Students contribute more to panhandlers, study shows

by Jason Flynn

Panhandling is often a vicious cycle, and University students may be enabling it.
Recent efforts by the Athens Downtown Development Authority to change current panhandling laws have brought the issue back into the local spotlight, and students may be unaware of their own contributions.
Information gathered by the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing showed that higher percentages of students give money to panhandlers than any other group. Some attribute students’ greater giving to inexperience with panhandlers, or a lack of knowledge of alternatives to giving on the street.
“People in rural areas may not understand the dynamics. Some people think its a joke, and others think they are actually helping,” said Katherine Lookofsky, executive director of the ADDA. “They don’t realize that they shouldn’t give on the street, or that they can give to organizations that will help these people.”
The new panhandling ordinance, currently under review, would ban panhandling at parking meters, ATMs, bus stops and sidewalk cafes.
This could help younger, less experienced students avoid being targeted by panhandlers, who are looking for larger contributions.
“Students are an easy target as far as panhandlers getting handouts, so there is more panhandling at the change of semesters when new students arrive,” Lookofsky said.
David Diss, a 53 year-old Athens panhandler, does not agree with the assessment, though.
“Students give money fewer times,” Diss said, “I think it’s because they’re warned in their orientation classes.”
Diss has been homeless in Athens since 2007 when he lost his job in Gainsville as a machinist. He said he didn’t start panhandling until he got to Athens.
Some Athens groups and businesses worry that panhandlers create an uncomfortable or uninviting atmosphere, driving away potential customers for local businesses.
“I think everybody feels uncomfortable about it,” said Chuck Jones, director of the Athens Visitors Bureau. “People could learn to steer clear, particularly if there is an area that has a lot of panhandlers.”
Diss said that most people don’t seem to mind panhandlers as long as they don’t become intrusive or aggressive. He doesn’t approach people for donations. Instead, he carries a sign that says “HOMELESS Every little bit helps.”
“I don’t like to be bothered by others, so I don’t like to bother others,” Diss said. “I just let the sign do the work.”
While businesses can remove panhandlers from their buildings, they have no authority on the streets and sidewalks just a few steps beyond.
Because there are few restrictions that can be legally implemented, students may feel less safe in areas where they already have money out.
“I think some people might feel threatened, especially… if you’re at a parking meter or ATM with your wallet out,” Jones said.
Diss said he understands why some people would support a new ordinance and would agree with the ordinance if it were passed.
“It would limit the number of places [for panhandling], but there are plenty of other places,” Diss said.
Nonetheless, the current Athens ordinance only bans panhandlers that, “accost or force [themselves] upon the company of another.” Even in cases of aggressive panhandling, most people want to avoid spending additional time pursuing legal action.
“It takes people time to call the police, file a report and go to court,” Lookofsky said, “If you’re coming downtown and you just want to pick up dinner you’d rather just forget about it.”
As students come into contact with panhandlers more frequently, though, they find out their own ways to help or avoid the issue.
“There are tactics you have to learn to avoid or ignore them. Sometimes I will give them a cigarette or leftover food in lieu of money,” said Ansley Davis, an International Affairs major.
Even though students might find alternatives some panhandlers are only interested in money.
“One time we were giving out sack lunches and there was a woman sitting about ten feet from us panhandling, but never walked over for food. I guess she just wanted some money,” said Jeromy Causeway, an Advertising major.
For those that feel the need to give money, the Northeast Georgia Homeless Coalition maintains a donation box at the corner of College Ave and Clayton Street. The money is used for bus tickets that will take those seeking help to local shelters and kitchens.
“It’s a transferable way to get money from people who would like to donate to panhandlers but don’t want to donate on the street,” said Samantha Carvalho, a member of the NGHC membership committee.


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