“Aggressive panhandling” is not the problem

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 25, 2018

 

CONTACT: Madeline Stocker
(860) 808-7857
madeline.stocker@yeswecancolumbus.org

Statement: “Aggressive panhandling” is not the problem

“We urge City Council to understand: “Aggressive panhandling” is not the problem, and criminalization is not the solution. Our city is in the middle of an affordable housing crisis, and more and more working families are being forced onto the streets. We need to double down on our commitment to ending homelessness in Columbus. That means investing in homes and jobs, not handcuffs and jail time.” – Madeline Stocker, Communications Coordinator for Yes We Can Columbus

COLUMBUS, OH –  Tonight, City Council will introduce and likely pass changes to Columbus’s panhandling laws. These laws will effectively criminalize panhandling, making it easier for police and business owners to target and jail Columbus’s homeless community.

Here’s the bottom line: The only way to rid Columbus of “aggressive panhandlers” is to eliminate the need to panhandle. We need to invest more money and resources in providing safe, affordable housing and closing the income gap once and for all.

Instead of investing in prevention, City Council is doubling down on criminalization. These proposed changes have the potential to cause extreme and unnecessary harm. When we open the door to criminalization policies, we elect only to worsen the problem, while simultaneously putting our most vulnerable communities at risk.  

In cities like Columbus, similar laws have been shown to:

  • Target LGBTQ folks, people of color and those with mental health issues. Communities that society views as threatening are larger targets for laws that criminalize “aggressive” behavior. 
  • Open the door for police officers and business owners to misuse their power. Under these laws, people who see panhandlers as an “inconvenience” or a “threat to business” will be able to falsely accuse anyone they choose, regardless of whether or not they’re panhandling.
  • Create more barriers to employment for those most in need. Criminal records – even for minor crimes – create barriers to obtaining critical public benefits, employment, or housing, and make homelessness more difficult to escape.
  • Further the narrative that Columbus is meant for some, not for all. ‘Out of sight, out of mind’ should never be our city’s approach to poverty. Places like the Short North, Downtown and Nationwide Arena have already pushed low-income families out in favor of high-end development. Columbus needs more support for the needy, not more excuses to push them out.
  • Divert city resources away from sustainable solutions. Criminalization laws can take hundreds of thousands of dollars to enforce. Meanwhile, Columbus is in the middle of an affordable housing crisis. There is only one affordable rental unit for every three renters in poverty, and a severe shortage of shelter beds. There are better ways to be spending our taxpayer dollars.

Homelessness and extreme poverty are systemic, nuanced issues. There’s no ‘one size fits all’ solution. But, criminalization is not a constructive approach, and jail time and court fees only worsen the problem.

Columbus is the second most economically segregated city in the country. Tens and thousands of Columbus families are only only one health crisis, one divorce, one layoff away from homelessness. The longer we wait to invest in real, sustainable solutions, the worse it will get.

 


Add your voice:


###

Yes We Can stands for getting big money out of City Hall, building stronger schools, and putting working families’ interests ahead of wealthy developers and corporate donors. We love our city and we want all of us to have a say in the decisions that impact our lives. We want a Columbus where we can all have good jobs with benefits, affordable housing, and feel safe from crime and discrimination.