COVER- Down and out: Controversy erupts over panhandling downtown

Mark Brown doesn't like begging. The owner of what was long known as the Charlottesville Ice Park (now the Main Street Arena), Brown recently helped formulate an ad campaign to help the homeless and put the hurt on panhandling– and he ran straight into controversy.

Brown says the concept was designed to steer dollars toward agencies and curtail panhandling, a practice widely seen as funding drug and alcohol abuse. He says the campaign was based on research the head of the area's new homeless shelter conducted on how other communities have creatively handled the issue.

Some ideas have created panfuls of controversy.

"Please don't feed our bums," said one San Diego sticker campaign over the summer. A few years earlier, an Oregon entrepreneur raised ire by paying the homeless to hold cardboard signs that read "Pizza Schmizza paid me to hold this sign instead of asking for money."

Brown says he believed the Charlottesville ad campaign steered clear of such potentially antagonistic approaches by encouraging giving and pointing out the dollar amounts it takes to provide certain services: $2.10 for a hot meal; $10 for an ID card (necessary for getting work); $29 for a night at a shelter.

"You're a caring person in a caring community," read the ad text, "so when someone asks you for help, you want to help right then and there. But wouldn't you feel better if you knew exactly where your money was going?"

"We thought we'd reached a really nice compromise," says Brown, "something that would help the organizations that serve the needy and at the same time discourage the kind of behavior that makes customers not want to come downtown."

He was wrong. 

At a meeting where the ad was presented to heads of various charities that help the homeless, Brown claims he was blindsided by vehement opposition.

"This guy gives a speech on our secret plan"–- and here Brown invokes sarcasm– "to prohibit poor people from coming downtown. Another board member, with tears in his eyes, says he was trembling with emotion at the power of this guy's speech about the right to panhandle."

"It was a little hard to understand the point they were trying to make," says the Downtown Business Association's director, Bob Stroh, who was there at the meeting to back the ad campaign.

"Our goal was pretty clear," says Stroh. "Panhandling is disruptive of our businesses, and it's not something most of our patrons appreciate."

The differences, though– however small– are insurmountable, says attorney Jeff Fogel, the impassioned speaker at the meeting.

"There is a constitutional right to beg," says Fogel, a man troubled by the attitudes he believes are embodied– perhaps even emboldened–- by the proposed ad campaign and by a newly expanded ordinance that now prohibits soliciting funds within 50 feet of the two mall crossings.

Previously, city law restricted only aggressive panhandling and solicitation of anyone entering or exiting a bank, using an ATM or seated at the outdoor cafés. In August, however, in what was ostensibly a safety measure, City Council voted on an ordinance expansion that would quash even musical busking near the Downtown Mall's two automobile crossings.

"My impression is that the only reason this is on the agenda of City Council is that some people in the Downtown Business Association don't like the sight of the impoverished on the Mall," Fogel says of the expanded ordinance, which he is considering fighting with a lawsuit. 

Fogel is a man angered by the use of the word panhandling (something he finds pejorative when applied to those passively or politely asking for money). He calls the issue of begging– his preferred word– "not just a political legal question; it's a moral question as well."

Not liking something doesn't mean it should be outlawed, says Fogel, pointing to what he sees as a divide between what people say and how they act.

"There are many people with a spiritual background that have always had a particular respect for the least among us," he says. "But people throw those concepts out the window if they don't like what's in front of them."

Sociologists say the dichotomy is common.

"People are conceptually very compassionate," says Kaki Dimock. "But around the issue, as policy, they're much more self-preservative and protective."

The executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Area Coalition for the Homeless, Dimock earned an undergraduate degree in sociology and a master's in social work. From her light-filled office on the fourth floor of the gracefully renovated church building that houses the Haven at First and Market– funded by film director and UVA grad Tom Shadyac– she now spends her days overseeing the Haven and coordinating services with several other homeless-helping nonprofits.

Dimock laughs and shakes her head at some of the allegations she's heard.

"Busing them in?" she repeats incredulously of the rumor that Charlottesville actively recruits its homeless population.

"We have a hard enough time serving the people who are already here," says Dimock. "Why would we ever do that?"

Ever since the Haven opened in January, Dimock has become the point person for addressing controversies about the impact of the homeless on businesses, and she says she understands the owners' concerns.

"In an economic climate like this, you're making sure you can maintain your business," she says. "Any risk to your customer base is of concern."

This past summer, Dimock says, she received the Coalition board's permission to work on the ad campaign with Stroh and Brown. Dimock, however, points out that the number of people panhandling is actually smaller than most people would believe.

A one-day census last January found just 274 people homeless in Charlottesville and surrounding counties, only six percent of whom said they'd collected money through direct solicitations. And Dimock says that only three or four of the beggars she sees regularly around downtown have ever visited the Haven.

"I don't even know if they're homeless," Dimock says of the beggars. "It's hard to know if panhandling and homelessness are directly connected."

One thing that seems certain, however, is that in Charlottesville, it's not necessary to beg to get food or shelter. Breakfast is provided daily at the Haven, daily lunches are served at a rotating slate of soup kitchens, and both the Salvation Army and the PACEM shelter network provide beds every night– the latter at various churches.

One thing no organization seems eager to supply, however, is money to support an addiction and that, Brown and Stroh say, is one of the primary reasons to stop handing money directly to beggars.

