muckraker report

New law targets Detroit panhandlers; supported by civil liberty groups

Larry is a frequent panhandler in Midtown, sometimes playing drums for money.

Panhandlers in Detroit will have to show some decorum when begging for money – or face up to 90 days in jail, under a new city ordinance to go into effect in August.

The ordinance, supported by civil liberty groups, seeks to find middle ground in a debate over the rights of panhandlers.

The law replaces an overly broad city ordinance that was struck down in 1996 because it banned all panhandling, a violation of the First Amendment. Wayne County has a similarly broad law.

The new law is anything but broad. Beginning in September, panhandlers will be banned from begging near an ATM, bus station, public restroom and businesses where people line up.  They can’t touch anyone or pursue money after someone says no. In other words, they must show some tact.

And so, too, must police.

To many homeless people in Detroit, police often violate panhandlers’ rights. Police have been seen harassing, frisking and even removing panhandlers from downtown and the Cass Corridor in increasing numbers over the past two years. While Cass Tech High School was being demolished last summer, I witnessed police insulting and threatening panhandlers, who later claimed cops drove them to the city limits and dumped them off. Police didn’t return calls for comment at the time.

For decades, panhandling has been a perplexing issue in Detroit. While panhandlers scare off some people and hurt the city’s image, many are mentally ill and unable to care for themselves. Some are drug addicts and alcoholics. Others fell on hard times in a city with a steep unemployment rate.

The new ordinance strikes a balance between the rights of panhandlers and the public and could become a model nationwide.

Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.

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  • Midtown Resident

    Larry (pictured) is such an interesting case. He seems completely harmless, having talked to him many times over the last 5 years here in Midtown. Sometime I see him with a little girl. However, I have to ask why, if he can spend each day doing his panhandling thing he can’t get and hold down some type of job? Everyone in the greater Midtown area knows him, can’t someone give him a chance at employment? Avalon? MCB? The Majestic complex? He then gets the step up to regular income and security and Midtown loses those annoying drums at night.

    (You could only find the drums charming if you don’t live within earshot…it’s not really even that musical beyond a basic rhythm!)

    • Steve Neavling

      Thanks for the comment, Midtown Resident. I thought the same of Larry until I learned a little more about him. We offered to take care of his daughter because he gets her to panhandle for him. Unfortunately he is addicted to crack and obviously doesn’t have the funds to get treatment. He used to be a radio preacher.

  • Pingback: Detroit Panhandling Law Will Outlaw Certain Types Of Begging « Go to News!

  • Paul Craig

    It is always in the name of Charity (which is none other than the name of Jesus) that I give to beggars.
    What do the Scriptures say? “If you give a cup of cold water to a beggar you shall not go unrewarded.” We have countless opportunites to give generously to the poor and obtain blessings for having done so in the name of Charity. God loves a generous heart.
    So for a city like Detroit, which like so many others, suffers from false pride, it will not receive any blessings for ill treating the poor, the destitute. And it doesn’t matter whether they be “mentally ill” or drug addicts. What they do with the money is their business. That we give generously to them is our business. And to refuse to do so, the Scriptures say, is to “despise one’s own flesh”.

  • http://google Albert Jackson

    Now that Detroit has again passed a law without a feasibility study(Like NIKE..just do it!) what plans does it have to assist the vast number of individuals who have no other means of financial support but to “BEG”? Detroit, over the years has proven the plight of the homeless (in the aristocratic society’s eyes) is NOT a high priority
    issue. Maybe when these individuals begin “FORCEFULLY”taking what they need instead of using tactics now in place(panhandling) eyes will open wide and utter
    … ” We made a grievous error and it must be rectified immediately!” Maybe we should spend a day at the off ramp of I -94 with a sign reading “WE slighted a homeless,hungry person !”