Learning Lowell Anniversary Totally Terrific Top Ten Countdown

As Aurora pointed out in Learning Lowell’s anniversary post, it’s been a year since we’ve been blogging in Lowell! She talked about why she (and I) started blogging and the benefits we’ve gotten from it. I thought I would take a look back on some of our posts and a look forward on what we hope to do. I thought reflecting on our little corner of the internet would be very timely, as the Lowell Social Media Conference is coming up tomorrow, December 6.

Our blog is hosted on wordpress.com, a free (ad-supported) service with some great tools. One of those tools lets us see how many people are reading our blog and which posts get more clicks. We reached 2,000 views a month when we first started, but we’ve settled into about 1,000 views a month. This is way more than we ever thought: we figured our families might read an occasional post and that would be it! I thought it might be fun to review our top five posts, then talk about a few we wished had hit bigger.

Top Five Posts

5. An Engaged City Manager Recruitment Process

citymanagerposition-01-01Almost a year ago, the Lowell City Council began the process of selecting a new City Manager to replace departing Bernie Lynch. We reviewed guides made by groups such as the International City/County Managers Association, who recommended allowing 60 days for candidates to apply, and 30 days to interview candidates. During those 60 days, they recommended sending letters to qualified candidates identified knowledgeable sources inviting them to apply.

It’s interesting to compare this to the timetable the council ultimately used to solicit and screen candidates. They allowed a bit over a month for applications, and I believe they only advertised in a few publications and websites. The interviews focused quite a bit on the council’s hot topics: safety/security and economic development.

4. A Historic Preservation Story Unfolding: Bowers House, Lowell Parks and Conservation Trust, and the City of Lowell

Updated Concept Perspective Drawing

Around the same time, another surprisingly controversial issue was unfolding: a proposed razing of the Jerathmell Bowers House. The issue prompted us to write a series of posts, culminating in the blog’s longest-named and fourth-most-popular post. We talked about how, in 2010, the Lowell Parks and Conservation Trust worked unsuccessfully to find a new owner but brought a lot of attention to the oldest house in Lowell. Then, in 2013, Kazanjian Enterprises bought the property and proposed a commercial structure to replace the house. The City of Lowell and Kaznjian worked to find a solution that retained the house and the structure.

As far as I know, this final proposal is the one moving forward, although a tenant still has not been found for the Bowers House. We suggested a themed restaurant, although I would expect that the house could service as offices for a real estate or insurance agent as well. If anyone has updates, let me know!

3. Quite a Task: Downtown Lowell Task Forces

Lot to Like PostcardFebruary, 2014, Councilor Belanger motioned to request that the Mayor appoint a downtown economic development task force. This prompted me to do a review of all the different groups who are active in downtown planning and all the different plans created for downtown. I still hope one day to do a follow-up on each plan, as some of them are very interesting historically and others still have great suggestions we could advance.

In April, that task force was formed, including councilor Corey Belanger; Deb Belanger, Executive Director of Greater Merrimack Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau; Danielle McFadden, President and CEO of the Greater Lowell Chamber of Commerce; Jim Cook, the Executive Director of the Lowell Plan; and Adam Baacke, Director of Campus Planning at UMass Lowell. Additionally, the council formed a Downtown Redevelopment Subcommittee at the request of Councilor Kennedy, which includes himself, Councilor Leahy, and Councilor Milinazzo. I wasn’t able to find any meeting minutes for the Task Force or Subcommittee, so if anyone has any updates, let me know!

2. Mill No. 5: Local scene blooms where once there were power looms

Mill #5 sign is hungI feel a bit proud that we were among the first talking about Mill No. 5, which has gained a lot of traction since last March, when we wrote about the history of the building, which was built to take advantage of Steam Power, about Jim Lichoulas III’s flexible plans that change based on feedback, and about the way Amelia Tucker recruited vendors for the monthly “Little Bazaar” marketplaces.

Since then, the Luna Theater and Coffee and Cotton have both opened, along with a number of smaller shops. Mill No. 5 has some exciting programming going on during December, including a Farm Market each Sunday, 10-2:30; Holiday Shopping Pop-Up shops every weekend; a 12/13 OtherWhere Market featuring fantasy and sci-fi goods; and the second annual Totally Bazaar tomorrow, 12/6, at noon!

1. Bicycle Lanes, Data-driven Decisions, and Community Visions

Truck in bicycle lane in Lowell, MassachusettsThe most popular post was something we had to write very quickly, as it was in response to a City Council motion we had learned only days before: removing the bicycle lanes on Father Morissette Boulevard. We showed some pictures of the lanes, looked at the goals as articulated in several city plans, and examined the design of the lanes in relation to National Association of City Transit Official (NACTO)’s comprehensive Urban Bikeway Guide. Our conclusion was that two lanes should be enough for the small amount of vehicular traffic on Father Morissette, that the bike lanes conformed to recommended design but could be improved (with more money), and that we constantly need to show our support for the plans we made together.