"If you have $100 to give to the needy in our community, how can you get the most bang for your buck?" asks Brown. "You don't get it by putting it in the hand or cup of a panhandler. You get the most out of that resource by giving it to the folks whose business it is to provide services."

Fogel however, contends that only aggressive panhandling should be outlawed, as it has long been, and he says the vast majority of the beggars he sees around downtown are within their constitutional rights– just like the musicians who leave their cases open while they play are within their rights and the Salvation Army bell ringers are within theirs.

Charlottesville mayor Dave Norris, however, says he stands by Council's ordinance expansion.

"I wanted us to go further," said Norris. "I wanted to see it expand to 15 feet within any place money is changing hands."

He says he bowed to advice from the city attorney who advised that begging– as long as it's not aggressive– is a constitutionally protected right.

"You can only restrict it within narrow circumstances," says Norris, who also hopes the controversial ad campaign will find new life, even if some of the wording is changed.

"We want people to have compassion, but to channel it in ways that are going to help people get on their feet," says Norris. "Not just sustain them in their present condition."

That, says Ice Park owner Brown, is the problem with the Haven, which he claims is anything but a place of hope for a brighter future. He offers another description: "warehouse of despair."



What is the Haven?

The 2006 filming of Evan Almighty was a high water mark in Central Virginia. A team of Hollywood personalities, including Steve Carrell and Morgan Freeman, came to town, and a giant ark was constructed in the then-new Old Trail development in Crozet for the sequel to Jim Carrey's comic hit Bruce Almighty.

For the film's director, Tom Shadyac, the location was a homecoming of sorts– and a turning point. He graduated UVA in 1981 and said he always held Charlottesville in high regard. Such high regard, in fact, that he was inspired to spend more than $3 million of his own money purchasing and then renovating the former First Christian Church on East Market Street for use as community center with its own day shelter. He even chipped in about a third of the $320,000 operating budget.

Shadyac is no stranger to simple living. As detailed in a recent piece in the L.A. Times, Shadyac has sold his Pasadena mansion and moved to a trailer park. His latest picture is not another Jim Carrey blockbuster, but a personal exploration interviewing the likes of Desmond Tutu called I Am.

For the Charlottesville homeless, the Haven that Shadyac created is a place where anyone can shower, wash clothes, eat breakfast, check email, store belongings, and just escape from unpleasant weather. Shadyac has expressed hope that it would also become a hub for services, where employment and financial counseling as well as medical or addiction treatment could be easily accessible in one convenient location.

The service piece, say critics like Brown, is what still needs work.

"When the only visible program that exists [at the Haven] is couches and big screen TVs," says Brown, "who's going to give money to that?"

Mayor Norris also expresses concern that the Haven's promised focus on finding jobs for the able bodied hasn't yet reached fruition– at least in part because the Piedmont Workforce Network (formerly the Virginia Employment Commission) hasn't returned downtown since it left Ridge-McIntire Road about three years ago.

"We had meetings with reps from Piedmont Workforce about establishing a satellite center so we'd have a downtown location, and it would be available not just to the homeless but to anyone who had a hard time getting out to Hydraulic Road," says Norris. "I don't know why that hasn't happened, but it hasn't. It's a vitally important piece of the puzzle in helping people get back on their feet."

Piedmont Workforce representatives did not return a reporter's calls by presstime, but Dimock says she remains hopeful that Workforce will join the slew of service providers already operating out of the Haven. These include Region 10, Offender Aid and Restoration, various 12-step programs, and a part-time on-site physician. The delay in Workforce's arrival, Dimock says, is due to the still slumping economy.

"They're inundated," she says, noting a significant uptick in the number of people with higher degrees who are now out of work.

Even without that piece in place, Dimock says the Haven is taking steps to encourage employment. Job listings are posted, computers are connected, and volunteers offer job and life advice. And Dimock says a new effort will bring in members of the Blue Ridge Rotary Club and UVA Students for International Free Enterprise to offer one-on-one career counseling to Haven guests.

And the Arena's Brown has regularly hired Haven visitors to pick up and lay down the event floor at his ice-equipped facility.

Still, the doubts about the Haven's effectiveness at getting people back on their feet aren't held only by downtown business owners; there's even doubt among the homeless service providers. In fact, the Salvation Army prohibits those staying in the shelter from spending time at the Haven.

"We're trying to get them back to self-sufficiency," explains the Salvation Army's Major Allen Johnson. "People at the Salvation Army should be out working or out looking for work."

Dimock acknowledges that the Haven doesn't require its patrons to engage in job searches, and says there are special challenges in working with a population in which mental illness and substance abuse are common. Depression, she says, is the most frequent ailment, and it can make job searches– which can go on for months– even more difficult. It's why, she says, the Haven doesn't have requirements or prerequisites for people to use the services. Although alcohol and drugs are banned from the premises, intoxicated people are allowed in the Haven as long as they follow the rules and aren't too disruptive.

"It does put a strain on our resources," says Dimock. "But would people rather we put them back out on the street where they'll be affecting everyone?"

Indeed, Dimock says, part of the Haven's purpose is removing some strain from other public resources. Perhaps nowhere has felt that effect more than the downtown branch of the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library. Before the Haven's opening, the Library offered downtown's only public restrooms, drinking fountains, and de facto day shelter.

"The impact of the Haven has been completely positive from our perspective," says Library Director John Halliday, who estimates that as many as 30 homeless people each day would use the library as refuge, particularly during snowstorms and heat waves. 

"Now," says Halliday, "homeless still come to the library– but for the same reasons everyone else does: to check out books and use the computers."

