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Readers Respond

Baltimore’s Squeegee Collaborative plan: readers weigh in on its likelihood of success | READER COMMENTARY

Shadow of squeegee worker taking a brief break while working on South President Street near Little Italy.

Fining drivers is essential

Finally: a squeegee plan (“Baltimore will ban squeegeeing along six major corridors with mayor calling for equitable enforcement,” Nov. 10).

The proposed plan is a good start at resolving the issues surrounding the squeegee problem. The proposed targeting of key intersections limits the burden on law enforcement resources, and the discussion of guaranteed income gets to the heart of the issue driving panhandling generally. Two areas of the plan could use some refinement.

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Issuing citations to panhandlers, with or without squeegees, can be an important way to track individuals who may need help. But punitive fines or community service are likely to have limited effectiveness, and harsh penalties for failure to comply are quickly disproportionate to the offense. The only participant in the transaction with something to lose is the driver, who can lose the use of their driver’s license for failure to pay a fine as an ultimate penalty. Fining drivers is essential to success.

Guaranteed income is naturally controversial. One important thing to remember here is that the population of squeegee panhandlers is biased toward school-aged children. Those children should be effectively paid to do their actual job, which is to go to school. As a matter of fact, all school-aged children should be eligible. A means test seems politically inevitable, and parents should receive the payments, at least for elementary school students.

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Older panhandlers have different issues driving their need, and would require more nuanced solutions, but fining drivers and keeping kids in school are important details for any implementation.

— Greg Boss, Baltimore

Squeegee Collaborative plan needs more work, now

The squeegee worker saga reads like something Charles Dickens might have written. I’m sure that David Simon is already preparing a script for a TV series, while John Waters is hard at work on “Squeegee Kids: the Musical.” This government-approved shakedown of citizens and taxpayers by children has gotten much attention and has been the topic of conversation around town. What will Mayor Scott do? A collaborative was established in the summer, though its plan won’t crawl into place until next year. Government gridlock has become an issue at all levels.

We are told that destitution is forcing children to take to the streets to perform an unnecessary and unwanted “service.” I have heard no mention of the parents of these children. Is it possible that these children are the victims of child exploitation as was the case in Dickens’ time? Why haven’t social workers been deployed to visit their homes? Maybe parents need to be reminded of their responsibilities and made accountable.

Has the city done anything to understand the individuals, or is this simply a case of one size fits all? Let’s face it, some of the squeegee workers have displayed significant anti-social behavior, while others have committed crimes. Are the right people part of the mayor’s Squeegee Collaborative? Do they understand the social forces at work in Baltimore?

Another problem is the $250 monthly payment, which is to compensate for the lost income. Once again, where are the parents? I am not naive enough to believe that life is fair, but these payments raise serious questions of equity. What about the kids who go to school, do their homework and assist their families? I oppose rewarding bad behavior as there is never a good outcome.

I wish the best for Mayor Brandon Scott, but this plan needs much more work, and that work should be expedited.

— Edward McCarey McDonnell, Baltimore

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Squeegee workers need customer service training

I don’t have a problem with paying a couple of bucks to have my windshield cleaned, but I do when I decline, or face the same situation a short distance later, and have my vehicle damaged or myself called an obscene name or given an obscene gesture. The squeegee workers need to be convinced to discreetly back off when someone declines a washing. They need to understand abusive behavior could eventually lead to losing their income.

How about the police department establishing a “hotline” to receive calls from drivers experiencing abuse, describing the location and description of the offender? I believe the police could convince the offender the need not to be abusive. Some form of further action may be necessary for repeat offenders.

— Don Colburn, Havre de Grace

‘A difficult task to complete’

I’m glad to see that the city finally got past the misguided notion that squeegeeing in the street is a constitutional right. As some point out, panhandling may be constitutionally protected; but not in the middle of the street. Soliciting in the roadway is against the law. It may be a minor offense, but it is still unlawful, whether you agree with the law or not.

Even if it squeegeeing in the streets was not illegal, why would anyone want to encourage or allow our youth to run around in traffic? Does the squeegee kids’ need for money outweigh their safety and justify ignoring the law designed to protect them?

Panhandle on the sidewalk, in the parking lot or in the park, but not in the middle of the street where someone could get hurt in the process (the reason there is a law against it in the first place).

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It appears that some are resigned to the “lesser of two evils” approach: allowing the commission of a minor crime (squeegeeing in the streets) so that it will not be replaced by a major one (selling drugs in the street). It is unfortunate that such a tactic has to be recognized as a viable option because of the perceived propensity for criminal activity.

It is encouraging that Baltimore will resume enforcement albeit on a selective basis. The past lack of enforcement has given the offenders an air of legitimacy and contempt for obeying the law, something that Baltimore sorely does not need. But declaring that an already illegal activity is now “disallowed” in some zones is unnecessary. Just start uniformly enforcing the law that already exists and prohibits the activity on every street. It is one thing to identify and target enforcement areas where offenders are the most problematic and concentrate policing efforts there. It is another to establish zones where a crime is “disallowed,” implying that in other locations it will be allowed. Why, especially in this age of equity, would this law, or any law, be directed to be enforced only in certain neighborhoods? That implies unequal application of the law. Does safety only matter at certain intersections?

Certainly the social and financial ills that force these kids into the streets illegally have to be addressed. One has to sympathize (to a point) with those who, because of their circumstances, must resort to conducting an illegal activity just to survive. But one also has to wonder why the situation even exists, given the many social programs in place to provide food, clothing, housing, etc. for the needy. Perhaps a review of those programs is in order if they are inadequate to provide the basic necessities and literally force these kids into the streets.

As a society, we need to provide a path for the disadvantaged among us to achieve legitimate self-sufficiency and success. The squeegee action plan shows a good effort. Part of the plan proposes paying squeegee workers $250 a month not to squeegee in the streets and requires them to “participate in service offerings.” There is something to be said for the carrot over the stick approach. But, while well-intentioned, one might argue that the program indirectly rewards illegal behavior since the program is only being offered to those who are squeegeeing in the street. Is it fair for the city to offer this payment and services only to those in need who are breaking the law? Is this same compensation and opportunity provided to those that are just as needy but obey the law? Since the program does not seem to be provided to those who panhandle legally, it is essentially paying someone not to break the law.

Here is a suggestion. How about creating and designating “squeegee pull-off zones” in the problem intersections, that would be out of the flow of traffic and where drivers could choose to have their windshields cleaned safely and legally? Should there prove to be minimal participation, then at least it was determined that most drivers do not willfully want the service.

The Squeegee Collaborative has a difficult task to complete, and I am sure they are trying their best to provide a good solution to the issue.

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— Scott Richardson, Westminster


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