Letter: Panhandling is a symptom of desperate poverty
The initiatives to "address" panhandling recently mentioned in the Reformer are deeply troubling.
Posting signs encouraging people to call the cops on panhandlers is an act of violence toward homeless and poor people who are already disproportionately vulnerable to arrest and incarceration. Poverty is not a crime and treating it as one only produces more poverty. Although the sign reading "You are lucky I am not robbing you," is certainly disturbing and violent, the choice to open the article with this anecdote is willfully inflammatory.
The selection of quotes from business owners and residents concerned for the comfort of "visitors" while neglecting to include any input from the population of the Brattleboro residents living in abject desperation — those who would be most affected by this initiative — betrays an utterly immoral set of priorities. What is more important to us as a community? Making sure tourists feel comfortable enough to buy T-shirts? Or making sure the people who live here don't starve or die of exposure?
The proposed "jobs program" in which "Vans are used to pick up those who would otherwise be panhandling and they're given tasks to complete," is downright insulting.
The program as it exists in Portland, Maine, pays a degrading wage for degrading work (picking up trash on the highway) on a piecemeal basis. To call a program like that "job training" is a flattering distortion. It is a program which forces homeless people to jump through hoops before offering them scraps. Portland's annual budget for this program is a mere $42,000, of which only $23,069 gets paid out to panhandlers as stipends.
Why not just take the Downtown Brattleboro Alliance's $78,000 annual budget and give it straight to the homeless residents of Brattleboro so they can get something to eat?
Rage is an inevitable reaction to a society that can countenance leaving its most poor and vulnerable literally out in the cold. Panhandling isn't a "problem" in the sense that it's unsightly — that it makes tourists feel bad for having a nice meal at a nice restaurant while someone else digs around in the trash — it's a problem in the sense that it's a symptom of desperate poverty. The DBA's "solutions" are purely visual — their goal is to have the appearance of a harmonious town for their customers while sweeping the issue of poverty under the rug and throwing the poor under the bus.
Brattleboro, Sept. 8
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