One public resource that hasn't felt much relief from the Haven's opening is the police department, which over the past 10 months responded to the Haven 139 times, according to Police Chief Tim Longo, who says he doesn't believe that figure equals an increase in overall downtown police responses to the homeless.

"One could argue you'd be going someplace else to respond," he says. "It just so happens it's centralized now."

Longo also mentions a personal connection to homelessness. 

"My brother was homeless for a while many years ago," he says. Seeing his late brother get involved in the nonprofit Volunteers in America, which helped get him back on his feet before his death some years later of health problems related to years of substance abuse, convinced Longo that helping the homeless become self-sufficient is the answer.

"Programs that don't just put a roof over your head but help you redevelop skills, reengage with the workforce are the most effective," he says.

Who should pay for those programs is yet another bone of contention, particularly for those who favor small government.


The Libertarian's way

"It should go back to the way it used to be," says John  Munchmeyer, head of the Jefferson Area Libertarians. By Libertarian theory, the federal government should be completely removed from involvement in social services, and even the state should back off.

"Services," says Munchmeyer, "should be provided by local church and charity, so when you walk down the street, you have to look the people who gave you assistance in the eye, as opposed to getting a blind check from Washington, D.C."

That means Munchmeyer and other libertarians would tend to support locally based charities like the United Way, the Salvation Army, and the fully privately-funded Haven– and makes him strongly opposed to one of the highest-profile projects to help the helpless, the impending construction of a 60-unit Single Room Occupancy.

City Council approved a zoning law change in 2009 to enable the so-called Crossings at Fourth and Preston to be developed on the site of a former mini-mall. Funded by as much as $5 million in state tax credits over the next 10 years, the SRO will give some of the area's chronically homeless a place to live for as long as they need it. Those who are employed will pay 30 percent of their income, says Mayor Dave Norris, who says the minimum monthly rent will be $50.

"Any libertarian would be against that," says Munchmeyer. "Government crowds out real landowners," he says, adding that government subsidized housing drives down property values. He insists that getting government out of the social services business isn't cruel, and he believes private donations would fill in when the government butts out. 

"What's heartless," he says, "is continuing to pour money into government programs that do more harm than good, that create an environment of dependency."

Dimock and Mayor Norris, however, point to research that shows that giving people a place to live first, without demanding employment or freedom from substances, actually improves the chances of becoming self sustaining.

"It's been proven," Dimock says. "Tough love doesn't work." 

A 2006 feature in The New Yorker by Malcolm Gladwell seems to support Dimock's claim– and goes a step further. If we really want to solve homelessness, writes Gladwell, "We can be true to our principles or we can fix the problem. We cannot do both."

Our principles, he explains, dictate fairness: it's human nature to feel that those who are given something by society for free– a home, food, medical treatment– should do something to earn it or deserve it. Looking for work and holding a job are the most basic of these efforts. But Gladwell says if we approach homelessness without emotion, as purely a financial problem, it's clear that projects like the SRO can save a community vast quantities of money even if, on the surface, it seems unfair to hand out near-free housing.

Gladwell followed one man in particular as an example: a lovable if hopeless Reno drunk named Murray Barr, who, over a decade, ran up $1 million in public services including repeated arrests for public intoxication, repeated incarcerations, and frequent emergency room visits.

"It would probably have been cheaper," Gladwell concludes, "to give him a full-time nurse and his own apartment."

Dimock says the number of chronically homeless in Charlottesville follows the Reno model in that most homeless in Charlottesville have recently become homeless, and won't remain that way for long. Dimock estimates that less than 60 people living in Charlottesville, Albemarle and the surrounding counties are "chronically homeless," and that this group is using 80 percent of the resources. If you place them permanently in a living situation where they're less likely to suffer injury or illness from exposure to the elements– or to be arrested for public intoxication– the community saves money. 

The SRO may also help open up other low cost housing options, a pressing need since the Charlottesville public housing projects– despite all the complaints levied against them– have waitlists.


What do they think?

It's easy to launch heated debate about the best way to deal with the homeless: where they should stay, who should pay for them, should they have to search for jobs 6 or 8 hours a day? Should they be allowed to beg on the Mall?

But what do the homeless think? On a late November morning, just a few days before the cold snap, the Haven is jumping. Small groups gather, smoking cigarettes and chatting on the walk leading up to the door. Inside, approximately a dozen people fill the first floor space– using computers, reading, watching the large flatscreen television, sleeping.

"Help is here if you want to help yourself," says Martin Taylor, a George Mason University graduate who recently became homeless following the loss of his job and the end of his marriage. Taylor says looking for work is a priority for many at the Haven, but it's made harder by felony convictions that can limit job options. Taylor and several others interviewed had drug convictions that upended otherwise successful lives with marriages and careers. Still, Taylor says, with a college degree and years of work experience– as a realtor at one time and most recently as a surveyor– he's hopeful his situation is temporary. Others there may struggle longer.

Bobby Wynkoop says his addictions have landed him in prison on and off for much of his adult life. Now 45, he says, his father was his safety net when he'd be released, without a home or job. But when his father died three years ago, he lost that refuge.

"I"m honestly trying to do the right thing," says Wynkoop, who works as a handyman but isn't making enough money to secure a permanent home.

Taylor says his experiences staying in shelters and spending time at the Haven have motivated him to work toward a career helping others who are homeless and he intends to go back to school for a degree in social work.