Councilor Mercier suggested she worded the motion in such a provocative way as to determine if there was support for the bicycle lanes and encourage cyclists to come to the meeting. The council passed an amended motion to “call for the city manager to review the configuration of the bike lanes and traffic lanes on Father Morissette Boulevard, and report back on ways to make the road safer for vehicles and cyclists.” The City’s former transportation engineer, Eric Eby, invited the community to a public meeting to discuss options, and I have heard the City finally settled on painting “Bicycles Only” in the lanes. There was discussion of forming a public Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee as well, but that has unfortunately not occurred, even as several pedestrians have been struck, with one fatality, in recent months. I hope to make a follow-up post on bicycle and pedestrian issues in Lowell in the coming weeks.

My Personal Top Five

I also wanted to highlight posts that I thought were especially important or interesting, but never got as many views as the more popular posts. I suppose this is my personal top five:

5. Lowell’s Buried Past: The Cemetery and Beyond

Dick Howe in front of Bonney Memorial

This was a short post that Aurora and I put together, but we felt that there was so much to say about Dick Howe’s cemetery tour beyond that it’s simply fun. We wanted to suggest that all of Lowell can be like the very-popular cemetery tours. It can surprise, educate, and make us reflect on ourselves in ways other cities simply can’t. I hoped to start a conversation on how we can bring that side of Lowell forward with the same strategy Mr. Howe uses, and I still hope that conversation starts.

4. The Buzz about UMass Lowell Fuzz

Community members and police officers speak at Coffee and a Cop event in Lowell MAWe didn’t see too many community members at the Coffee with a Cop event in October, but everyone there seemed to really have a great time. It felt as if it advanced the goal of creating community between police and residents, and we learned quite a bit behind the philosophy of the UMass Lowell Police. We were surprised that some officers were attracted to UML so that they could interact with people beyond the usual roles of “criminal” and “victim” and that officers feel that things have improved only in the last few years. We hoped to share some of those benefits with our post.

3. A Tale of Two Cities: Salem and Lowell

salem3Aurora made an amazing comparison of Lowell and Salem, which attracts thousands upon thousands of tourists. She noted that Lowell had similar advantages to Salem, including roughly the same distance from Boston and a walkable core, but didn’t capitalize them in quite the same way. As the city talks about marketing, I think the suggestions in this post are a great way to think about how to package Lowell as an immersive day experience for visitors and residents alike.

2. First Thursdays: Art Battles and Big Pictures

Live Art Battle in Lowell on First Thursday artists painting

Our post about Lowell’s First Thursdays wasn’t just a description of our experience at the fun summer event, it was also about how a single, key person was instrumental in bringing a great event to Lowell; about how a series of events might have to build over time; and about what goals we’re trying to meet and what audiences we’re trying to attract when we talk about “downtown revitalization.” I have thought about this post quite a bit when thinking about the own Lowell projects I’m helping organize.

1. What can Lowellians do about homelessness? LTLC Interview Part 2

ltlcI did an extensive interview with the former director of the Lowell Transitional Living Center, David McCloskey. Part 2 of that post and a follow-up about Living Waters didn’t receive the large number of views captured by Part 1. Mr. McCloskey discussed the difference between passive and aggressive panhandling, the discussions he had with former clients about panhandling, and his experience with Lowell’s cooperation with the center. Perhaps even more importantly, we discussed the problem with Massachusetts’s housing costs and how people can volunteer to help or even take political action. If I could ask everyone to read just one post, it might be this one.

What’s Ahead?

Writing this post, it makes me think of all the posts I still hope to write. We just released the first in a series about refugees, and more will be coming soon. Another series is also in the works: discussing Lowell High School’s location and the dilemma of moving or keeping it in-place. As I mentioned before, I hope to discuss traffic and transportation in Lowell: where the traffic is, how it can (or can’t) be addressed, and what is planned for Lowell. We also would like to talk about friends and family we’ve hosted and their impressions of Lowell.

We also go to a number of events and restaurants, and have a lot of photos and stories. We wonder how people like reading about them: should each event or restaurant be a very short post, should there be some sort of Lowell guide that we update each time we go out, or is there another good way to share our stories and photos? Please let us know in the comments! We try to respond to all requests as quickly as we can.

