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Sunday, August 17, 2003

Readers offer advice on how to deal with homeless



In last week's Forum section, the cover story "Homeless in Cincinnati" addressed the issue of homelessness, studied how other cities deal with homelessness and panhandling, and asked readers for their responses.

The following are some of the responses we received:

City should spend money on assistance

I am appalled by what some cities have done to supposedly deal with homelessness. Forcing ID cards and fingerprinting upon them like they were blacks in apartheid South Africa, or having the only place they can ask for the money they need, be on painted rectangles on the street as if they were caged animals.

Making panhandling and sleeping on sidewalks illegal does not solve the problem of homelessness, but instead moves it. Bans such as these just move homeless people from the streets of the city to the jails and the streets of surrounding suburbs.

Instead of spending money on enforcing new laws to restrict the homeless, the city should spend that money on shelters and assistance programs. If the homeless know there is real help out there, then there is a good chance that they will leave the streets to get the help they need to get back upon their feet.

Katie Thiel, Colerain Township

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Make the squatters pay property tax

Cincinnati's problem with population decline might be solved. Let's allow homeless squatters to set up homes under our bridges and highways. Now we can start to negate the flight of the middle class with more low/no income individuals in our fair city. If we do this right, they could join the ranks of the overtaxed citizens of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

The county auditor should have his people at the ready to go and submit property tax bills to some of our newest property owners. Since this judge and these citizens have staked a claim of ownership they should enjoy all the benefits of owning. In the city of Cincinnati one of the benefits is high property taxes. So, send out the welcome wagon and I hope they enjoy all that ownership has to offer.

Ann Witte, Price Hill

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Kiosk parking offers bonanza for beggars

The article ("See ya later, gotta go feed the kiosk," Aug. 9) brought a smile - or was that a smirk? - to my face. Does the city administration, so worried about panhandlers that they now require a license to operate, realize the potential monster they have created?

I lived for several years in the Netherlands, where kiosk parking lots are ubiquitous. Of course I always fed the meter more money than needed, because you never know how long you are going to be. I generally had at least an hour remaining on my ticket when I returned to my car. At this point I was always approached by a panhandler or homeless person (another sore point with our city leaders) who simply asked for my parking receipt. This person would then approach a car entering the lot, ask the occupants how long they thought they were staying, and sell them the ticket with the remaining time at a discount. In true frugal Dutch style, money is saved, money is made, everyone wins. I willingly gave away my ticket, and drove off with a smug feeling that I was doing a good thing for a person down on his luck.

Cincinnati, beware, we may soon see long lines of wanna-be panhandlers outside the licensing office.

Beth White, Northside

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While we're at it, register the homeless

Register the homeless, too. Importantly, both the homeless and panhandlers should have expiration dates on their registrations. These situations are no different from welfare, which now has a finite length of time.

Where in one instance a span of time helps prevent abuse of public trust, the other instance ensures help when mental capacities have been shown to refuse it. Welfare typically helps up the needy up front. Registering the above allows a length of time to professionally determine ability of self-help before existing programs then step in.

A length of registration of six months seems too great to help those in need of it. However, and unlike welfare, after a length of time the need (or not) to help the homeless will be readily apparent. They themselves should provide the proof for that need of help. Homeless registration may be the ultimate and most self-respecting safety net.

Gary J. Seckel, Liberty Township

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Panhandling should not be tolerated

Unlike an earlier period in our history when no social safety net existed, aside from outright street begging, we now pay vast taxes to local, state and federal agencies to provide social programs and services to keep beggars off the streets. We also give generously to annual and ongoing campaigns for public charities. Thus there is absolutely no call to tolerate public panhandling, which utterly destroys our city image and further erodes our economic viability to address social needs.

I am strongly in favor of aggressive prohibition of all personal public "begging." If we can legally pass anti-solicitation laws to prevent door-to-door sales and if the federal government can pass constitutionally valid laws prohibiting telemarketing (which has recently been done for those so registering), then we can certainly constitutionally prohibit street corner panhandling.

For example, at the south Mitchell exit of I-75, an organized panhandling community has set up shop which camps in the pleasant recently city-landscaped area under the trees there, during the day. They are relatively hidden from the traffic and have even brought their lawn chairs to rest until their turn arrives to move out to the panhandling station.

This group at the Mitchell exit is damaging the image of my Clifton community.

Dr. H. Thurman Henderson, Clifton

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Solution: Fine homeless enablers

First of all you give a homeless, jobless person a fine of $5 or $500. Where will they get the money to pay? So you put them in jail for 30 days or more, that's free room and board and medical, plus a shave. It may not be the Ritz Hotel, but it's better than what they have.

What about a job with at least minimum wage? We have enough litter on our streets. What ever happened to the garbage can on wheels with a broom and shovel? Give them a pair of gloves and garbage bags and a pick-up tool. Just picking up cigarette butts should keep them busy for a few weeks. The weather shouldn't make any difference, the homeless are out in it anyway.

What really should be done is have the police issue $100 citations to anyone they see giving money to a panhandler. And if they do it a second time double the fine.

But of course nothing will be done and the problem will never go away or be solved.

Ethel Lackey, Cheviot

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Homeless problem just a symptom

What should Cincinnati do to deal with the homeless and panhandlers? The way you phrase the question shows that you wish they, fellow human beings, would disappear when the game is over. Well, let's take off our corporation blinders and look at the total picture. Cincinnati government should provide quality education, decent schools, affordable housing, and job training. Cincinnati does none of this. They provide a lot of talk and they are refining the skill of pointing fingers. They also provide millions and millions of dollars to the corporations that, in a fair society, would be sharing their profits through taxation.

Removing the problem from the streets does not cause it to go away.

Cecilia Kloecker, Blue Ash

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Better not offend potential voting bloc

If I were a Cincinnati politician, given the documented and ongoing decline in residents leaving the city, I'd think twice about supporting unfriendly legislation or policies toward the homeless.

Who knows, they could well become a significant constituent group once everyone else has left. Far out, maybe? But they are citizens who have the voting franchise, let's not forget that.

Carter Cordes, Wyoming




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Readers offer advice on how to deal with homeless
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