"When something happens and a person loses their home and their livelihood," says Taylor, "they lose their motivation, their self-worth and their desire to succeed."

Wynkoop agrees, and he says the Haven is helping fill in for the family he no longer has.

 "I don't think he really understands what he's done for us," he says of Haven funder Shadyac, offering his only suggestion for improvement. "A better name," he notes earnestly, "would have been Heaven."


An impasse?

If attorney Fogel and Ice Park owner Brown reached an impasse over the proposed ad, Brown says he doesn't want to be misunderstood as someone who lacks sympathy for the less fortunate, but he believes the Haven and other homeless organizations will find greater support if they're willing to work with and accommodate "the needs of the broader community as a whole," including business owners who fear losing customers due to the presence of panhandlers on the Mall. Fogel says he has no problem with suggesting giving to the organizations that serve the homeless, as the ad encouraged, but he says focusing on punishing an already impoverished class of people isn't the answer.

"Everyone ought to conclude the social services need more money, but not at exclusion of giving to individuals," he says. "We've got to be doing both, and we've got to be looking at underlying causes of homelessness. In the richest society that has ever existed on earth, we have 15 percent of the population living below the poverty line. That's an outrageous indictment of our society."

Dimock says she hopes the community will continue to discuss the issue of homelessness and the ways a community can approach the problem– from ad campaigns to ordinances to volunteering their time or allotting money.

"There's a mythology people tell themselves so they can not have to respond in a more full fledged human way," she says. "The homeless," she notes, "are not that different from any one of us."

Correction: Charlottesville's SRO will not provide free housing but will require a minimum $50 monthly payment, which– if necessary– will be covered by other social service organizations or through private donations.– ed.


Martin Taylor, Theresa Thompson, Ariel Morton, and Bobby Wynkoop stand outside the Haven, the nearly-year-old day shelter funded by film director and UVA grad Tom Shadyac

Albert "Buck" Clatterbuck asks for donations on the Downtown Mall in late November.

"This is a class of people who are not going to be in a good position to defend themselves," says Jeff Fogel, an attorney who opposed the expansion of the city's panhandling ordinance. Of begging, he says, "People have a constitutional right to engage in this conduct. This is the reality of America."

"Most of the homeless have lost their social support systems," says Kaki Dimock, head of the Thomas Jefferson Area Coalition for the Homeless. "It's a lot to face emotionally."

Patsy Walsh-Burger, left, with Darnell Morris and Darnell Morris Jr., volunteers in Kay's Kitchen at the Haven, where the homeless hone culinary skills for future employment and use fresh ingredients to make breakfast daily.

Donna Griner became homeless after her September release from prison. She says she now works two jobs, but with her husband in the hospital, she's been unable to make ends meet and now stays at PACEM shelters.

Haven client Bruce Brown smiles on the Downtown Mall and says he's often called "Al Pacino" for his resemblance to the famous actor.

New Charlottesville Ice Park owner Mark Brown worked with Downtown Business Association honcho Bob Stroh and Haven head Kaki Dimock to come up with an ad campaign that would have discouraged giving directly to panhandlers and diverted funds to the organizations that serve them. Controversy ensued.


"There but for the grace of God go I" Right Mark?

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Firstly I am a native of this city. The nose in the air self righteousness has to stop and people have go to grow up. If you want to fix your eyesore that is “homelessness” then demand that your Regional Chamber of Commerce brings in work. The facts are the jobs here are lacking, they pay little and the cost of living is too high. I am also surprised to see Mayor Norris act a little tougher on the Homeless when he used them so often to self promote in the past. Ask Mayor Norris how his other platform the SRO is working out as well. Now if people want to “stop homelessness” then they need to pay attention to the failure that is jail reentry, the failure that is substance abuse treatment, the failure that is their old attitude of “pull yourself by the boot straps.” I bet half these same people whining were born with silver spoons in their mouths, and daddy gave them a free education. So STFU!

Mr. Brown has only the vaguest understanding of the issues around homelessness. He should leave it to the professionals and focus on making his ice rink profitable. Personally, I just don't see what the big deal is about a handful of homeless guys asking people for money. Just say no, for goodness sake.

Perhaps a charity could sell business cards to people who wish to help, that could be given to the homeless to be used as currency in a company store at the Haven. The cards could cost a dollar and be worth a quarter to the homeless person who receives them. The Haven could use the money to stock the store and keep the leftovers for operating expenses. If these people really are as bad off as they say then they will be grateful.

If not then we will have our answer.

By the way mr "adult conversation" a lot of those people out there are there by choice and have alternatives if they would just grow up. I know. I have spent a lot of time in the community.They are the ones who tip the boat over.

How did Mark Brown earn his money?

Balance- I agree there is some choice there, but what is your point? That still justifies judegmental snobs?

Great article, thanks. I just have to say that I would love to kick this mark fellow in the nuts (figuratively speaking of course). I lived out of my car for a short time in my life and I am a semi regular volunteer at the Haven. Mark Brown needs to walk in another man's shoes for a day to get a different perspective on life.

That guy Bruce looks like Al Pacino? Maybe if you drop some acid and squint your eyes.

I think a lot of local residents need to find a row of bushes downtown and curl up in a sleeping bag under them while trying to keep warm in 17 degree temperatures. Without dinner and a late night snack of course. Just for the sport of it, add in cold drenching rain or a 24" snowfall. Homelessness is a rough life in this area from December to April.


Did you miss that he worked with "the professionals" like Kaki on the ad campaign?