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Three volunteers at LTLC

What can Lowellians do about homelessness? LTLC Interview Part 2

Yesterday, I posted about LTLC and the makeup of the Lowellian homeless population. Today, I’ll focus on Mr. McCloskey’s perceptions of Lowell and Massachusetts policy and what Lowellians can do to help out.

Local Policy and Homelessness: Funding, Panhandling, and Camps

Although LTLC places clients in housing across the region when appropriate, many have argued that housing many of the most high-need individuals in Lowell unfairly impacts the City. I’ve heard some folks argue that a concentration of lower-income people hurts people’s perceptions of downtown, but the reality may be more subtle and deserves its own post. [1]

However, there may also be an unfair drain on financial or staff resources. Because HUD largely funds only housing, LTLC often receives funds from other sources for additional support services. For example, the City of Lowell and the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) helps fund five case managers [2]. Homeless people come from all communities, making it everyone’s problem. However, host shelter communities may indeed bear a disproportionate amount of cost. Mr. McCloskey mentioned, “It would be nice if the outlying communities would support homeless efforts in and around the three major areas, Lowell, Lawrence, and Haverhill, all of whom have shelters.” He noted that Boston, Worcester, and Springfield all have concentrations of services and similar issues.

Nevertheless, Mr. McCloskey finds Lowell especially supportive:

I do have to give Lowell a plug. My experience in Lowell in terms of sensitivity to homeless has been excellent. The day I walked in, I had a call from the chief of police, I had a call from the city manager’s office who wanted to meet with me, wanted to know how they could help.

In addition, Mr. McCloskey supports Lowell’s efforts to move people out of camps, as they are more appropriately housed in shelters. He said of Lowell, “They do it in a much more sensitive way than I see practiced in other communities.” LTLC helps unsheltered people through an outreach program, encouraging them to seek shelter and long-term housing options.

We also discussed the panhandling ordinance. Mr. McCloskey did not personally know of any LTLC clients who panhandled, but mentioned that he did not know everyone in the winter program. It is unclear how many that solicit money in Lowell are homeless and how many are Lowell residents. However, Mr. McCloskey said:

For some people, passive panhandling is their only source of income, and the question could be asked, “how does that differ legally from other groups, agencies or non-profits?” Most courts have found that “freedom of speech” prevails and has restricted the use of codes barring panhandling. [3]

Regardless, Mr. McCloskey drew a defined line between passive panhandling and aggressive panhandling, such as preventing a person from getting into their car or obstructing traffic. He stated, “That’s illegal. That’s theft. And that should be dealt with accordingly.” Finally, Mr. McCloskey recounted an interesting story from Worcester:

We had 28 units of sober housing. Every morning, we used to have a morning meeting, with all 28 individuals. …I asked them, ‘what’s your opinion on panhandling’? Well, the two things that came out was that a lot of people that panhandle aren’t homeless, and that has been borne out by some of the review that the police in Worcester did. And second, 75% of the residents of this one sober program, said they wished they hadn’t panhandled, because it kept them from getting services sooner.

Needless to say, the question is complex. However, there are some possible ways Lowellians can help.

Regional Trends and Local Solutions: What can we do?

I’ve learned that Massachusetts, like many Northeast states, has an affordable housing problem. While homelessness is actually decreasing in the Midwest, Massachusetts now pays to house more families in motels than in homeless shelters due to overfull shelters. Other families are housing or food insecure. (A recent report estimated 700,000 residents periodically struggle with hunger.)

The costs for hotels are much higher than providing affordable housing. Nevertheless, the HomeBASE program, which provides financial assistance for rent or other services, is expiring. Meanwhile, the Federal sequester affected LTLC with a 5-8% cut in contracts. In addition, the SNAP program reverted to pre-recession levels in November. Mr. McCloskey explained that the SNAP program not only provided families with food, but also freed up cash for housing.

Many programs are dependent on local funding. The winter program that provides emergency cots for the coldest months can only be active for as long as there is funding. The City of Lowell provides $20,000 and FEMA may provide some additional funding, but staffing costs are high. Private foundations and businesses provide most of the funds. Additionally, about half of meals provided by LTLC are funded by local businesses, the faith community, and individuals through a dinner donor program. $300 provides one dinner for 120 people.

Three volunteers at LTLC

Community Service Helpers (LTLC flickr)

In addition to donations, LTLC accepts volunteers. Interested parties can contact LTLC to obtain a list of current volunteer positions. Many volunteer in the kitchen to cook or serve meals, while others sort through donated clothing to screen out clothing for children or unacceptable clothing. However, there are also professional volunteer needs, such as IT, web development, administration assistance, media, and fundraising. Food banks and other Lowell agencies also always need help!

Political action is also possible. There was a recent meeting on the issue of Massachusetts family homelessness, and letters to state and federal congresspeople on the unacceptability of housing families in hotels might be particularly effective.

