Editorial: Let's Clear the Medians; Stop Giving Money to Panhandlers
In September, the Germantown Pulse featured a story about how Montgomery County Police Officers had partnered with members of the St. Vincent DePaul Society of Mother Seton Roman Catholic Church in Germantown to help provide food or clothing to the numerous and ubiquitous panhandlers who pepper the medians and corners of intersections throughout Germantown.
Germantown Pulse applauds Sergeant Mark McCoy of the Fifth District and his Central Business Unit, as well as the members of the St. Vincent DePaul Society for working to help those poor souls from our community in need of someone to provide a hand-up to help them get back on their feet again.
However, as reported in the story, it turns out that many of those less fortunate with one hand out and other holding a sign asking for money, are not from our community, but are commuters coming to “work” our community to take advantage of the kind hearts and generous nature of those who live in the Germantown area.
“In speaking with the panhandlers,” said McCoy. “I have found out that, ironically, most of them are not from the Germantown area. In fact, many commute down to Germantown every day on the MARC trains to panhandle in Germantown and then commute by train back to wherever they are living or camping up in Frederick County.”
The reason for this is that in Frederick County, it is illegal to stand on the median and solicit donations. It carries with it a $70 fine. In Montgomery County it is NOT illegal to panhandle if you are 18 and stay on the median, but if you step off the median and into the street police can give you a $50 fine for jaywalking.
Montgomery County is one of the richest counties in the nation. Montgomery County also spends millions of dollars for homeless shelters. In FY2014 Montgomery County spent $6.8 million on Shelter Services, according to SpendingMontgomery. So far in FY2015, the County has spent $7.6 million on Shelter Services.
In January 2015, there were 1,100 homeless persons in Montgomery County, an increase of 23 percent, from 891 in 2014, according to the Homelessness in Metropolitan Washington annual report -- the 2015 Point-in-Time Count of Person Experiencing Homelessness in the region which is a snapshot of the homeless population prepared by The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ Homeless Services Planning and Coordinating Committee. Of course, this is a count at a single point-in-time and the number of homeless is always fluctuating.
According to the same report, there were 311 homeless persons in Frederick County, an increase of 26 percent from 246 in 2014.
Frederick County where many of the panhandlers in Germantown are commuting from, spent just $1.6 million on housing initiatives in FY2016, which included $135,000 an for Emergency Shelter Program, which provides funding for Frederick Community Action Agency, Religious Coalition, and Advocates for Homeless Families. The Frederick County FY2016 budget also provided $22,000 for a Family Emergency Shelter.
Montgomery County government and Montgomery County residents through tax dollars are doing more than their fair share to help those who are in need of help. While some of the folks who are on the medians looking for money, are in need of help short-term, the truth is many are professional panhandlers. That is what they do. They take advantage of the good will and kind hearts of upstanding citizens.
The next time you feel the need to give money to that panhandler on Germantown Road and Wisteria Road or Middlebrook Road and Rt. 355, or anywhere else in the County, understand how much of your County tax dollars are going to help other folks who are really in need of help, rather than someone who has come into our community to ask you for more of your hard earned money.
In a video produced by the County, Montgomery County Police Chief Thomas Manger said, “We want to give these folks the help they need, but the way to help them is not to give them money on the street. The way to do it is to donate that money to other organizations. The fact is, if you want to see the panhandler issue go away, stop giving the money to the panhandler. That is what is going to solve this problem.”
The simple truth is that giving cash to panhandlers doesn’t help.
The Germantown Pulse applauds the Montgomery County government for joining together with homeless advocates and social service providers throughout the County to urge you to give a hand up, not a handout.
According to the County, “Those who work daily with panhandlers in homeless advocacy and other social service groups know that most panhandlers use the money they collect to support their addictions — drugs, alcohol, and tobacco. None of that helps panhandlers to solve their problems.”
The panhandlers are a blight on our community.
They increase the danger to motorists because they create distracted driving. They lower the value of homes in the area. “I have had numerous potential buyers be frightened away from the Germantown area because of the presence of panhandlers,” said Andrew Einsmann, a Germantown real estate agent.
“Nobody is every happy to see a panhandler in the town near a home they are considering purchasing,” said Shannon Flannery, another Germantown realtor. “Nobody ever said, ‘Oh cool they have panhandlers here.’”
Indeed, the presence of panhandlers reinforces an incorrect stereotype that our town is not a safe place to live. By continuing to give panhandlers cash, you are encouraging them to continue lowering the quality of living for everyone in the community.
“There are a few panhandlers that we keep a closer eye on,” according to Sargent McCoy, “because they are registered sex offenders. For the most part, they know not to go near schools, but we make sure they are not hanging around near ice cream shops or other eateries, so we can avoid any further potential problems.”
According to the 2015 Point-in-Time Count of Person Experiencing Homelessness, 24 of the 1,100 homeless in Montgomery County were military veterans, while 220 had a substance abuse disorder.
That person you’re about to give money to may be a professional panhandler commuting to Germantown to prey on your good intentions, a registered sex offender, or drug addicted low-life. These are not people we want to encourage to remain in our community.
Of course, there is a small chance that the that person in the median is a local community member who is going through a rough patch, and in that case, Sergeant McCoy and his Central Business District Special Unit will find them and help them to get something to eat and make them aware of the many alternatives which Montgomery County makes available. They will get real help.
Germantown Pulse urges all residents and commuters in the Germantown area to stop giving money to panhandlers who come to our town, lower our property values, besmirch our community, and drain our resources and good will.
The Germantown Pulse also calls on Montgomery County officials to consider raising the fines levied for jaywalking, and enacting ordinances that will make the Germantown area — and all of Montgomery County — less attractive to “commuter panhandlers.” Our police officers are working to help those truly in need from our community; let’s do something to keep those who would exploit our goodwill out of Germantown.
Residents wishing to truly help the homeless population should consider donating time or money to The Community Foundation, or the Montgomery County Coalition for the Homeless, or simply text “SHARE” to 80077 to give $5 to the Community Foundation of Montgomery County. There is a full listing of organizations who help those in need every day on the Montgomery County Website.
Residents wanting to get involved in helping homeless persons closer to Germantown can make donations to The Society of Saint Vincent de Paul c/o Mother Seton Catholic Church, 19951 Father Hurley Boulevard, Germantown, MD 20874. The phone number for the Society is 301-944-0451.
Let’s clear the medians. Stop giving money to panhandlers.