Its important to criticize people who actually try to do something about problems.

But for the Grace...I commend you on your maturity on the "kick him in the nuts" comment. Just what this important discussion needs. And I might suggest that if that is really what you want to do, you might want to go down to the Haven at the end of this month when he is there hiring a number of Haven residents to help put down and take up he has now done several times.

If you would take some time to read the article, you would see that what he is proposing is a solution that serves those who are suffering most in our community. His point is simple. Giving to organizations who exist to help these people is perhaps better than giving to the people themselves. It is that simple.

If those criticizing have a better solution, they should put it forward as he has.

I will say it again. If the business people want to keep whining then I suggest they demand the Regional Chamber of Commerce to bring in jobs! Plenty of blame to go around. So solutions please what are they?

No matter your view on this subject, thank you Hook for publishing this enlightening and balanced article on a controversial subject.

Re: Jeff Fogel, "There is a constitutional right to beg."

Mr. Fogel is no doubt aware that the courts have found that reasonable restrictions can be implemented in a way that does not significantly diminish this so-called right. The two cases below provide some insight into how the courts have decided when anti-begging restrictions have been challenged. Clearly, there is some right to beg at certain times and in certain places in certain ways. But communities also retain the right to guide this conduct.

Young v. New York City Transit Authority, 903 F.2d 146 (2d Cir. 1990).
Plaintiffs challenged New York City Transit Authority regulations that prohibited begging on subway cars and platforms.  The Second Circuit reversed the holding of the district court and vacated the lower court's order enjoining enforcement of the regulations holding that begging, which is "much more 'conduct' than 'speech,'" is not protected by the First Amendment.  The court held that even if the First Amendment did apply, the regulation was reasonable because it was content-neutral, justified by a legitimate government interest, and allowed alternative channels of communication in that it did not ban begging in locations other than the subway.

Gresham v. Peterson, 225 F.3d 899 (7th Cir. 2000).
Jimmy Gresham, a homeless person, challenged an Indianapolis, Indiana ordinance that prohibited panhandling in public places from sunset to sunrise and also prohibited "aggressive panhandling." Gresham claimed the city ordinance violated his First Amendment right to free speech and his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process. The city argued the ordinance was a response to the public safety threat that panhandlers cause. The District Court granted the city's motion for summary judgment and Gresham appealed to the Seventh Circuit. The Circuit Court affirmed the District Court's opinion. The Court held Mr. Gresham's First Amendment right was not violated simply because it forbade him to panhandle at night. It found Mr. Gresham had many other feasible alternatives available to him during the day and during the night to reach Indianapolis crowds. Furthermore, the Court affirmed the district court's opinion that a state court could not find the statute unconstitutionally vague.

Source material:

I'm like totally not going to go ice skating if I see a homeless person!!! I may never ice skate again! That Mark Brown is a genius.

I have to agree with Adult Conversation....the "elitist snobs" in C'ville & Albemarle county have been so NOT business friendly for what seems like FOREVER, there is no where these poor people can find work (much less anyone else). God forbid someone would want to MOVE (and they do so regardless) to C'ville thus they be greeted from the NIMBY's and the rest of the "no-growth" society. They have their little slice of heaven and really don't want to share...SOOOOOO...with no work, no home...thus HOMELESS....start at the root of the problem and work from there.

BTW, what happened to the homeless guy who got beat up near the OMNI back in Aug?


Charlottesville and Albemarle are hardly unique in that it is filled with low paying jobs, for the skilled and unskilled. And as long as both regions try and promote boutique businesses, this will remain the case.

Good business owners - and they do exist in the area - do not seem to struggle like those who whine all the time about how they are stepped on by the big bad city.

Your sarcasm however misses the mark, because it doesn't address the real issues here. Structured growth and planning are not bad things, especially in a world with dwindling resources.

As for the pan-handlers on the mall?

Well, there are those who truly need help to function in society, and thanks to the giant tax cuts that Democrats are thinking of extending, they will enver see the help they need to actually keep a job. I am talking about the mentally disabled. I don't mind these people being on the Mall. Seeing them reminds everyone that we have a terribly inequitable society that claims this is all the natural result of Adam Smith's invisible hand, when it most certainly is NOT. The COunty, even more so than the City, is guilty of just ignoring these realities.

But my impression is that a large % of them are not unemployed through disability or illness. They choose to live a very simple migrant life, traveling down the road. You know, the ones with their girlfriend sitting next to them and their dogs tied with handkerchiefs, sitting on the bricks. Them. Sorry, I am not interested in subsidizing them, or their lifestyle choice, and I don't want them bothering me about it.

Old Timer says "Bah, humbug". Scrooge also said, "If they would rather die," said Scrooge, "they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population." How about the Little Match Girl? That one always chokes me up.

The ones old timer is referring to are the ones who ruin it for the truly needy. As a society we want and need to take care of those who are destitute but not those who choose poverty over self reliance or responsibility. There are many of these. They are not sleeping in the bushes in 17 degree weather, they are "chillin" at a crash pad.

The real test of someones needs it to offer them a steak dinner in exchange for an hours work. If they take it they are worth helping. If they refuse then you need to question tham and determine if they are mentally or physically disabled or just lazy.

If they are disabled help them, if they are lazy let them starve.

There are never kitten skeletons in trees because the fire department didn't rescue them. They get hungry and overcome their fears.

