Ann Arbor residents may begin avoiding awkward, frequent encounters with panhandlers. In September, the Ann Arbor City Council formed a task force dedicated to discouraging panhandling and enforcing ordinances that do so. Rather than cutting to the core of the problem, City Council is only scratching the surface by educating Ann Arbor residents how to deal with panhandlers. City Council needs a system that helps rehabilitation for panhandlers and homeless people get off Ann Arbor streets, without dismissing the needs of the Ann Arbor community.

Ann Arbor City Council decided to reconvene a panhandling task force, according to a Jan. 17 Daily article. The task force will be devoted to reducing the number of aggressive panhandlers in Ann Arbor and cutting costs related to stopping them. The task force hopes to collaborate with students, residents and local businesses to address the city’s panhandling issues. The task force will meet regularly and will coordinate measures with the Ann Arbor Police Department to increase street patrols.

The panhandling task force is designed to help educate Ann Arbor residents and members of the University community on how to address panhandlers without giving them money. But instead of employing resources to teach people how to politely say “no” and walk away from a panhandler, the city should be devoting resources to help the people who actually need help — the panhandlers. City Council needs to focus on concrete plans for directing panhandlers to rehabilitative resources, instead of simply sending them away.

While giving panhandlers money doesn’t help them in the long run, having the police disperse them to a new location doesn’t either. The chair of the taskforce, City Council member Sabra Briere (D–Ward 1), talked in the article about problems facing panhandlers like drug and alcohol addiction. And yet, instead of getting panhandlers proper help, the city is instead teaching Ann Arbor residents and business owners how to direct them out of town. It’s important for students and community members to know how to keep themselves safe from aggressive panhandling, but it’s also important that City Council recognizes that there are bigger issues than residents being inconvenienced.

Ann Arbor already has services in place to work toward rehabilitation efforts for the homeless. Programs like the Street Outreach Court work to keep homeless people from getting lost in the judicial system for petty crimes and redirects them to shelters and other services. Instead of incarcerating the homeless for petty crimes or giving them fines that they’re unable to pay, it’s in the best interest of the community to channel these people into places where they’re able to get help.

While panhandlers can create an uncomfortable dilemma for people who walk around Ann Arbor, the goal should be to help panhandlers contribute to society and not employ the out of sight, out of mind approach.

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