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The amount of panhandling in Brattleboro


Comments | 25


Where are the panhandlers?

I'm curious as to where the increase in panhandling is happening. I'm down town fairly often and while I do see a few people I've identified as probably homeless none of them are not panhandling or if they are it's being done in a very discreet and quiet way. I see the most homeless or almost homeless people hanging out at the transportation center but even there they seem to mostly be asking each other for things;money, cigarettes; bus fare. We've all heard a lot recently about how downtown businesses are negatively affected by panhandlers - when does this happen? Maybe I'm just immune to it because I came here from Boston where there is someone asking for money every 3 feet and at every traffic light- very visible and pretty aggressive. I honestly don't see it here in Brattleboro. I certainly don't see a huge uptake of homeless or panhandlers from when I moved here 9 years ago.
Do they blend in that well and if so- how do we know there are so many more of them?


Fair weather activity

I agree with you.

Moreover, panhandling is on a continuum, more likely to occur in warmer weather, less so in cold weather.


Panhandling in B-boro.

My name is Joel Porter Sr. I am 49 years old, grew up on lower Canal St. just South of the Canal St. School. From 1967 until my divorce in 1992 I lived in the same house, which was passed down to me and my ex-wife. My two oldest children spent their first years in the house I grew up in with my Grandparents and sister. Throughout the years I have come to know quite a few people.
I have gone through some rough times at a few certain times in my life. I have struggled with alcoholism and I am in recovery. I have worked most of my adult life. I have, at times lived in my car, I have couch surfed at friends houses. The one time I was forced to panhandle was when I found myself stranded in Denver CO in 1987 and too stubborn to call Mom for help home. Other than that I have always pounded the pavement when I had to, putting in applications and asking for interviews. Most times I was able to get the job I was going for, a few times I had to flip burgers or be a dishwasher, but I have always dug in my heels, worked and saved and was able to maintain a place to live, a place for my children to go to when I had them. Being brought up in the 70's and 80's by my Grandparents that were born in the 20's, we were taught the importance of work. We were given chores, like dishes or setting the table, taking out the garbage, raking leaves, shoveling snow etc..we were given a $5 allowance and if we wanted more we would go out and make it happen. Delivering the Brattleboro Reformer when it was an afternoon paper or the Town Crier.
I injured myself at work on December 14 '16 and have had both my right and left hip replaced. I am appealing a denial of benefits from Nationwide Agribusiness, the insurance company my employer has for work related injury. In the time I have been out of work I have spent time at the Drop In Center, the Transportation Center and just around. I personally know some of the homeless people in Town. I know, from listening and watching how things go. Now, before I open a Pandora's Box of opinion, I do recognize there is more at play. Substance abuse of heroin and crack cocaine and cheap beer, liquor and wine. Mental health issues and how difficult it is to do basic things like laundry and hygiene and a way to be contacted when looking for a job. Yet people are lucky to have the resources we do here. There is the Ground Works Day Shelter where one can take a shower, do their laundry, use the phone, internet, get mail there. There is a hot meal everyday in B-boro at places like St. Brigids or Loaves and Fishes. But, and this is where I wade into trouble, so many of the people choose not to change their lot. The majority are half my age, in better physical shape but have no intentions of going to work. I know for a fact that one person that is seen flying a sign saying he is a "Homeless Vet" is not. I have known him since High School and he never served. He and his girlfriend work in pairs and make close to $100 a day panhandling and every dime goes to an out of state drug dealer. I have seen this time and time again from a handful of young able people that have spent the last couple years taking advantage of the goodness of strangers.
I am not homeless, yet. My last paycheck was on 12/22/2016. I am over a month behind in rent. Everything has been shut off except the electricity. I am on food stamps, I have the government cell phone (the Obama phone). Every dime I have received from friends, family, local resources, and strangers have gone to my landlord. I am recovering nicely and both me and my employer are looking forward to me returning to work in July.
So...I guess what I am trying to say is that by all means try to help out the less fortunate, I plan on doing the same once I am back on my feet, but if you see a bald guy with a beard and a cane holding a sign that says " I am so angry I made this sign ", stop and chat. It is me, Joel, and your help will keep me in my apartment, lights on, a place to have my youngest Kids at on the weekends and not because I have given up and decided that the world owes me something. Thanks. JP.


So, what, exactly, is panhandling?

From “The Free Dictionary” http://www.thefreedictionary.com/panhandling
pan·han·dle (păn′hăn′dl) To approach strangers and beg for money or food.
1. To approach and beg from (a stranger).
2. To obtain by approaching and begging from a stranger:

This suggests that what we have in Brattleboro isn’t even panhandling. To sit by a high traffic location holding a sign doesn’t fit the dictionary definition.