Hows about the Haven accept donations to pay people salaries to perform community services like pick up trash along the roads or plant treees in the park? Maybe have an entire workforce that shovels snow, rakes leaves, sorts recyclables at the landfill?

There are lots of make work things that be done. I would rather donate to pay smeone to work then to pay the cable bill at haven


"Old Timer says "Bah, humbug"."

That is not what I said at all, and you know that if you actually read what I was saying. You have chosen to act like the right wingers do, and ignore th facts of what someone said, so you can create a cutesy simple spin line to pretend you actually have a point to make.

You don't, other than to want to pretend everyone panhandling on the Mall is a victim when they aren't.

Adult Conversation -"demand that your Regional Chamber of Commerce brings in work." Really? Your logic seems to be that if we simply demanded that this nonprofit organization create jobs, then of course it would happen! I'm sure they would love to have that magic wand to wave to create career ladder jobs - the same as every Chamber in every community.

Thanks for great discussion about this challenging issue. Just to clarify - we have one TV at The Haven at First & Market, donated by Crutchfield. It is on for news from 7am-8am, educational TV (Ken Burns' Civil War series, for example, or the Addiction series) from 8am-10am, off from 10am - 2pm, and back on for PG or tamer movies from 2pm - 4:30pm. We do not have cable at The Haven.

@ Smalltowngal- Yes I expect the Chamber of Commerce to as they say on their site follow their mission statment. "promoting business, and enhancing the quality of life in our Greater Charlottesville communities"

@ Balance-Great ideas there I would love to see some businessman take this on voluntarily. Help the people file for a business license, develop a plan etc. Let me know who will do that and when. All I have ever heard on this is a bunch of whining and yapping.

"Nuns run bald through vatican halls, pregnant, pleading immaculate reception. Everybody's wrecked on mainstreet from drinking that holy blood...."

It aint a perfect world, live with da bums!!
If they cross the line, walk away or defend yourself, quit yer whining.

Much of the opposition to the mall pan handling is to the organized panhandlers who professionally panhandle. They share signs,rotate who is panhandling, and when offered work refuse it. Some are not homeless. The have intimidated the musicians who used to be out in front of the Paramount and the Jefferson. And though some of the Hook's readers are not intimidated by this group, or their pit bulls, there are many people on the mall who are. The ad campaign was created in good faith to be helpful to the greatest number of people in need.

If there are people (and I believe there are) who choose to shop elsewhere because the mall has too many aggressive panhandlers then these busineess lose money and cannot afford to create jobs. Lost sales result in less businesses which results in lower property values and lower real estate and sales taxes and therefore less money to help the truly needy.

Regardless of your station in life everyone needs to have a minimum level of responsibility even those who are homeless.

The truly needy should welcome some ploicing to get rid of the scammers.

Being homeless is tough, I guess..... But it is easier where it is warmer. I would suggest that there is homelessness and panhandling here becsuase it looks like a good place to pick off the economy in Charlottesville. Take a look at other cities and towns- you do not see the problem where the economy is in deeper trouble. I am not sure that I would see the same in Staunton or Winchester- just a guess.

Mayor Giuliani took care of the issue in NYC by taking legal steps to make it a "crime", after Mayor Lindsay allowed it to sprawl in the city in the 60's by making it economically feasible to be homeless and jobless in NYC- welfare and lack of predatory laws. If you do not take care of the problem NOW, then it will overtake the Mall and no one will go there- the City will suffer when the business owners suffer- it will all be blamed all of us on not being compassionate.

Congressman Perriello has 20 days to solve the problem- let's see what he is willing to do.......Ha, Ha, Ha!!!

@Kaki...I'm interested to know if your group plans to reform itself in light of the article and how. I can't help but notice that criticism of the haven in the article came from Mayor Norris, the salvation army, Stroh and Brown, which is a pretty wide range of people/agendas who see fault with your policies.

I also think that instead of defending your flat screen you should simply sell it or return it to crutchfield and ask for a cash donation to help with programs. Why have it all?

It's not just retail which is beginning to be impacted by people avoiding the mall to avoid the aggressive panhandling - it's also other employers with downtown C'ville addresses. I work downtown and have had many conversations with people in my office who are uncomfortable walking to their cars after work b/c of the changes that have come with the "professional" panhandlers who are often loud, assertive and obnoxious. Sometimes just going to the bank or CVS is really unpleasant lately. Not just awkward or bothersome - but sometimes scary.

I'm a "bleeding heart liberal" - but we're not talking about truly homeless due to bad luck. These are not people with problems - these are people who choose to sponge off of others because it's easier than working and being responsible. We do know the difference. It's insulting and patronizing to assume we're all just against the poor and mentally challenged b/c we don't wish to be accosted each time we walk down the mall. If it's not the goth mall brats - it's the pit bull bullies.

Go Haven!!! I'm going to get drunk and come down and watch Lassie on the flat screen today at 2!!!!

Were it up to me, ALL panhandling would be banned.
People have a right to go about their business whether Downtown or at the UVa Corner without some worthless lowlife scum accosting or approaching them asking for money.
139 police calls to the Haven-what a waste of LE sources!
Very interesting that the Salvation Army, who has tried to help the needy for years, does not want its clients to use the Haven.
The Salvation Army tried to help some of this element, and got their kettle stolen as a result. Fact is, some of these people are accomplished con artists, thieves, and liars.
We may not be busing people in-but sure the wword has gotten around that Charlottesville is full of bleedinghearts who will offer a free ride if you come here.

