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09 September 2008

ATL Cracks Down On Panhandling...It's About Darn Time

Last winter, while in downtown Atlanta, I was approached by a man who asked if I had any spare change so he could purchase a cup of coffee. It was cold out that day and I was in a generous mood, so instead of giving the man a few coins, I offered to buy the beggar a cup of coffee at the nearest coffee shop.

The reaction to my offer from the panhandler was less than gracious. He said to me in an angry tone, "If you ain't got the money, then just say you ain't got the money." I responded calmly, "I'm more than willing to buy you a cup of coffee," but the man walked off in a visibly angry mood.

Lucky for me, the panhandler's anger didn't result in violence as was the case seven days ago when a Michigan man was fatally shot after he refused a panhandler money [Source: Atlanta Journal Constitution, "Panhandler charged in Midtown killing at gas station", September 2, 2008], but still there can be no argument that Atlanta's panhandling problem has gotten progressively worse.

A study commissioned by the Atlanta Convention & Visitor's Bureau (ACVB) found that the top two things tourists said they didn't like about Atlanta was the traffic and the panhandling [Source: 11Alive.com, "Panhandling In Atlanta On the Rise?", April 22, 2008].

ACVB Senior Vice President Kathleen Betrand told the Atlanta Journal Constitution that because of panhandling, Atlanta's visitors had developed a sense of unease in the downtown area.

"Panhandlers are approaching visitors, those dragging a suitcase and with [convention] tags. They are disproportionately targeted," Betrand said. [Source: Atlanta Journal Constitution, "City urges tough love for Atlanta beggars", September 7, 2008]

Because of that, the city of Atlanta is finally cracking down on panhandling downtown.

They're encouraging people to give directly to charities instead of to bums on the street begging for spare change. And they're also taking aggressive panhandlers on off to jail using undercover police officers posing as tourists [Source: WMAZ-TV (Macon) "Atlanta to Begin Campaign to Stop Panhandling", September 8, 2008].

For the city of Atlanta, cracking down on panhandling is a long time coming.

This isn't a war against the poor. This is simply about getting these vagrants off the streets, even if it is for just a day or two. Sooner or later, they'll get the message and stop the incessant begging.