A homeless man holds a sign asking for help
Photo courtesy of A. McLin via flickr.

The Nanny State is in full effect in Montgomery County. 

Montgomery County Councilman Craig Rice has introduced a bill that requires panhandlers to get permits before soliciting on highways. 

The councilman said he wants to help those in need to connect with service providers, according to FOX 5. But it’s naïve to believe those panhandling on highways, are unaware of the risks of panhandling on busy highways or what resources are available to them. 

Advocates told FOX 5 that having police enforce permits could make it worse for people in dire straights. In some ways, I agree with the claim; criminalizing panhandlers makes it ripe for a situation such as George Floyd or Eric Garner

[Read more: Montgomery weighs panhandling permits for ‘safety’]

While I oppose panhandlers getting permits, I also disagree with the contention from advocates such as Betsy Bowman, director for adult and community services at “EveryMind,” who spoke with FOX 5. She argues instead that we can enforce safety through providing services and educating people. 

I yearn for the middle ground over either extreme, such as Texas wanting to ban homeless encampments which will have the unintended consequence of criminalizing people for non-violent offenses. Or advocacy, where it seems the only people that benefit are poverty grifters: lawyers, lobbyists, and Democratic politicians that claim to be for the little people but drive fancy cars, wear top-of-the line clothing, and have homes in Montgomery County, where the people they claim to speak for never seem to get housing or improve their lives. 

Montgomery County is one of the wealthiest counties in the country, where the average median income per capita is $99,439. The fact that a county with great wealth has so many residents reduced to panhandling is a disgrace. Instead of demonization, we need to look at what policies have led to living in shelters, dependent on social services, and forced to panhandle rather than seek meaningful employment. The issue isn’t panhandlers but incompetence and mismanagement by the residents and the people they elect! 

I’m so fed up with politicians who blame the homeless and those who claim to be their voices, and never miss paychecks but show no improvement in the lives they claim to help! Homelessness never gets reduced but seems to always flourish despite billions invested in social services. Panhandlers are not the issue. Poverty and homelessness have become a cottage industry for ambitious politicians and those whose livelihoods depend on homelessness.  

We don’t need to waste another minute debating about panhandling on highways when the solutions are simple. We know the causes: Mental illness, a poor economy, and the lack of affordable housing. Some people need to stop the virtue signaling and rhetoric, and realize their promises to people who are homeless. Try canceling those that want to censor the primary reason people panhandle. The hard truth is more than a few panhandlers can earn more money with their hand stretched begging for change than those who live by the norms of the bourgeois society. 

Selling Street Sense, I tried pitching to panhandlers to sell newspapers as an alternative to panhandling. I also tried helping panhandlers get jobs, stop using drugs and alcohol, find shelters and other services, and find aid such as ID or legal services. The homeless know that S.O.M.E, CCNV, Miriam’s Kitchen, and Bread for the City and even Street Sense have social workers that are patient in helping troubled people get the help they need. I learned nothing will change when those that have power only see feel-good, one-size-fits-all solutions rather than treat each homeless person as an individual. Some can work and find affordable housing, while others have too many issues physically and mentally to be on their own. 

A better solution is de-stigmatization. The reason people chronically panhandle is panhandling pays. Begging has been around since man itself. So instead of criminalizing panhandlers, why not treat them as independent contractors such as cab drivers or servers? We need to get out the mindset that panhandling is immoral and find creative ways to eliminate misery and poverty. Maybe through universal basic income, or treating panhandling as one does cab drivers or waiters, have them file taxes. Instead of burdening communities, they will be seen as contributors. 

I know some of my proposals will be met with resistance by those that benefit. But we need to try something different than what’s been tried for the last 60 years. This back-and-forth between the two extremes of Democrats and Republicans never reduces homelessness or poverty. I’m so tired of the Republicans implying that the homeless are dregs of society or Social Justice Warriors implying that they are victims that need to be pitied. 

I close by saying permits are a bad idea which policing will lead to more George Floyds and Eric Garners. 

Jeffery McNeil is an artist and vendor with Street Sense Media.