As somebody who spends five days a week in contact with the downtown mall, I'm a little confused as to what people keep referring to when they claim they've being "accosted" by homeless people on the mall. Never in the six years that I've lived here have I ever been "accosted" by a homeless person. I've crossed paths with a great many of them, never been full on accosted. (Though I have experienced that sort of thing in other areas of the country, with one homeless woman in Frisco for instance jumping right up on me shoving a cup in my face and demanding in a raised voice that I put money in it. Never seen such crazy demanding boldness before in a homeless person. But see to me, that's accosting.) Pretty much what I've seen in Cville are homeless people lining the mall's sidelines, or sitting on benches, or positioned in Central Place with signs. They're passively part of the background. If you want to see a homeless problem go hang out in Union Square, San Francisco. It's seriously an industry there. Though it didn't bother me when I went. To me it was half the charm of the place. ;) I always made sure to have ones in my pocket to give to them as I roamed around the city. But that's just me. Some people get seriously irrate the second their eyes spot a begger. To them it's like a personal affront or something. "My taxes! My taxes!" Whatever. Me, I don't take it personal. I'm too busy living my life, got too much going on to get mad about what somebody else is getting up to. I'm not a homeowner, and I pay very little taxes in life, so really, who cares if the meager bit of taxes I do have to pay somehow, someway, finds its way into the hands of services that fund a homeless person. Whatever.

I've said it before in another story's comments section that the only people who have truly made me nervous when I've been on the mall are the loud, boisterous, teenage HOODLUMS roaming about, yelling, posturing themselves, with waaaay too much time on their hands and no parenting going on. Give me a passive homeless person with a sign sitting on the ground leaning up against a building any day over that. Better yet, give me a homeless person going to town on their harmonica or playing a guitar or banjo for money any day over that. Several times now I've gotten my keychain out with the big container of tear gas/pepper spray when having to walk near or through a group of these young male hoodlums. Never felt I had to do that with any of the homeless people.

Mark Brown Is God.

I read in the article Jeff Fogel's comments that "there is a Constitutional Right to Beg". Not sure I remember seeing that in the Constitution. I do know that Georgetown, in DC, outlawed panhandling and saw a dramatic decrease in crime. Hmmmm.....

I would think that the current City administration could tax these folks and increase the revenues in the City. If the City is not willing to tax them, then how about licensing them.....they certainly should pay just like any business pays.

Lack of jobs is a national problem. Jobs have left this country everywhere, look at Waynesboro or Southwest Virginia. Jobs are going where the wages are far less, they're going overseas.

With the regions tax rate and high utility costs, about the get higher if the Chamber gets it's way and builds a $200 million dollar water plan. Not much chance you'll see large companies with good jobs for uneducated workers locating here.

Education is key and retraining. What we need is a university for the homeless at UVA, the leader of our community.

While I do understand the various arguments about the "freedom" aspects of the right to panhandle issue, I also find the practice disturbing in a variety of ways and I go out of my way to avoid areas where I anticipate encountering it. This goes for other types of panhandling as well, such as solicitors for various causes they consider worthy who station themselves at the entrances to large stores and accost entering patrons. I resent being molested in this manner when all I want is too go in and buy groceries. It is somewhat a case of working at cross purposes when society spends public funds to create an appealing venue such as the downtown mall and then permits people to beg, sometimes aggressively, in such a way that people feel uneasy and go elsewhere, such as to privately owned malls where the owners have the right to forbid it.
Much as I dislike it, I'm afraid I have to come down on the side of those who argue in favor of legal prohibitions of street solicitations of all sorts.

A careful read of the article reveals that the Haven is acutally violating city and commonwealth ordinances.

"It's why, she (Dimock) says, the Haven doesn't have requirements or prerequisites for people to use the services. Although alcohol and drugs are banned from the premises, intoxicated people are allowed in the Haven"

Virignia Code 18.2-258
18.2-258. Certain premises deemed common nuisance; penalty.

Any office, store, shop, restaurant, dance hall, theater, poolroom, clubhouse, storehouse, warehouse, dwelling house, apartment, building of any kind, vehicle, vessel, boat, or aircraft, which with the knowledge of the owner, lessor, agent of any such lessor, manager, chief executive officer, operator, or tenant thereof, is frequented by persons under the influence of illegally obtained controlled substances... , shall be deemed a common nuisance. Any such owner, lessor, agent of any such lessor, manager, chief executive officer, operator, or tenant who knowingly permits, establishes, keeps or maintains such a common nuisance is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor and, for a second or subsequent offense, a Class 6 felony.

Under City Code: Chapter 5, Article 5, Divisioin 4, Section 5-181 Structures Haboring Illegal Drug Activity:

(f) "Drug blight means a condition existing on real property which tends to endanger the public health or safety of residents of the city and is caused by the regular presence on the property of persons under the influence of illegal controlled substances"

Its even easier to prove the common nuisance charge given that "One public resource that hasn't felt much relief from the Haven's opening is the police department, which over the past 10 months responded to the Haven 139 times, according to Police Chief Tim Longo"

And remember the salvation army doesn't allow its participants to go to the haven for a reason.

The city's residents, its businesses and visitors shouldn't have to be subjected to a day shelter with no accountability in the middle of our cherished downtown. Don't let anyone tell you the city can't do anything about it.

Thanks Brain! You make a good point: A way to get rid of these undesirables is have all shelters prevent people from sleeping indoors if they have used drugs or alcohol. Brilliant! You know that a bunch of them will use, that is why many of them are homeless. When they freeze our town is nicer.

