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Answer to panhandling: jobs, housing, opportunities

Justice System

I was dismayed to read of Councilwoman Rikki Spector's new bill to address aggressive panhandling ("Spector bill targets 'aggressive' begging," Jan. 29). Baltimore already has statutes restricting aggressive panhandling. People are prohibited from begging on public transportation, within 10 feet of an ATM, in traffic, and in a threatening and aggressive manner. We should be exploring what we can do to help these poor folks, not creating more obstacles and court expenses.

Baltimore has been down this road before. In 1994, the city settled a lawsuit filed on behalf of homeless individuals after a federal judge ruled that year's version of aggressive panhandling legislation violated the Fourteenth Amendment.

With an official unemployment rate of 9.7 percent, one-quarter of Baltimoreans living below the poverty level, and the destruction of 40 percent of our public housing units, it is no surprise that thousands of our neighbors are hungry and homeless. Panhandlers are telling us by their actions that they cannot find work or afford housing and believe there is no other option except begging on the street. Many of them have additional problems, such as addiction and health issues which complicate employment. They need more assistance, not more restrictions.

The real solution to reducing the number of beggars is to invest in low-income housing, services, and jobs that pay a living wage for everyone in Baltimore.

Lauren Siegel, Baltimore

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