In some localities, panhandlers are often aggressive. NYC’s famous “windshield vipers” are annoying in the least, and often scary and even dangerous. What they do is actually a type of harassment bordering on extortion. That’s not what is happening here.

Wikipedia gives examples of illegal aggressive panhandling (from Longview, Washington)
• Intentionally coming within 3 feet of the person solicited
• Intentionally obstructing the path of the person or vehicle of the person solicited
• Intentionally obstructing the passage through the entrance or exit of any building
• Following a person who walks away from the panhandler
• Using profane or abusive language, either during the solicitation or following a refusal.

I've got to try practicing a little more compassion.


Flying a sign

Panhandling is I believe is an old slang word I guess, the latest definition of it or how the subculture calls this form of handouts "Flying a Sign". I've known a few old carnival worker's who in the winter season does this, the first time I heard this was 5 years ago in Florida. I don't know if trying to wash windshields on Malfunction Junction would go over, neither for driver's or Bratt P.D. I would rather be out there being like the one's who sell flowers. But, regardless, it can prove very lucrative. Some spots are coveted, and folks in Town agree to share the best spots.
I totally understand being down on ones luck, Brother could you spare a dime kind of thing. I relate, I do. My issue gets to where this seems to be a full time job and the people asking this week will be the same one's asking in September too. My personal situation has opened my eyes in a lot ways. The fact that life can go pear shaped in a day, that the system I thought was in place to keep me from falling in the cracks, in my case Worker's Compensation, are actually set up for the one's with more lawyer's and money. My eyes have been opened to the generosity of real people, that I can survive and get back on my feet through their generosity, but also that people take advantage of the help given with no intention of helping themselves. JP.


War on the Poor

Compared to cities like NY & Boston, panhandling is not a problem here.

If Trump gets away with his budgetary attacks on the poor, we're gonna see a lot more panhandling.

I think it's called "Making America Great Again".


budgetary attacks on the poor

Our safety as a nation depends as much or more on a healthy, well-educated population as it does on the force of arms. Given this reality, the new budget's sharp reductions in programs that address the needs of low-income families and individuals are blows to our nation's basic security.
To cite a few of many examples, the budget would eliminate four block grants – the Community Development Block Grant, the Community Services Block Grant, the Low Income Energy Assistance Program and the HOME program. These programs provide heating assistance to households that couldn't otherwise afford it; develop and preserve affordable homes and rental units; and support a whole range of anti-poverty programs carried out by public and nonprofit agencies.
The four block grant programs, taken together, cost about $8 billion per year, less than the cost of one of the 12 new ballistic missile submarines the Pentagon is planning to build. Dealing with poverty will save lives. Investing in nuclear overkill will not.
The Trump budget also proposes tens of billions of dollars in cuts in basic entitlement programs like Medicaid and food stamps over the next decade.

(Courtesy: usnews.com)


Question still unanswered

So, lots of definitions on panhandling but no answer to the question: where are all these panhandling people? This current poll suggests that people feel the panhandling situation is much worse than in the past. I don't see huge numbers or even any numbers of people actively or aggressively begging on our streets.
Is it that people are afraid it is going to get worse? Are they thinking that e very homeless person is panhandling? Do they consider 1 or 2 people holding signs way too many? I don't understand the answers on this poll.



I agree with you. I don't see much of a problem. I've never encountered an aggressive "beggar" in Brattleboro.


Might depend on your gender

I suggest you all ask some women. I rarely post here. Mostly I lurk. I'm a petite female. I'm frequently approached and the frequency is increasing. My husband is infrequently approached when alone and we are rarely approached when together. I just had an aggressive encounter this evening after my husband entered a store and I waited with the baby. This time the guy didn't ask for money. He cut right to threatening sexual assault. Yes, the police did get called and did their job.

I'm all for doing what we can for those who have fallen on hard times. It can happen to decent people. But there are people out there with a screw loose and not much to lose. As a small female, the prospect of violence is always a risk, and I suspect I look "soft".


I'm sorry that happened to

I'm sorry that happened to you. But, in all honesty I'm not sure someone approaching you in a sexually threatening way can be classified as " panhandling". I'm a woman, somewhat elderly and disabled. Depending on a variety of circumstances I sometimes have to use a cane. If someone were looking to rob or physically assault a person I'd be a good candidate. I don't think anyone is disputing the fact that there are definitely people out in this town who are combative and violent. What this thread has been about is whether or not panhandling from the homeless or not - has increased. Assault of any kind is not panhandling and I'm not sure gender or even size plays a role in who gets approached. I'm frequently downtown by myself and often with friends or my son and in 9 years of living here I have been asked for money exactly twice- once by a man I've come to realize as homeless and once by a young woman who was looking for bus fare. In Boston I would often be approached 4 or 5 times in a block radius. So, Brattleboro doesn't seem so bad.


