Jim Reis: Panhandling concerns

Published: 7/15/2021 12:14:46 PM

Many people have voiced their concerns about panhandling in Northampton and its impact on downtown businesses.

Here are some ideas. First, as included in the Northampton’s Panhandling Study Report (available on the city’s website), the U.S. Supreme Court has held that the First Amendment covers “charitable appeals for funds.” Because of this, panhandling, solicitation, or begging are protected speech. Other court rulings, however, have allowed some restrictions such as aggressive panhandling, and limiting the hours of the day.

Secondly, there needs to be a balanced response to this issue that addresses both the real needs of people who are panhandling and the negative impact on downtown businesses. From the city report, “The Work Group concluded that for the most part the people who frequent our downtown sidewalks are there because of societal and mental health issues, not because they want to be there.” And “It must be acknowledged that some of the behaviors associated with panhandling can have a negative impact on some of the small, mostly locally-owned businesses, which we value as part of our downtown community and that are vital to the local economy.”

Some potential solutions to reduce panhandling and to protect businesses are:

(1) Create a public messaging campaign that informs people of the services available for homeless and people in need, identifies options for giving and educates the community about how to respond to people who panhandle including when they cross the line and are too aggressive.

(2) Designate a staff person from the to-be-established Resiliency Hub that would specifically target all panhandlers and include daily contact to check on their basic needs (i.e. housing food, clothing, etc.), assistance accessing needed services (i.e. mental health, drug and alcohol, etc.), and, if available, connection to paid day labor.

(3) Support the police or the staff from the to-be-established Department of Community Care to intervene when panhandlers are too aggressive or disruptive.

And, (4) as recommended by Northampton’s Housing Partnership, fund a housing navigator position based in the Resiliency Hub to be an expert in the often difficult to access affordable and subsidized housing field.

Jim Reis


Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

115 Conz Street
Northampton, MA 01061


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