A man is standing on the street corner with a sign reading, “Every bit helps.” On the next block, there is another man sitting next to a lamppost with a jar at his feet, asking people walking by for any extra change. What both of these people have in common is that they are panhandling on the streets. However, their reasons are unknown to people who pass by. This rise in activity can be connected to recent poverty rates.
The City of Lansing Director of Human Relations and Community Services Dr. Joan Jackson Johnson said that when people do not have the skill set to find a job because of changes in technology and other factors, they turn to panhandling.
“It’s a way of life, it’s a quick dollar you can get,” Johnson said. “I know a lot of folks out there and many of them will tell you that they make more on the streets than they do with a minimum wage job unfortunately.”
There are people on the street who do need the money. Adrian Norwood stands on a street corner between four and five days a week. Part of Norwood’s day is spent applying for jobs, but the rest is spent panhandling since it is his only source of income.
“One thing that is controversial is that people driving by say to go get a job, but that is hard to do when you don’t have a home to go back to at night,” Norwood said.
Nicholas Blomley, a professor at Simon Fraser University and expert in panhandling regulation, explains that the people who panhandle are universally poor.
“Panhandling is one of a variety of survival strategies that homeless people engage in because they simply don’t have enough financial resources to access food and for some people, accessing drugs,” Blomley said.
It is clear that another reason for people to panhandle is to gain access to resources that cannot be provided for them.
“We give out cards that let people know where to find food, housing, clothing, and some people just throw it on the ground because that’s not what they want,” Johnson said.
Greg Robertson, a licensed street musician who plays on the corner of Howard and Michigan Avenue and in front of the Cooley Law School Stadium, notices that there are people who panhandle on the street corners where he plays.
Robertson said that 99 times out of 100, people he talks to that stand in the proximity of where he plays, are there to get money for things such as drugs or alcohol.
Whatever the reason is for someone to panhandle in Lansing, business owners and visitors of the downtown area have noticed that with the increasing poverty rate, there is also a greater issue with panhandling.
Tori Steffy has been the owner of Studio 109 in downtown Lansing for 14 years. Steffy notices panhandlers in the city and said the problem has increased within the last one or two years.
“When I have clients that come to my business and as they are leaving, are stopped on the street corner between my door and their car, being asked for money, and some that downright go and knock on car windows, it is very upsetting,” Steffy said.
While Steffy said that she has not seen any violent interactions, she still questions whether people will want to visit downtown if panhandlers are harassing them.
Gavin Hedin lives in Lansing and works downtown and has not noticed panhandlers in the city.
“I have been stopped by a homeless person and asked for money before, but other than that I don’t see anyone sitting around,” Hedin said. “I could see though where it could be a problem for people wanting to visit.”
There is nothing that is prohibiting people from panhandling in Lansing, however there have been discussions to help reduce it.
Denver, Colorado put parking meters downtown within the past few years and the money collected goes to shelters. Other cities such as New Haven, Connecticut, have followed Denver’s lead and Johnson said that Lansing is looking to do the same.
“The ultimate goal is to make the downtown area a safe place for everyone and to not have panhandlers when people are out shopping,” Johnson said. “But also to make sure other resources are available for them to get some of the things they need outside of drugs or alcohol.”