To clarify

I don't recall if this specific guy had asked me for money before but he was talking with a group of approximately 10 men before he approached me. I recognized several who have blocked my path and asked me for money before.

I recognize that panhandling isn't sexual assault. We all do and the law does too. My point was that some of these guys are fine. But some are not safe. And it's tough to tell which is which. Plus they were in a group together.

When a man blocks my path, or a group of men sometimes, and asks for money, I don't know what he will do if I say no. I do say no and growl "get out of my way" and hope I sound tougher than I look.

Guys playing music or holding a sign don't bother me, except that I'm sorry for them and wish there was more we could do collectively to get their needs met. I'm so with you all on wanting everyone's needs taken care of and how things have gotten harder for the common man these days. By the way I'm typing guy and man because it's faster but I know women can be homeless or down too.

Guys in a group, even if they don't do anything can look threatening just because to some people, particularly small women and survivors of assault like me.

We've got a cow parade coming up. Our town gets a lot of visitors. I worry that something could happen. Don't be too quick to write it off.

Also for what it's worth, my mother is an older woman and complains that she is being approached more frequently as well.


Again, I'm sorry you feel

Again, I'm sorry you feel unsafe on the streets of Brattleboro. Nobody wants to feel that they can't walk around their own town without being afraid. I do think that there is an increase in crime and the people who commit crimes. There have been some break-ins and some muggings and these seem to be happening in specific areas in town. I use common sense if I'm out at night for an event or something and am more careful as to where I go- I know some streets are less secure than others. I;m also not looking for some miracle cure to cure everyone's problems- that isn't going to happen. Not here - not anywhere, really. Although some countries seem to be more effective and compassionate when dealing with their homeless problem than we are.As a town we don't do much to alleviate or even improve the homeless situation. There's a lot of talk about how our homeless population impacts the town but not really much solid action. Helping the homeless seems to fall to a couple of organizations and I think they do the best they can.
Recently there was the now annual 'camp out" on the Common where people pay a certain amount to camp out and the money goes to Groundworks to assist in their programs for the homeless ( if my info is wrong please -someone -correct me)
I'm assuming that the group of homeless folks who sleep on the Common are ejected during this event because they don't have the fee that's being charged. So, they are losing their relatively safe sleeping area plus not getting to take advantage of the food and music that is, I believe , part of this event. Anyone see anything messed up about this? As long as we remain a country who does not take care of our more fragile populations we are all going to have to deal with the fall out of homelessness- I'm guessing that Brattleboro seems like a relatively safe place to be if you're homeless- no aggressive police harassing you; a fairly compassionate community and a few services. I know that many kids who are runaways gravitate to this town because it;'s safer than a big city.
I don't know what the answer is. I don't think you can complain about panhandling, though, without asking yourself if you're doing anything to help solve the problem.


Aggressive panhandling

Vermont already has state and local laws that address actions that harass, intimidate, or threaten. There’s no need for separate aggressive panhandling laws.

We have limiting housing market and limited affordable housing at a time when rents are rising. Individuals and families are bound to left out of adequate, basic housing. Not all panhandling is related to homelessness, but it is part of the overall picture.

There are also freedom of speech issues connected with panhandling.


My Panhandling Experience

I was about 10, and my friends were starting to get “Allowances” from their parents.
I asked my mother if I could have one, too.
She answered: “You don’t need an allowance. Any time you need money, just ask me”.
So, I said: “Can I have a quarter?”
“What do you want it for?”
“To go to the movies”.
“What’s playing?”
“The Three Stooges”.
“No, they’re silly”.
End of conversation.

But there’s more.
My buddy, Tommy Brennan, had just moved up from a “tough” neighborhood in the South Bronx.
“No sweat! We’ll just go down to Fordham Road and beg.”
“Yeah, it’s easy. I’ll show you”
“Hey Mista – got any change?” (We only approached men wearing ties).
In about 15 minutes we each had about a dollar: more than enough for a movie and some popcorn.
I never asked my mother for money again.

Shortly thereafter, I got a job as a paperboy and my money problems were solved.


Reality Check

I've lived downtown for about six years, and yes, the amount of panhandling is beyond anything I've seen before. I've been to NYC, Chicago, and many third world countries, so I know it's relatively better here (Jamaica was the absolute worst, by far), but clearly, there's a problem. Just look at the poll results and see the silent majority aware that it is at least increasing. Living downtown, walking by the parking garage, Canal St, and across the Whetstone Brook I see it basically everyday I leave my home.