Sounds like Ms. Dimock can handle problems with her folks when they need to be handled. Commenters who have no sympathy for those among us in need make me pity the commenter's families.

Adult Conversation - the Chamber does as much as any area non-profit can do and to say that they "promote business" can mean just about anything. They try to be a liason between the area governments and the business community. Anyone who has ever tried to open a business in this community can attest to how non-business friendly the local governments (Albemarle specifically) are. In addition to the Chamber's efforts to assist businesses in the area, the Thomas Jefferson Partnership for Economic Development tries to entice business to come to the area. Feel free to look up their website too. All these non-profits can do is TRY to broker relationships between the government making the laws,ordinances, local taxes, etc. and prospective or existing business. How any entity can convince any business to come here with the cost of living and the strict zoning, sign ordinances and the BAR is the real mystery.

erik- Do you feel molested by The Salvation Army bell ringers? If so, just say it- I do.....they are the most annoying panhandlers anywhere- and no one complains! If I want to give to a charity, I will give to a charity- on't need anyone begging me for anything. If it is not in your heart to give to whatever charity, then why give- you certainly do not feel any better afterwards- you feel "molested".

Give to your hearts content- feel good about it- and walk on by the others without any guilt.

and to Jeff Fogel- quoted above- Would you stand for someone in front of your office at 913 East Jefferson Street, shoving their hand in your face everytime you arrived or departed from work? Of course not- you would find an ordinance prohibiting the "constitutional right to engage in this conduct".....

Since the topic of Salvation Army bell ringers has been raised by another poster, I will ring in on the critical difference. The bell ringers with their kettles stay in one location and all they do is ring the bell. They do not approach people, nor verbally importune them. Hence they are not intimidating and have a neutrality that makes people feel comfortable with their presence. This is very different from the frequently abrasive behavior of street beggars. Incidentally the original article mentions the "please don't feed our bums" stickers from San Diego. They are based on the Natl. Park Service's signs warning about feeding wildlife and depict a human figure with a dog on a leash. This is in response to a new breed of young healthy male panhandlers who travel with dogs, frequently vicious breeds, and who carry cell phones (modern times). They have concentrated in the hippie/biker enclave of Ocean Beach and other seaside touristy places where they rudely accost people, addressing them in threatening tones to extort money from them. One favorite trick is approaching tourists taking pictures on the beach and belligerently confronting them for "taking my picture without permission". Done skillfully and picking the right mark, this can result in a nice pay-out or the acquisition of a pawnable digital camera.
While things haven't reached that point in Charlottesville, they could and maybe the vanguard of that type is already here. Much is made of our need to preen our "inclusiveness" as a society, even though that inclusiveness is largely an insidious falsehood we console ourselves with, a cultural meme if you like, but this shouldn't happen to the detriment of basic standards of civil conduct in public places.

Yup! They stay in one place- at the exit door.......infered intimidation.

Most have a hard time walking past them without dropping some coins in the kettles, especially when others are around.

$2.6BB in expenditures in 2006. That's the rub for me....because we know it has increased in the past 4 years. But they are a large employer for sure.

Enoughs, enough- have a great Christmas!

When it comes to giving to people who ask for money I tend to decide on a subjective basis. If the person asking seems to be begging simply to feed an addiction, I usually don't give. If they are young and seem able-bodied, I usually don't give. I don't get angry at people because they are begging though. It is not like they have great lives.

I agree with Boooo--I have never experienced "aggressive" panhandling, whatever that is. I find it hard to believe that a few bedraggled people are driving hoards of shoppers away from the mall. It's more likely the economy that's having an impact.

The Haven is doing a good thing.

And yes, the Salvation Army people are super annoying. I hope they are paying homeless people to stand there and ring the bell and let them pocket the take.

I know "Buck" who is on the cover of this issue and he is homeless because he choses to be. I know for a fact that he was offered $80 a day to work and he said why would I work for that when I can make $200 a day begging on the downtown mall. He has family that lives near me that will let him stay with them. He always has stayed with them when he is not in jail. Look at those hundred dollar shoes on his feet and that expensive cane in his hand. This really ticks me off. People don't give him your money,he's ripping you off.

@ Tryagain & others- Always first to blame and last to take responsibility aren't we? Let it go! Yes your Chamber of Commerce has a roll in this economy, accept responsibility just like you want the poor to accept responsibility and "pull themselves up by the boot straps." Do a better job of promoting business and creating jobs, stop whining and find common ground a phrase that even John Boehner can't reject.
Once again offer your solutions. Where do you want people to go? They are here? Got any solutions offer them up people. They will be back at the Library if you like. How about McDonald's? How about The Corner where do you want people that have no where else to go to be? Simply out of your eyesight?

The people can hang out on the mall, I just don't think they should be paid to do so.

I saw two guys hanging out looking downtrodden and begging and then saw them the next night at the Jefferson... inside... well dressed and spending money.....

We are being played by some of them and we need to figure outwho they are..

"I do know that Georgetown, in DC, outlawed panhandling and saw a dramatic decrease in crime. Hmmmm....."

Really? There are a few people who panhandle every night on M Street. I wasn't aware of the outlawing of panhandling or the increase in crime.

@ outraged and cold heart...

As much as I tend to be nonchalant about pan handlers, I still think it's good to know the info. you've both provided. If that's the case then that's very interesting indeed.....