Panhandling on Beacon Hill: The Lowdown on a Reported Crackdown

A recent article published in the Boston Courant may have led the reader to believe that Beacon Hill residents are working with the Boston Police to spearhead a crackdown on panhandling in that neighborhood. In contrast, the Beacon Hill Civic Association and the BPD maintain that they are instead working towards ways to put their spare change to better use for Boston’s homeless.

The Boston police department recently formed a committee to come up with new initiatives to stop aggressive panhandling and better serve homeless individuals throughout the Boston area. The committee has already won the favor of the Beacon Hill Civic Association, which stated that it is hoping for greater awareness surrounding ways that they can support organizations dedicated to helping the homeless. The Civic Association states they are not just trying to sweep these already disadvantaged people out of the area.

According to Bernard O’Rourke, Captain of the A-1 Division of the Boston Police Department, the committee is still in its beginning stages. However, O’Rourke stated that it is not the intention of the Boston Police to crack down on panhandling. Instead, the BPD is attempting to put an end to aggressive panhandling, which includes practices such as following pedestrians down the street and blocking entrances to buildings and stores.

According to O’Rourke the committee will soon meet to discuss ways to better service the homeless via education for the public about organizations dedicated to providing services to the homeless.

One local community that is supporting the initiatives outlined by the BPD is the Beacon Hill Civic Association, which stated there are five to 10 panhandlers in their neighborhood on any given day. The association got in touch with O’Rourke’s division after a panhandler was too aggressive and followed one of their residents down the street, making the resident feel uncomfortable.

“We had only had one complaint, about an individual who was too aggressive in terms of following a person down the street,” said Suzanne Besser, Executive Director of The Beacon Hill Civic Association. “That of course made the person very uncomfortable.”

After the Beacon Hill Civic Association contacted the A-1 division of the Boston Police, they were informed that aggressive panhandling had become more frequent in the Boston area. However, the Civic Association emphasizes that they have only received one recent complaint about a panhandler becoming too aggressive with one of their residents.

“That was the only complaint we had had,” said Besser. “We had then talked with the A-1 Boston Police [which] is our police force, who did say there had been incidences that they were aware of, additional incidences of too aggressive panhandling.”

Still, the Beacon Hill Civic Association insists that residents are not trying to sweep all panhandlers out of their neighborhood. Instead, the hope is to create a greater sense of awareness within the community of the local organizations that provide services to the homeless, and ways to donate money to them.

“The second part that we really need is an educational part of this, because I think that it is sometimes really difficult for our residents to know the correct thing to do when they are approached,” Besser said of the interaction between Beacon Hill residents and panhandlers.

According to Besser, the Beacon Hill Civic Association met with the Commissioner of the Boston Emergency Shelter Commission 5 years ago to discuss ways to better deal to panhandling in the area, and wheather residents should even give money to panhandlers. The Beacon Hill Civic Association is hoping to hold simlar forums in the future.

“What we would really love is to have another educational program to help people know what they need to do,” Besser said. “We’re trying to figure out what’s the best thing to do and how we can help [panhandlers].”

Besser also added, “It’s an ongoing debate—some residents really want to help them by giving them money. Others will decide to go over to Whole Foods and buy a sandwich and bring it back and give them the sandwich. And then other people think the right thing to do is to give it directly to a soup kitchen.”

None of these solutions is universally right or wrong. Yet it will take the community as a whole to decide which is most appropriate and when for one local neighborhood.

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