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News :: Social Welfare
Worcester’s War Against the Poor
07 Jun 2005
The City of Worcester recently unveiled billboards across the City, promoting the new “Panhandling is not the Solution” marketing campaign. Billboards are just part of Worcester’s multi-media campaign to crackdown on Worcester’s eight panhandlers. The campaign also includes street signs, fliers, radio psa’s, TV, street signs and soon supermarket checkout handouts. Great use of time Worcester!

The anti-panhandling initiative is just part of an ongoing assault on those who are poor which also includes never-ending attacks on the PIP shelter, the growing anti-social service agency campaign, and efforts to ‘sterilize’ the front and back of Worcester City Hall.
Panhandling Press Conference Small.jpg
Do No Harm

There’s a recent resurgence of anti-panhandling tough talk and initiatives across the country, and Worcester’s no different in that respect. What is different though is that Worcester seemingly stands alone as a community where the social service system has joined in as part of the legitimization of the effort.

While in other cities it has been downtown business associations (Columbus, Atlanta), hotel associations (Cincinnati, Philadelphia) and the Chambers of Commerce (Beverley Hills, Dallas) that have initiated or pushed anti-panhandling efforts, we see a sadly much different mix of players around the table in Worcester. What a difference to other cities where homeless rights advocates have pursued legal action against cities and police departments!

Worcester’s panhandling crackdown has been a long developing City Council based phenomenon. The genesis of Worcester’s effort has been politically based, with the City Manger’s Office and Worcester Police Department admirably resisting the effort to push and drag them into this pit hole. It is a shame that our social service agencies couldn’t muster the same level of resistance.

The whole panhandling scenario highlights the problematic relationship that exists in Worcester given the significant leverage that many agencies perceive City Hall to hold. Although the actual dollars may be small, many of our much trusted social service agencies feel they ‘depend’ on federal Community Development Block Grant funding (CDBG), which is carefully handed out each year. And most believe rocking the boat can be equally as dangerous.

Noticeably absent from the “Panhandling isn’t the Solution” table are organizations such as Abby’s House, the Mustard Seed, Sts. Francis and Therese Catholic Worker and others that stress personalism and that have also eschewed the corrupting influences of governmental dollars. We all owe them a thank you.

On a cursory level, a media campaign to encourage greater giving presents itself as helpful and beneficial. It is framed as a caring effort, and one with supposed long-term benefits. The City’s web page declares panhandling a “complex issue”, and we are all encouraged to believe that giving to charity is the solution. The City feels it has done something, agencies and passerby’s feel they have done something. Everyone should be happy.

Others will argue that the active participation of agencies has prevented a harsher City response, keeping the police uninvolved and preventing Draconian ordinances from being passed. While perhaps this could be true, I have not heard any agencies arguing this perspective, and I would assert that organizations could still have played this role without adding their names.

The failure of this campaign though begins with the hours of time and resources that have been dedicated to meetings, honing the message, developing artwork, securing the permission of corporate media outlets, banks and supermarkets chains. It continues with the dollars, time and resources harnessed simply in pursuit of public relations and perception. We are wrong to support this misdirection.

Worcester’s social service agencies are wrong for supporting this effort for a much larger reason. As organizations whose mission statements trumpet the desire to aid, assist and help, they should also recognize Hippocrates challenge that we “Do no Harm”. And in fact, in the current anti-poor, anti-immigrant, anti-PIP resident, anti-kid in baggy clothes in front of city hall climate we are terribly off track when we support an effort that buttresses and adds to this war.

That’s the crux of the problem as I see it. As someone that has only worked for Worcester non-profits I would argue that we need to find the courage to be able to say ‘No’. In the climate that presently exists we should be divorcing ourselves from the present war on the poor, rather than lending our names to one of the battles. By joining the game we are only perpetuating the anti-PIP, NIMBY and other issues that will be coming our way.

Other coverage:

Day Labor:

Anti-poverty Quotes from Worcester notables:

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That is sick!
07 Jun 2005
That billboard is uglier than ten panhandlers combined. It's just begging for a little freelance billboard improvement -- "Capitalism is not the solution! Please make socialist revolution!".

Seriously, if charity worked, all the world's problems would be solved by the actions of benevolent rich men by now. In fact, it's just a scam to cover up the ruling class' monumental crimes. I'm for direct action, giving to panhandlers any day over self-righteous mayors and their fatcat friends.

Up the revolution!
Re: Worcester’s War Against the Poor
07 Jun 2005
I second that motion.
08 Jun 2005
I agree! The sign should say, GET A JOB!
Re: Worcester’s War Against the Poor
08 Jun 2005
No, you idiot! I meant that I second Red Herring's motion.
It's easy to yell "get a job" when you've never been homeless yourself.