I would say the majority of panhandlers are good people, not aggressive, and I can empathize with them. I even have come to know a few of them and on occasion will give them a dollar, a beer, or maybe a little medicinal herb to medicate with if I'm aware of a medical issue they're facing. However, a few bad apples can absolutely spoil the bunch, and I've encountered some very uncomfortable situations where I was verbally abused, followed, and even threatened for not giving them what they want. Some guy literally chased me down Canal St at 2am because I wouldn't hand over my cell phone he needed for an "emergency." It's not just men either; two days ago a woman put her head inside my parked car's open window begging for money, proceeding to verbally chastise me for being greedy because I own a car so obviously I should be able to afford to give money to a stranger. Not okay. If I were wealthy, I'd be glad to help, but I'm not. Times are tough for a lot of us, and while I live comfortably, I certainly don't have enough extra income to solve this problem, and would much rather be left alone.

Looking at the bigger picture, yes, there are structural problems with our country that create the situation. Lack of adequate mental health care, poverty, opiod addiction, unaffordable rents... all help create what exists. I sympathize with those struggling, but there are a few panhandlers who cross the line, in the words of Trump, "they crossed many, many lines" lol. Maybe it happens to me because I look like a sucker, generally walk alone, and live downtown. But yes, it happens, and it's a problem.


near the whetstone

Perhaps this all ties in with the opioid crisis.

I'm curious about the group of people that assemble behind the metal shop near the Whetstone. They don't seem to bother anyone, other than an occasional ask for cash, but it still seems a bit suspicious. Is this a "safe zone" where police don't bother them? Seems like a fairly large group, both men and women.


Shooting gallery

Rumor has it...


Open Air

I've noticed that gathering place behind the metal shop near the Flat St lot too and wondered why all those people are hanging out back there. I would think the property owner would move people along. Then again, Brattleboro is an empathetic town and I suppose if they're not harming anyone, it's not a community problem, per se.

But it doesn't seem like a particularly good thing and as long as we're ignoring the issue, it will probably continue. To be honest, I haven't seen this kind of druggy street scene since the 60s when our neighborhood in Baltimore had a pretty noticeable middle class drug problem. Waiting on the heroin addicts at the coffee shop where I worked was just one of those things....



There’s something unsettling about reporting a “druggy street scene” "shooting galley" of a “a fairly large group, both men and women.”

Rumors are found wherever circumstances are ambiguous, issues are important, and critical-thinking is low.
~The Community Grapevine


Not a rumor

I've always avoided that group behind the metal shop, just because it seems really shady, and not a good place to meet like minded nice people. I will admit, the one time in my life I tried suicide, I went there to get heroin for my OD, there were two people there, a very mean man and a reasonably nice woman who was a bit rough around the edges. The guy was a total jerk, and had no problem getting me enough to kill myself to make a little profit for himself. I felt very uncomfortable, as I've never touched painkillers in my life, I just wanted a quick death. As soon as he left, the woman kindly warned me that he's a bad person, and I should leave asap before he got back. Fortunately, I listened, and instead of killing myself that night, I just swallowed a bunch of my prescriptions, which surprising turned out to be not fatal in the quantity I had. Felt very sick, and spent some time recovering in the hospital, but physically recovered just fine, got the help and support I needed for my depression. Haven't had a single suicidal impulse since. Met someone in recovery who actually died for a few minutes from a heroin overdose, and I learned that it was not a quick and painless way to go, so I dodged a bullet there. So glad I walked away before making the worst decision of my life. Feeling happy again, sadness passed and I'm lucky to have made it out alive.

Despite that experience, I feel no animosity towards the people there, could care less what they do, as they never bother me when I have to walk by. But to be clear, yes, it is what you think it is.


an opportunity for town compassion?

Glad you are still here... sounds like quite a pivot point in your life. Could have been easy to choose the other route.

I'm of the same mind - no animosity and don't care too much as long as others aren't bothered. A better alternative might be for the town or hospital to set up a clean shooting up location indoors somewhere. Could be part of our new commitment to compassion! Treat it all as social and health problems rather than legal issues.


A Selectboard conversation has begun...

At the last Selectboard meeting, I kicked off a conversation about 'panhandling' in Brattleboro, since many merchants and some residents feel that there has been an increase lately and are seeking to have a dialogue on the issue.
Clicking on this link will take you directly to the start of that discussion, and it lasts about 9 minutes.
I'll be updating everyone here on iBrattleboro when it will next appear on the Selectboard agenda. Thanks!



July 11th discussion

The Brattleboro Selectboard will be opening the discussions around panhandling at the July 11th meeting. Please join us if you have an interest in participating.


The basics

I don't think you can address the issue of panhandling without looking at and trying to find solutions for the causation of the problem. If the Selectboard isn't ready to look into the issues of no affordable housing in Brattleboro and the scarcity of jobs that pay a living wage then it's pointless to address the issue of people panhandling. If this discussion is to be geared towards only finding a way to lessen the people asking for money or to keep them out of sight of the tourists then the situation will not ever get better. The history of a problem has to be discussed and dealt with before the problem can be "fixed".


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