In The Affordable Housing Mines, The Panhandler Is The Canary

Bethesda MD photo by BKL ART is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
Bethesda, Montgomery County, Maryland. No embarrassing and unsafe panhandlers in view.

Emergency Alert! Deep underground, a miner’s canary is suffering. The miners are at risk along with the canary! What to do?

The answer is obvious. Shoot the canary.

Say what? When an early warning system is sounding an alarm, surely you don’t attack the early warning system! But when it comes to the affordable housing crisis, it’s a common feature of local government responses. Shut down the alarms by criminalizing panhandling.

A recent article in The Diamondback reports that in 2016 close to one third of American cities had laws criminalizing all panhandling, and a further 60% has partial bans.

Responding to a proposal to criminalize panhandling in Montgomery County, Maryland, the article quotes a local council member ” . . panhandling in the street is undesirable. It’s not safe. It conveys somehow the county is not providing services for people in need, and that’s not so.”

Montgomery County, one of the wealthiest in America, apparently sees itself as a warm, generous provider to people who are homeless. One might imagine that the principal provision for the homeless is housing, but Montgomery County’s waiting list for affordable housing stretches to the tens of thousands.

In many respects, given the high percentage of cities that have full or partial bans on panhandling, criminalization of this activity by one more urban area might seem like old news.

But given a growing awareness of the drastic need for affordable housing in America, is it not sensible to view panhandling in a different light?  It’s long past time that we stop ‘shooting the canaries’ so to speak, and instead put a greater commitment into providing the safety and security that they, like all citizens, deserve as a fundamental human right, recognized by the United Nations and many countries, if not the United States Constitution.

Read more on this subject in FOX 5 Washington DCMontgomery County considering bill to ban panhandling at medians