Thursday, January 8, 2009

THE TIGHTROPE OF RIGHTS REGARDING PANHANDLERS

There is a move affoot by the Mayor to increase restrictions on panhandling. I like the Mayor quite a bit, but am going to offer a dissenting opinion on this topic. I'll start by referencing the Indianapolis Star article and then the Indiana Barrister BLOG of my good friend and local radio radio show host and reporter of all things politic Abdul Hakim-Shabazz of Abdul in the Morning on WXNT 1430 AM (6 AM till 10 AM each weekday morning).

These are my thoughts posted to Abdul's Comments Section. I would hope the Mayor and City County Council would take them into consideration. The premise here is that just because a bunch of people desire it or think it sounds like a good idea, does it make not make it okay to violate someone else's rights.

This is not much different in principle than holding a position on freedom of speech that says, "I may disagree completely with what you say, but I will defend [perhaps even unto death] your right to say it."

I am going to agree completely with Patriot Paul and Shorebreak here. Those disagreeing maybe need to consider the nuance in what is being said.


I completely support the right of any individual to be out in public marketing their desire to get paid for nothing. I completely support people opting to give directly to charities that support worthy individuals and causes and often have safeguards or qualifications to make sure the money is put to proper use.


To the extent that anyone impedes someones progress or harasses someone though, then they have violated the rights of another individual and that should be actionable as a legitimate role of “the state” is to protect the rights of individuals (from violation by others, including the state [a collection of 'others']).


Obviously, the issue here is that there is money to be made doing this so it is a profitable endeavor [especially given the, presumably, tax 'unreported' status of the earnings]. This income being unreported, also means they likely are qualifying for government assistance/welfare programs as well.


Several things fix this problem right away. (A) don’t give them money and (B) tax consumption instead of income and (C) enforce any existing laws, especially repeat offenses, when they impede the progress of individuals or cause some other problem and (D) scale back the welfare state. Item B would reduce the benefit to operating outside of the mainstream economy. Remember $15 an hour tax free is like making $20 or $25 fully taxable.


States or cities with better (or longer lasting) welfare benefits can become a magnet for people working the system [which not everyone is doing - but some]. Reduce the strength of the magnet and the pull to other places becomes greater.


I hate being bothered by panhandlers as well, but to the extent they do not violate my rights I can make no argument against their activities. One thought, perhaps, is a law barring someone self-employed in the panhandling business from receiving welfare benefits… that might be easier to get behind.


And, regarding a comment regarding frequency of panhandler interaction at gas stations:


Melyssa, when you go out in public it can be argued that you consent to encountering other people. Other people, however, have no right to accost you, impede your progress or intimidate someone.

A gas station owner (or its empowered management) has a right to request someone leave their property. The state has no right to dictate who that property may or may not allow there so long as no one’s rights are being violated.


So, private land owners obviously have a right to restrict who does or doesn't come on their property or what activities those people undertake. The Government; however, must respect everyone's rights equally including the right to use of public places.

Just quit making panhandling a profitable endeavor and it will no longer be so. There are lots of worthy charities and other organizations that help people in need. I'll start by mentioning Wheeler Men's Mission reachable at (317) 687-6795 and various women's shelters throughout the state (click for list). Don't hesitate to share this idea with your friends and colleagues or to even make any panhandlers aware that you contribute to these organizations instead of directly to individuals.

1 comment:

Clark said...

Just an idea. Why doesn’t the city lease the sidewalks in the city to private ownership? Here is how it would work. The sidewalks could be leased in block increments for example by the city to the storefront owners for a very nominal fee ($100/month for example for the frontage area of a store). The lease would include several irrevocable covenants attached to the agreement. One, the owner of the sidewalk agrees to provide an easement on the property to the public at large for the purposes of walking down the sidewalk so as no loitering is occuring. Two, the owners agree that the city has a blanket utility easement on the property for the purposes of installing/maintaining parking meters, working on any utility lines located under the sidewalk, etc. Three, the owners of the lease have no right to change or alter the sidewalk in any way. The “rent” from the sidewalk will go into a fund that is earmarked for the upkeep of that particular block (therefore they are essentially paying to pave a new sidewalk every few years and removing that tax burden from the public at large), you could even make 5% of the rent go towards private welfare-to-work programs or something if it would help the legislation to pass without serious opposition from homeless advocacy groups. Most importantly, however, by making what was once public spaced now leased for “private use”, we have now solved any ethical dilemna in regards to restricting panhandling in that space. Most everyone would agree that a business owner has the right to restrict soliciting on their own property, this would simply extend their property line to the sidewalk while still allowing for public use of that space. Business owners who are not convinced that panhandling has a negative effect on their commerce could test the theory by simply not renting the sidewalk and essentially nothing would change. While businesses who want their block to be “panhandler free” could use the program as an incentive to attract the public to their district. I would even go a step further and allow the option of selling the sidewalk completely to the businesses on the block (if they thought they could maintain the sidewalk cheaper, e.g. the company renting the block is a concrete company) with the permanent covenant attached that the sidewalk must be maintained in a suitable condition or the city could reseize ownership of it by declaring a breach of contract. This would have the added bonus of reducing any administration costs associated with managing the lease of the block to the businesses on it.

This might not be a perfect solution but I feel like a creative solution can be found that is still morally-consistent with an ethical system that values the freedom of the individual.