Panhandling in Bath: Officials Brace for More Beggars
If panhandlers don't pass police background checks in Fairlawn, they can panhandle in Bath Township without a permit.
Today is the day.
All panhandlers who beg on Fairlawn corners are required to register with the police department for a permit. Applicants will go through a background check, and if they fail, they will not be issued a permit to panhandle.
If panhandlers are issued a permit, they are not allowed to stand within 25 feet of intersecting street corners in the city, business entrances or exits, bus stops, schools, banks, churches, ATMs or crosswalks.
This is why Bath Township officials are getting ready for a higher number of panhandlers to appear at Montrose-area intersections, entrances and exits.
The Bath Township border starts at the intersection of West Market and Cleveland-Massillon Road, at the Speedway gas station. This intersection is out of Fairlawn's police jurisdiction, said Fairlawn Council President Russ Sharnsky.
Bath Township Administrator Bill Snow said he is reviewing Fairlawn's panhandling legislation to see if the township can do something similar. Because Bath is a township, Snow is unsure whether they can enact legislation or if they have to wait for Summit County Council to act.
"There are a lot of constitutional issues with this," Snow said. "It's a regional issue and we've already taken a very strong position and suggested that people not give these folks money."
In a letter to the editor in November 2011's West Side Leader, Snow and the Bath Trustees state:
According to studies by professionals and service agencies, money given to panhandlers is often used to further enable self-destructive behaviors such as alcoholism and drug addiction, by using the money collected to purchase alcohol and drugs. One former panhandler and addict was quoted as saying, “Giving money to a panhandler is like giving a gun to someone who is suicidal.”
The biggest misconception about panhandlers is they are homeless. In fact, the vast majority of panhandlers are not homeless, and most homeless individuals do not panhandle. Homelessness is not the problem for truly needy panhandles, but rather, a symptom of underlying problems.
For some, panhandling is a profession and can be lucrative. In the Fairlawn and Montrose commercial areas there have been eyewitness reports of scheduled pick-ups by van, appointed intersections with shifts, and one panhandler handing off his or her cardboard sign, which supposedly tells “the story” — homeless, unemployed, single parent, etc. — to the next person taking the shift.
If a panhandler asks for money, the best response is to politely say “no” and walk away. The police should be contacted if a panhandler becomes aggressive or if you feel threatened.
A better way to help those in need is to donate to charities and organizations with outreach programs that assist the homeless and needy or volunteer time at these organizations and service agencies. By becoming more knowledgeable about panhandling and homelessness, we can make a positive impact in the lives of those less fortunate.
Police Chief Michael McNeely said there has only been one instance where a panhandler was arrested, and it was because he assaulted another panhandler for standing in his spot.
"I'm not worried that the number of panhandlers will increase but I expect that will be the result," McNeely said. "Obviously we'll monitor the panhandlers. It's not much of a concern right now, but I expect it will generate more calls from our businesses."
Bath police officers are not allowed to cite panhandlers unless they disrupt the flow of traffic, McNeely said.
"We're just going to ensure that they aren't harming themselves by stepping out into traffic or obstructing the sidewalks so people can walk freely. If they are disrupting traffic, we'll warn them."
McNeely also recommends people donate to social service organizations rather than the panhandlers.
"I encourage the public to assist by donating to a social service organization because it's much safer and you can be sure of where your money is going and that it's helping people out," McNeely said.