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Do you support the city’s proposed panhandling measures?

BY DI EDITORIAL STAFF | APRIL 28, 2010 7:30 AM

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YES

The ordinance limiting panhandlers in downtown Iowa City is a sound one.

Although some may protest that it is unfair to stop misfortunate citizens from asking for help, the ordinance would reasonably address panhandling and lead to a more appealing downtown.

The measure, first considered Tuesday night, would sharply reduce the places individuals could panhandle, both on and outside the Pedestrian Mall. In addition, the city would install nine parking meters downtown under a new program. The purple-painted meters would serve as donation boxes, and the money collected would go to local agencies that support the needy, such as the Crisis Center.

Unfortunately, UI students are all too familiar with seeing certain faces asking for spare change downtown. That the same group of individuals are ever present indicates that panhandling simply isn’t an effective solution. Collecting spare change from students and shoppers downtown is not helping homeless people. More should be done.

The city isn’t proposing that panhandlers be pushed from downtown and left without an alternative; the proposed parking meters program serves as a reminder that the city is committed to aiding the homeless in a responsible manner. And the program would have a lasting and positive impact on homeless peoples’ woes.

In the end, the goal should be to aid the homeless, not simply give them a place to solicit change. By promoting a structured process to help Iowa City’s homeless citizens, the city is making positive progress both for the homeless and area residents.

Under the plan, the Ped Mall would be more enjoyable for citizens, and the would-be panhandlers would have more realistic and long-sighted solutions to their financial troubles.

— by Tyler Hakes

NO

It’s almost May; do you know what that means? It’s time for the Iowa City City Council’s seemingly annual push to rid downtown of beggars, bums, and bench-sleepers.

Councilors discussed Monday and voted Tuesday night on an anti-panhandling measure that would limit the practice on the Pedestrian Mall. In addition, councilors are considering using old parking meters to collect money for local agencies that help the impoverished.

The parking-meter plan is flawed because it bypasses the streamlined method that panhandlers obtain their small amount of money. While it may be reassuring to know your donation is funneled straight into local agencies, it’s difficult to measure who is helped and in what way.

In essence, the reason behind these several proposals is to act as a scattershot; city officials and local business owners want aesthetically unpleasant panhandlers to ask for money elsewhere.

“We’re trying to harass them out of the downtown,” City Councilor Mike Wright told me.

Honestly, I understand the city’s reasoning. But any claim that so-called aggressive panhandlers are eroding both Iowa City’s economy and its scenery is fallacious. The rampant binge-drinking and students who commonly swarm the bars are far more detrimental to downtown business development and family outings than a handful of poverty-stricken individuals.

These anti-panhandling measures would represent yet another capitulation of the city to complaining business owners. Aggressive panhandlers may negatively affect Iowa City to a point, but the real problem lies in the reputation of the Ped Mall as a party-first, family-second downtown.

And nine parking meters won’t fix any of the problems facing the less fortunate residents of Iowa City.

— by Michael Dale-Stein


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