT often it's by people whom I think have some sort of mental illness, too - or, they're just the general kind of asshole who would say creepy things to passersby whether or not they were looking for money. Maybe we should make a law against assholes. THAT would be brilliant - especially if it applied to lawmakers.

I especially appreciated your point about Noho liking its bohemian reputation, but not necessarily its bohemians.

pm said...

i lived in town for 32 years, and no one ever bothered me, nor anoyone i know. I have never heard a story about it from anyone, cept here online via masslive or blogs. and the only time i saw someone get bothered downtown was via physical violence, always between familar parties. I NEVER saw a panhadler 'accost' or 'harass' or more than simply and quietly ask someone for change.

And I lived downtown, it was my backyard for everyone of those years.

Anyone describing experience with panhadlers such as here in these comments is exaggerating, delusional, or outright lying.

and you can save all the blah blah blah, cause you and I both know you're full of sh*t.

do yourself a favor and repent now, cause in a few more decades we'll all be dead, and there will be no time for remorse then. just a hot moment to reflect on our lives before we pass, and god damn is it gonna suck if all we would like is a little more time to do the right thing...when there is no more time left.

Anonymous said...

Hi Tom,

I've become a regular reader of your blog, it's very colorful and enjoyable.

I never have posted a comment before but I will now. I am one those "uptight" people who would love to see (aggressive) panhandling stopped. Although I can see how they proposed such "rules" that one has to wonder if a poor panhandler must stand on his or her head wearing a clown suit in order to perform "legal" panhandling on the streets on Northampton.

I give my hard-earned money (yes it is hard-earned which makes me feel a bit disgruntled about giving it away to someone who seems as if he's just hanging out all day earning his money just by asking for everyone ELSE's >:-() to an elderly lady in town. She's around a lot and she smokes but I'd like to see that she will still be able to ask for money without problems. She's not intrusive like other panhandlers I've experienced and I welcome the opportunity to help her. She always thanks me so politely.

I am put off and feel it a personal affront however when comments are made by panhandlers to me or about me personally as I walk by. Being told to smile or comments made about where I shopped (when they read the logo on my shopping bag), or about my "funky" sunglasses are NOT appreciated nor welcomed. It's hard to simply ignore. "God Bless" me and all that, well what if I'm an Athiest?? Leave me alone. In these cases I do indeed feel harrassed and I don't like it one bit.

I also love it when someone specifically approaches me and says, "Excuse me." You think they're going to ask for directions. No, it's just the 145th person that day to ask me for money. And if it's a teenager or person in their 20's? WTF?? Do you deadbeats NOT catch the "Help Wanted" signs in many business windows in town? How can you "ignore" a person who specifically approaches you?

One of my good friends who lives in Northampton was homeless at one point. He never did panhandle and he did get back on his feet on his own. He has zero tolerance for the annoying panhandlers in town, he's constantly bothered by them as he walks through town, he's yelled back at them, and he's tried ignoring them, which once resulted in his being called an "asshole" by an aggressive panhandler, so my buddy ended up calling the police on his cell. Who wants to be harrassed coming out of the bank?

Musicians in town absolutely CANNOT be compared. THEY are the ones making the atmosphere lively and fun, not those whom are bothering passersby who just want to be left alone. I love the music in town and I'll gladly spot some (hard-earned) change their way. But I really am not a huge fan of being spoken to constantly when I'm just trying to get through town.

I have absolutely no problem with someone who "sets up camp" and has some signs out, those people are NOT intrusive, they are not offensive, and they should be allowed to panhandle in that manner if they so desire. And I hope the elderly woman I see from time to time can stick around. I want to keep supporting her cigarette habit, especially now that a pack is up $1 in MA as of yesterday. But unfortunately it's always the bad apples (the ones who do swear, follow, and to say the least make people feel uncomfortable) who ruin it for everyone.

Message to "pm said"... NO, this isn't BS. I don't have a creative enough imagination nor would I have the desire to make up stories if the subject of the story (aggressive panhandlers in this case) didn't even exist!

Anonymous said...

If you are accosted by an aggressive panhandler,tell them "FUCK YOU LOSER". It works every time. jim666

Joey B said...

PM... Out of deference to Tom, being his blog and all, I'll refrain from getting in an internet pissing match with you.

That being said, I don't appreciate being called delusional or a liar for relating that there is a certain segment of the panhandling population that is extremely aggressive. Especially by someone so chickenshit that they do it anonymously.

Anonymous said...

I absolutely LOVE the panhandlers that have all these BRAND NEW piercings all over thier body and brand new tattoos all over their faces.

Amazing that they find enough money to put 15 holes into their ears and then tattoo a snake going down their neck, but somehow they need money for food?

That's a really smart career move, getting a tribal tattoo across your forehead.

I USED to believe in Darwin's Theory of Evolution...

Anonymous said...

You are the delusional, holier than thou POS. Because YOU didn't see something or experience something, WE are all liars? Who the HELL do you think you are?

Anonymous said...

A loser maybe?

Me thinks, anyway. ;)

Anonymous said...

I think that these ATM stories are crap. I'm sorry, but why would someone asking for change stakeout an ATM? Are they expecting a $20? Please, they are poor, not dumb, and the assumption says more about these commenters.

Hey, here are some tips: If you don't like people approaching you, don't walk in public. If you don't want to give money to people on the street, don't give it to them.

These anecdotes are all moot anyway. The public sphere is not just for the restaurateurs, or the politicians, it is a place for the public. Read the Constitution.

Stjsrty Xtjsrty said...

nike shoes
jordan shoes
ralph lauren uk
basket nike femme
louboutin shoes
adidas nmd
canada goose outlet
vibram five fingers