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: