Panhandling scary? Buy the Mall

That we are faced with a brazen, organized movement to legislate citizen speech and behavior in a public space is shocking and infuriating. [December 6 cover story: "Season of giving: Is panhandling, vagrancy, destroying the Downtown Mall?"]

If you envision what the Mall would look like with all of these ordinances in effect, then you will know what the view looks like from halfway down a very slippery slope. These actions attack the liberties that underpin the American way and the characteristics of an evolved society. This movement poses nothing less than an existential threat to the fabric of our culture.

The Mall is not a private space. It is a public one.

Here's a suggestion that would enable those business owners and area residents who feel threatened to restrict citizen behavior in an acceptable way: Buy the Mall. Form a corporation and buy the Mall from the city. Make it a private space, like the Fashion Square Mall or Disney World. Hire a private security force to patrol your property.  Install cameras. Tell me I cannot say anything profane. Dictate the size and placement of signs. Perhaps you might want to erect gates at the entrances to your property. You may even decide to charge admission.

But until then, while the air is still free and public money makes it possible for you to conduct business and stroll on those shiny new bricks, back off.  Do not conspire to control what I can say, and do not tell me that your cameras will be watching me and my children.

Robin Macklin
Earlysville, VA

Read more on: Panhandling

44 comments

Come pay rent downtown. Then I'll listen to what you have to say.

Feel free to enjoy your mall in Albemarle. Oh...wait...you dont have one. Or a public pool. Or just about anything else but lower taxes and the ability to get away from city problems. But Robin, when you want to go out and enjoy I bet you like hitting the mall, paid for on someone else's dime. Then telling them how they should behave and spend their money.

Thanks for the feedback on how we should behave and treat you. Please leave an extra $5 cover charge next time you roll on down. Talks cheap.

I recognize that one of the reasons we all live here is the quality of life, which includes a sense of safety and security, and a certain southern charm. But really, people, if you want the amenities of an urban space you have to be willing to tolerate at least a bit of urban grit. Charlottesville is not Colonial Williamsburg, it's a vibrant, living place and just because you have to occasionally see, hear, or be approached by people who are not like you, or who you find "undesirable" doesn't mean the downtown mall is going to hell in a handbasket. Keep moving along, find the police if you need help, and enjoy all the wonderful things without focussing on the few bad ones.

For starters, regulating panhandling would be a regulation of economic activity, not of free speech.

Furthermore, "slippery slope" is a logical fallacy. Saying we're "halfway down a slippery slope" is announcing to the world that your argument is deeply flawed.

However, banning panhandling and vagrancy are terrible public policy ideas. Just not for any of the reasons you've apparently plucked from the pages of a Birch Society manifesto and thrown haphazardly onto the internet.

Happy holidays!

mr macklin ,the righteous free speech avenger !!

please stop all the bluster and slippery slope nonsense.
a map of misinformation I would think.
the bobby blue bland song "I pity the fool " seems appropriate here.

I'm not going to waste much energy on this, but to say, please keep the mall a public space. This is not a private, sterile environment, and it should never be. If you ask me, as a resident of the The Mall, it could use more "Main St" conveniences and lend itself to become more of an urban neighborhood than a tourist attraction, but hey, what do I know...

Cameras can be installed anywhere.... public or private.

I had the great, good fortune to visit the downtown mall recently, during Thanksgiving week (enjoyed some fried dumplings across the mall from The Hook's offices!). I was there with my partner, with whom I live in the world's "most livable city", as designated recently for the umpteenth time by global authorities on the subject. I mention that only to give some perspective. We were both pleased and, in her case, impressed, with what we saw in downtown Charlottesville (as distinguished from the results of years of raping the landscape on 29N). As in every American city and town, there are poor, homeless, people sprinkled about. But, they were non-threatening, and -- I believe -- added character to the vibrant surroundings. I hadn't been in downtown Charlottesville for several years, but was quite pleased with what I saw. My companion said that she understood why people found it an attractive place to live. Please, guys, keep improving, but let the people there be people, too.

The spirit of the mall is held together by the music and performers. I used to go get a girl off the mall EVERYTIME I couldn't find her....or she couldn't get home..... I thought everybody there was NUTS :) ... boy did I get frustrated at why that silly girl loved that mall.

WOW, how my life has changed in 8 years since her last call to come get her...... Now when I think everybody is nuts around me and the bad guys are winning....I zip over the mountain to the mall and head straight for the music and sane people :)

I love the mall for people watching and like the fact that some eateries are dog friendly. The pan handlers do not make my visits unpleasant or fearful, I just wonder what led them to sitting on the ground in the cold with cardboard signs asking for help. Sometimes I feel sorry for them and am thankful that I have a warm home to go back to. There but for the grace of the universe, go I. I do worry about their dogs and wish I could take them all home with me. I try to have compassion and not to judge those less fortunate than myself. I dont ever want my heart to harden to the point of not caring about my fellow, less fortunate, human being.

The tone is a bit snarky but the sentiment is spot on. The mall is a public place and elected officials have to set the rules within the bounds of what the law(and constitution) allows. It may provide cold comfort to business owners, but the panhandling situation here is nothing compared to most other urban settings.

People are voting with their feet and pocketbooks, as it seems the mall is more crowded and new businesses are popping up all the time. That environment may not be for every consumer(or business owner)--but people have choices about where they shop or choose to locate(or continue to locate) their business. A public place has both the advantages of taxpayer security and upkeep with the drawbacks that come with a public venue. If it is untenable--shop elsewhere, continue to work to influence public policy or pull up stakes and move to another location--lots of businesses have done just that.

It's a great place to pee in public and harass old people. Maybe a little light beating & robbery. Plz don't change a thing.

Like most societal problems, we should be able to address this one without lurching instinctively to the extreme positions of either a) asserting that all effort to control bad behavior is an infringement on absolute freedom, or b) assuming that the only way to address bad behavior is to criminalize it and expect that jail time will some how transform an impoverished, menatlly ill, and/or substance abusing sperson into joe middle class. Making it a crime to ask for help of any kind just seems insane. But so does declaring that an angry maniac who can't control the defecating practices of his semi-feral dog has a "right" to disturb the peace. Seems like we should be able to adopt some measures that don't convert the Mall into Disneyland but do enhance public safety. What's the objection to surveillance cameras? If anyone thinks they aren't subject to such things every time they visit in any square inch of a major city, especially DC or NYC, you got another thing comin'. If there is a decent reason to erect redlight cameras in the county, surely there is enough reason to enable ourselves to catch thieves, sexual harassers, and assaulters in the city (while leaving the panhandlers alone). Really, if you don't like panhandling, just ignore it, like the big boys and girls have to learn to do in the big cities.

Joe, the dogs are used to muster sympathy. You're suppose to assume they will take your dollar and make sure the dog eats well too. While this tool is not new, it is a tool that's about 5 years old in their bag of tricks. And it works.

You would be pleasantly surprised to learn how much these people take in during a year's time. $7.00 or $8.00 an hour tax free is a lot better than looking for and working a full time job at minimum wage and paying back into society in the form of taxes. This certainly doesn't apply to a lot of the homeless, but there's people down there in better health than I am probably in. And there's no reason whatsoever that they cann't be working. Well, no reason other than the fact that panhandling pays better.

1) jimi hendrix.... we won't come pee in your city pools if you stop throwing natti lite cans in the james river....

2) panhandlers ahould be licensed as they are soliticiting money "cold calling" or "huckstering" and they need to follow reasonable rules.

3) people that want toi sit silently with a cardboard sign and not solicit should need nothing from the city because they are not a problem (while they are sitting there anyway)

4) the reason for the concern is so that the mall doesn't get bad like detroit philly or parts of DC

5) The bums ruin it for everyone but the bums. People that think that it does not affect them may have just not beeen harrassed "yet" or may not realize that the empty storefront is empty because of the lack of patrons partially due to this problem.

6) Anyone that spends money on the mall helps pay for the mall as every single building is hit with a property tax that runs 10 to 20k PER YEAR . (and don't forget the meal and sales tax collected by businesses (or go to jail) that the government gets. )

If they successfully get rid of the panhandlers, the next thing they will come up with is "There are bacteria on the bricks and we need to get rid of them as well. It is not good for business"
When will all this ends. It is a public space, rich and poor should be able to use it.

Actually this really is an excellent idea...I have seen this work in Las Vegas!!! When the Vegas Strip became inundated with panhandlers and smut peddlers, the business and the City took action. By deeding the sidewalks to the respective business, it now became Private Property and the panhandlers and smut peddlers soon found themselve trespassing on private property. Of course this was handled by a City Council that knew how to take care of businesses in their community...The City of Charlottesville could deed to each property owner on the Downtown Mall the immediate property to the front of their business, along with a maintenance contract to maintain the continuity of the Mall area...problem solved...

Oh Heavens a Blue Moon is rising and I am completely in agreement with Bill Marshall.

First of all, move The Haven.

So we have a major homeless shorter basically right on the Mall, and now we're debating whether we can and should outlaw panhandling? Really?

And yes in-deedy, some of the homeless or beggar characters down there are scary. When my 70 year old parents come to visit, I didnt feel comfortable walking by the group of three or four people standing there yelling obscenities at each other. At least one of them was either under the influence or had a mental disorder. And I also didn't feel comfortable walking past the apparently mentally ill fellow who walks around with a big stick all the time.

So, in the future, I'm unlikely to take my parents to the Mall when they visit. We'll spend our money elsewhere.

You know, while I find the treatment of the mentally disabled and physically disabled atrocious in this country, I find the self righteous sanctimonious attitude of someone who lives in Earlysville just as atrocious. It's nice to pass judgement when something isn't going on in your back yard.

Does anyone know where the panhandler at Zion Crossroads (stands on the median between Lowe's and Sheetz) lives? Spring Creek...Lake Monticello? Man, they are popping up everywhere!

R.I.P.: Red Skelton

First UVA's unfair denial of protesters' speech rights, now discussion of more of the same on the Mall. Why are the people, in Jefferson's town no less, so quick to try to silence others? Celebrate your heritage. Don't deny it.

I can't imagine why anyone has an issue with panhandling. It should appeal to both the "liberals" (as they are called) and the "neo-liberals" (curious how words morph over history isn't it?).

For the bleeding heart "liberals", we don't kick someone because they are down on their luck. All persons are worthy of dignity and respect and assistance to others is virtue rather than the root of all social evil.

For the darwinist "neo-liberals" everything is about economic "choice" and allowing people to make their "choices." To be FREE to pursue their own will without any heavy handed regulations by the evil COMMUN[E]-ity. Panhandlers are just making their own free choices in the economy for how to get by. And...if the market didn't want them then they wouldn't exist.

So ... I can't even figure out why this is considered an issue by anyone.

JS,

Panhandling is an issue because culturally, it is unacceptable to ask for free money unless you are old, physically disabled, or mentally disabled. I don't know too many liberals who really think it's OK to just ask for money without having a good reason. Liberals think that we should have good social programs for children born into poverty, or for people who work menial jobs and need help making ends meet.

You at least admit that panhandlers are making choices.

What people are struggling with is which of the panhandlers are really folks down on their luck, and which really are moochers.

Having been in Charlottesville longer than the "Downtown Mall," the calls for cameras and bans on panhandling only make me chuckle. Why? It's par for the course for the never ending "Charlottesville double standard". This is the mall where one may express one's views (unless it's too sexually graphic) on the Free Speech Monument, but God forbid, if you're asking for money!!!

OldTimer, LOL. You are completely cracking me up.

"Panhandling is an issue because culturally, it is unacceptable to ask for free money unless you are old, physically disabled, or mentally disabled. "

ROFL. First, the next time I see a panhandler I'll give him/her a physical and run through a DSM IV questionnaire to find out whether or not s/he's of sound mind and body. I'll do this, of course, to learn whether or not I find the begging to be "culturally acceptable" or not. Second, I'll be sure to explain exactly this point to my alma mater's alum association the next time they call asking me for money. Perhaps it will make them stop calling?

"You at least admit that panhandlers are making choices."

I did not actually profess anything about choice. I was simply explaining that IF one has neo-liberal orientation to the world it should be clear that panhandling needs to be interpreted as everything else.

"What people are struggling with is which of the panhandlers are really folks down on their luck, and which really are moochers."

Not only was this article NOT about that, few if any of the comments are about that. But there's always the physical and DSM questionnaire.

JS,

Glad to know you find rational answers funny. Seems like you don't want to deal with reality. I asnwered your question as to why people have so much trouble with panhandling. Seems like you find it inconvenient to your self-righteous attitude so you want to get sarcastic.

Yes, maybe you should ask the panhandler what their story is, seeing as you are critical of people for not doing just that. In the real world, we call that hypocritical.

Thanks for bringing the same sort of mean-spiritedness that Republicans do when they find truth a bit inconvenient. Always a classic tell tale sign. Why don't you invite them all to live in your backyard, and you take care of them.

It is funny that the fact that the letter writer lives in Earlysville should in any way restrict the validity of their opinions. As usual, the city residents are whining like small children about how unfair it is to be surrounded by a well-governed municipality.

It just so happens that every County property owner pays tax dollars that wind up as City revenue, every year. So Jimi Hendrix's whining about the tax burden of county residents is particularly ironic. Refusing to ask why the city tax burden is so high while getting upset about your neighbors' lower tax burden doesn't seem particularly rational, but no one would ever claim that Charlottesville city voters are not ruled by their emotions.

The city council made decisions that led to an influx of homeless people on the downtown mall. The city council was elected by Charlottesville residents. The city council decides how to spend the money it receives from the county every year.

Albemarle County residents laugh at the voters like Jimi Hendrix and council members in the city of Charlottesville when the repercussions of these sorts of decisions come to light.

A response from the Letter Writer:

I'm glad to see some many responses, both critical and supportive. I believe this issue deserves a lot of attention.

Firstly, a clarification. I am not in support of making the Mall a private space. I illustrated this scenario to underscore the differences between what may be enforced in a public space vs. a private one. I think the Mall should remain public.

Two points regarding where I live and how this affects my argument:

1) Whether I live in Earlysville is irrelevant when I am addressing constitutional issues. Any citizen within any one of the 50 states has the right to speak up when fundamental civil liberties are threatened anywhere within the country.

2) The following thoughts relate to an issue separate from the one I raised in my letter, but it figures prominently in the comments and is worth addressing: In many respects, residents of the Charlottesville and Albemarle areas are threads in the same fabric. On issues of traffic, water management, our shared library system and many more, our respective interests and responsibilities are blended. Also, some issues that could be called "pure county" greatly affect city residents, such as efforts taken to preserve Albemarle's natural spaces. The more green space within easy reach of the city, the greater the value of city residential properties and the more fun there is to be had while living in them. Further, the Mall would not be the same without the county residents who own businesses there, work there, perform in bands at its music venues, hang their art in its galleries and feed themselves at its restaurants. The tax revenue and cultural contributions derived are quite significant.

Regarding the tone of my note: The tactics described in the article anger me, and I let this be reflected in my letter. Perhaps this was to my disservice, but I stand by it. I feel it is justified in defense of what is being threatened.

Yes, the "slippery slope" argument is a logical fallacy (as is ad hominem), but I hope this would not obscure my intention. If we become accustomed to having our speech curtailed and our activities recorded, then a "new normal" will have been established. From there, the next time a group is perceived to be offensive or dangerous, there would be precedent to eradicate the issue by constricting people's activities and reducing their privacy. While this does not guarantee that similar measures would be taken at that point, I think it would be imprudent to act as if it wouldn't make it more likely.

While I am not a constitutional attorney, I believe Freedom of Speech is definitely under attack by the proposed ordinances. Is it not our right to display a homemade cardboard sign? This is a form of speech, I think. Begging, itself, has been found to be a form of speech. I also think that the selective enforcement of ostensibly neutral laws, such as those against the use of profanity, is an egregious policy. Further, the right granted by the 8th Amendment against cruel and unusual punishment might be violated when arresting someone for performing vital activities, like sleeping or sitting, in a public space when they have no where else to perform them.

While I personally have not been adversely affected by the panhandling Mall denizens, I respect that others have. Also, I think that Stonefield represents a threat to Mall. While the two are quite different, money once headed for the Mall will now be spent on movies, meals and drinks consumed in Stonefield. It is worthwhile to assess how these changes will affect what we take for granted on the Mall. The people leading the charge behind these proposed ordinances have done so much work to affect change. I wish that they would instead put their energy, resources and intelligence to work on different, more productive solutions to the problem. I'd even make the drive from Earlysville to pitch in.

mr.macklin writes."while i am not a constitutional attorney.....".
then muses on about the eighth amendment; the first amendment
apparently not enough of a discussion.

i will have to go down to city hall and speak to ms.dugger
as to whether mr. macklin's assertion about green spaces in the county
raising property values in the city has legs.

no need to continue on to the marginal analysis meets urban studies
part of mr. macklin's comment.

a town hall type meeting about the matters raised in the article might be a good thing.
however no need to drive in from earlysville; i think we caught the sense of things.

Somebody needs to teach the panhandlers to carry a bible , roll around on the ground and throw in a couple snakes.

Then you got you a real preacher JOB.

That way its not only free money, its tax free money legaly.

"For the bleeding heart "liberals", we don't kick someone because they are down on their luck. All persons are worthy of dignity and respect and assistance to others is virtue rather than the root of all social evil."

js... you are making a huge assumption here. Many and probably most of these people are more likely to suffer from self inflcted wounds brought on by selfish decisions . Many have been abandoned by flesh and blood who reluctantly tossed them out for not following basic simple rules.. like staying sober and not stealing family jewels to trade for drugs or booze. If they are lifelong residents younger than 60 than they were GIVEN 12 free years of education at taxpayer expense. If they chose not to take advantage of it then they chose their own fate.

There are more people who need help than there is money to help them so we as a nation have set up a safety net to seperate the wheat from the chaff. The solution is to do out best to perfect those programs so that we can be sure that the seemingly healthy tattooed earing laden brat on the mall is in fact not an elderly disabled viet nam vet in disguise.

If they were polite and friendly as many of them are there would not be a problem.

Most parties are fun until the (insert group of jerks here) show up. The mall is no different.

Old Timer, you're still cracking me up.

"Glad to know you find rational answers funny." Your answer wasn't rational. It was funny. I explained why above.

"I asnwered your question as to why people have so much trouble with panhandling. "

You posed a possibility, yes. You just missed the whole part about how people have to be incredibly judgmental of others. If you wanted to provide a "rational" rather than a "funny" answer then you would have gone on to elaborate about how the moral judgments people make of others play into things. This would have actually gotten us somewhere.......

"Seems like you find it inconvenient to your self-righteous attitude so you want to get sarcastic."
What attitude was that and what was self-righteous about it? If you explain that to me, and I then find it to be self-righteous (because that's actually irrelevant given what I said above) then I'll admit it.

"Yes, maybe you should ask the panhandler what their story is, seeing as you are critical of people for not doing just that. In the real world, we call that hypocritical."

I didn't say that anyone should or should not do anything. You told me that you think certain people do/do not "qualify" as legitimate panhandlers in our culture. I was merely pointing out that this explanation is a problem since so few people know anything about the actual situations of panhandlers. If you wanted to be correct then you would have to be critical of people for not asking - not me. As for the "hypocritical" part - clueless as to what your point is there.

"Thanks for bringing the same sort of mean-spiritedness that Republicans do when they find truth a bit inconvenient. Always a classic tell tale sign. Why don't you invite them all to live in your backyard, and you take care of them."

I have no idea what any of that means either. If you put me on a political spectrum I'm so far to the left I end up on the right. I'm about as far from a republican as you can. Furthermore, there was nothing in what I said that was mean spirited. The backyard thing makes no sense either.

All I did was give reasons that most people should be fine with panhandlers. It would have come off very odd to those on the political right, and I was partly making fun of that.

You basically said "oh this is easy. Its deviant for perfectly able people to ask others for money". Then all I did is basically go on to pick on everyone out there that makes assumptions about who counts as a perfectly able person. Most people don't know the first thing about the homeless population - old and frail looking or cigarette smoking, puppy wielding young men. If I was planning to pass judgment on any of them then you could bet your A** that I would ask and find out first. As it stands I am simply not morally annoyed or outraged nor do I feel afraid or threatened. Thus I find the ado to be the thing that's a bit annoying.

P.S. Ponce is one of those people that has just shown that s/he is one of those people that makes these judgment. And I am the one that makes the assumptions!?

Aside from that, I was NOT saying that is what I think. What Ponce meant to say is "the problem with the "bleeding heart liberal" take on it is...."

"I didn't say that anyone should or should not do anything."

O' contraire mon frer. Old Timer said you were critical of those who didn't find out every story. You were. Now you want to dance around an play semantics when faced with the truth. You want to come on passing lots of judgement yourself and pretend you are so smart and superior but you aren't.

Face it, panhandlers aren't all these innocent victims, just like the rich aren't all hard working people who pulled themselves up by their bootstraps. Find a better cause to champion.

JS

People have a responsibility to be judgemental. If we all just simply gave to everyone who asked we would have a mall lined from one end to the other with cretins for the simple reason that the cretins would bully the truly needy into leaving.

Besides that these people are hawking an implied story that they are downtrodden through no fault of their own in order to get money. Some of those who do so have a true story. Some are just a-holes looking for an easier deal thatnatcually accepting the responsibility to become a productive citizen.

People like you don't have what it takes to risk making a false conclusion so you want the rest of us to tolerate beligerant aggresive behavior because of your shortcomings.

Those people are not starving. They have food and available shelter. Many of them are chain smokers which isn't cheap. Many of them are there own worst enemy and people like you enable them to become even larger burdens on society as they grow older and will burden the healthcare system.and also the criminal system as they do become victims of crime from younger cretins who marginalize them.

The immediate solution is to protect the overall health of the mall as we would a forest, for like it or not it is the commerce from the mall that provides the income for social programs to help these people. The mall is more than a resturant or coffee shop it is also a destination for tourists who spend outside money that they earned elsewhere and leave with us. Social programs are pretty close to last in line for tax dollars as we must take care of police fire rescuse schools roads bridges snow removea etc etc. So if that money doesn't come then there is no money to help those that need it.

Your point of view of easing a few peoples pain instead of trying to solve the actual problem is selfish and shortsighted. Police the mall within reason, let the mall thrive and use the exces tax dollars to help those truly in need.

Let the cretins help themselves first. Once the make an effort they are no longer cretins and can come back into the fold.

Your position that the average american doesn't care about the downtrodden is both wrong and insulting. Many of those who walk past the hustlers might have dropped off a big fat check to the salvation army. Many others might have just written a big fat property tax check that is very generous to the poor in this area.

i think my poor thoughts
are elderly, disabled --
too needy to post.

lion senses your fear
hyena laughs in your face
wolf in sheeps clothing

This is why those mean old republicans want entitlement reform instead of more taxation...

(i am all for raising taxes once spending is under control)

http://www.weeklystandard.com/blogs/welfare-spending-equates-168-day-eve...

I've worked downtown since 1995 (Court square). I've never been cussed at by someone I didn't give money to. I've seen one fight since 1995. I was stopped once while carrying the firm's deposit, it was someone from the electric Co. wanting me to save the Amazon forest by signing up for a surcharge on the electric bill each month. If the City is renting space for a restaurant and the area they are renting is roped off, I think it is semi-private space. They can say who sits there (their customers only) and they don't want people asking for money across the ropes. I've never been asked for money across the ropes either. You can't have the BAR approving cardboard "give me money" signs. Is the City going to print a sign for people in a particular font and put a red cardinal in the left corner corner and a dogwood symbol in the right. I don't think people should be near the ATM machines or asking for money across the ropes (but I haven't seen either).

wolves transform into
virtual beggars on this
virtual cardboard

your mama
I seen her yesterday
at Food Lion