We know times are hard for some people in this city, state and country.
Bowling Green, unfortunately, isn’t exempt from these hard times.
Sure, most citizens of Bowling Green are doing OK or are getting by, but a segment of this town is struggling – the homeless population.
We feel sorry for those who have fallen on hard times, but a recent spike in panhandling and loitering downtown is cause for concern.
On many days, as you walk the streets around Fountain Square, you can see homeless people asking for money. Some merchants on the square say they have had customers leave their stores and say they won’t return because of the homeless people aggressively panhandling.
There have also been complaints about people loitering and sleeping in doorways. Store owners, some of whom are concerned about the safety of their staff, say homeless people routinely reject offers of food and are just seeking cash.
If you are homeless, why would you reject offers of food? Wouldn’t putting nourishment in your body be the best offer someone could make if you are homeless, besides shelter?
We believe so and believe the majority of our readers would agree.
We’re not unsympathetic to the plight of the homeless in our downtown, but it has become obvious that the influx of them is starting to cause problems. Too much time and money has been invested into Fountain Square and the surrounding parts of downtown over the years to bring it where it is today to have homeless scaring customers away from downtown businesses and harassing people for money.
The problems are of deep concern and are a call to action. First, asking for money violates a city ordinance. The Bowling Green Police Department says it doesn’t issue citations to the homeless people downtown because they won’t show up to court and the best thing to do is just to send them on their way.
The problem with this approach is twofold. These people are breaking the law, plain and simple. There is no point in passing ordinances if they’re not going to be enforced. Police officers take an oath to carry out the laws of this city. Panhandling is against the law; therefore, it is an officer’s duty and obligation under that oath to issue citations to those who break the law. It might be true that they won’t show up to court. The same could be said about issuing someone a citation for speeding, littering, public intoxication or destroying public property. You can’t guarantee they will show up to court, either.
The bottom line is: Panhandling, like the aforementioned crimes, is a violation of city law and must be dealt with by law enforcement. If the citations don’t do the trick, then it is incumbent on city government to consider other options to deter this type of behavior. Also, we don’t agree that sending them on their way is the best response. This simply moves them from one part of the community to another where they will continue this illegal behavior.
Secondly, we would encourage groups such as HOTEL INC and others that work with the homeless to come downtown and assist those who are panhandling and loitering. These groups could provide homeless people advice about where to go for shelter, where to go to for a meal, where to seek employment and so on.
We realize there are some hardcore homeless who won’t avail themselves of the shelter and other services these groups offer.
Lastly, we advise people to not give money to the homeless. Doing so only will add to the number of homeless people in our downtown. Giving them money encourages them to continue to stay around Fountain Square and the downtown area. If you really want to help the homeless in our community, do so by donating to groups such as the American Red Cross, HOTEL INC and The Salvation Army, which work with the homeless on a daily basis.
In a perfect world, no one would be without shelter and employment. It’s sad, but at the end of the day, the laws against panhandling must be enforced by our police department. Homeless advocacy groups need to be more involved with the influx of homeless downtown and people need to stop giving them money.
It is our hope that the homeless influx doesn’t hurt the image of our downtown and Fountain Square or the downtown business owners trying to make a living. We need to be proactive on this issue.
So far, that hasn’t been the case, but that needs to change quickly.