Geez, why didn't I think of that?  Post a sign asking  people not to panhandle or give to panhandlers.  Think it will work?  Ideas like that could get me elected to the New Bedford City Council.

Cities all across the fruited plain are grappling with the problem of panhandlers at busy intersections.  Many are drug and alcohol addicted and are homeless.  Still others are shrewd business people.   $15 to $20 dollars an hour tax free six days a week.  Hey, that's over a grand a week for just holding out a cup so that stupid people can toss cold hard cash into it.  What a gig!

Used to be a time when the police could move you along for loitering or arrest you for public intoxication.  But, somewhere between then and now we've decided that the first amendment considers that to be freedom of expression.  What about my right not to be harassed by bums, or shrewd business people, every time I stop for a red light?  Imagine if I tried to sell you a pair of shoes or an insurance policy while you waited for the light to turn green?  I think I'd need to get a permit at the very least, no?

Municipalities, most recently Cranston, Rhode Island, have attempted to craft ordinances to prohibit public begging but face staggering law suits from the likes of the ACLU which almost always seems to come down on the wrong side of things.  This has made ridding our street corners of this nuisance a costly  if not near impossible task.

Enter the New Bedford City Council.  After originally threatening to get tough with the panhandlers and then backing down, several councilors have sponsored a motion instead that seeks to place signs at some of the more popular begging stations suggesting that the beggars seek help instead of money and that you call a human services provider to make a donation rather than giving heroin or wine money to the beggar.

Think it will work?

I've got a better idea.  Why don't we save money on signs and instead contact the Massachusetts Department of Revenue and tell them that there are dozens of people earning tax free cash on our street corners daily?  Perhaps they could send a few guys down here with W-2 forms and laptops to see if any of these good folks are in arrears on their tax payments.   We might also runs checks for priors and warrants on some of these characters.

Think that would work?  I guarantee the corners would be beggar free by the end of just one day.

The motion reads as follows:

WRITTEN MOTION, Councilors Dunn, Abreu, Winterson and City Council President Lopes requesting, that the Health Department, the Department of Public Infrastructure, the Traffic Commission and the Mayor’s office explore the implementation of a program that places, at popular panhandling locations, signage designed to encourage and facilitate responsible giving by providing a telephone number to both donate to local charities that provide food, shelter and mental health services and enable this at risk population to access these services.

The motion will be discussed at the upcoming City Council meeting on August 17th.

–Councilor Hugh Dunn Release

Editor's Note: Barry Richard is the afternoon host on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from Noon-3pm. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.


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