I am proud to be living in a city that is engaging with the homeless problem, but troubled the issue is often oversimplified and overlooked by the mainstream. As I’ve moved forward in my career and spend most of my time combing through transit statistics or researching land use codes, it is easy to forget the “wicked” problems of poverty and homelessness I still hope to address. Living in a state that is heralded for its med-tech economic engine but has overflowing homeless shelters reminds me to always keep the issue in mind. If anyone has comments, I welcome them on Facebook or in the comments below.

1. The example that was linked here has since been removed.

2. Much of social service funding ultimately comes from federal grants that the City of Lowell passes through to area nonprofits. However, securing the funding takes a great deal of work. I hope to report on this process from the City’s perspective soon, along with my thoughts about the problems with funding social programs locally.

3. Early in January, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Massachusetts contacted the City with first amendment concerns (Sun). The proposed ordinance has since been amended. This may be the subject of a future post.

What is homelessness in Lowell? Interview with Dave McCloskey of LTLC

This is part 1 of a 2-part interview. Part 2 is here.

I chose a career of urban planning partly to tackle the American pandemic of chronic homelessness. Working at a substance abuse clinic which often served homeless clients, I saw how desperate a struggle it is. I learned how complex homelessness is. This interest compels me to join the conversation in Lowell about homelessness, poverty, and addiction.

Aurora recently posted about our recent visit to Living Waters. In addition, a few weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to speak with David McCloskey, director of the Lowell Transitional Living Center. He summed up how dire the overall problem is:

People who are chronically homeless or long-term episodically homeless, average age at death is 49. So when you look at it as a public health issue, it’s huge. [If it were an environmental disaster], what would the federal government do? What would they do to solve that problem, because it is onerous? These people die at 49.

The issues have been in the news several times recently. Last spring, multiple agencies cleared several homeless camp (Sun). This was followed by a contentious City Council 6-2 vote to ban “panhandling” (Sun) in the downtown historic district. The panhandling ordinance has since been discussed in executive session, and its modification will be the subject of a future post. Meanwhile, statewide, the number of families being placed in motels is at an all-time high (Globe), driven by subsidy cuts and a high cost of housing.

ltlc

What is LTLC?

Dorm-style temporary housing

Dorm-style temporary housing (LTLC flickr)

LTLC is a nonprofit in operation since 1986 that contracts with Massachusetts to serve homeless residents of Merrimack Valley. We toured the facility, which was filled with remarkably good cheer. One building houses assessment, case management services, kitchen and a winter shelter with 40-45 cots. It’s topped by small, market rate apartments often occupied by former clients. The other building, renovated in 2006, has medium-term dorms large enough for 90 people and 12 long-term affordable apartments for formerly homeless adults. Although the older building itself is old and Spartan, clients and staff filled the space with optimism.

LTLC Dining Hall

“120,000 meals per year” (LTLC flickr)

“Most people–when they think of LTLC–think that all we do is provide meals, which we do and we do well, and provide a bed, and we do and we do well,” said Mr. McCloskey. However, he noted that people unfamiliar with LTLC often overlook its case management services and counseling. These services assist clients in finding treatment, jobs, and permanent housing.

LTLC is working to increase its access to affordable, permanent housing. In this “Housing First” model, a center finds clients affordable, stable housing [1] as quickly as possible. Usually this is an apartment, but sometimes the most appropriate housing is a nursing home or other program. Other issues are addressed after housing is obtained. With “Housing First” sobriety is not required: the only requirements are that clients must continue to meet with their case manager, promise to be a good neighbor, and pay at least 30% of their income. In this model, about 85% of clients nationally remained housed after two years. Housing First is gaining nation-wide attention and is successfully tackling veteran homelessness in Phoenix, AZ. Utah found an apartment and social worker costs about $5,670 less than ER and jail stays annually for the average homeless person.

Computers at LTLC

Computer lab with GED clases (LTLC flickr)

However, success requires not just housing, but social services. State-funded LTLC programs assist with first/last month rent, help guarantee rent to landlords, and negotiate issues between landlords and clients. Depending on client need, LTLC provides job placement working with the Career Center, GED education through the Lowell Adult Education Department, Mental Health services through Elliot Community Human Services, assistance accessing disability benefits, and references to detox programs with 12-step programs hosted on site.

The Sun’s Column blog recently discussed difficulties the shelter had in previous years that Mr. McCloskey credited to significant turnover in leadership, poor funding, and the resultant lack of staff and ongoing training. Since 2011, the shelter has made remarkable improvements. LTLC saw emergency shelter residents go down in 2011 to a low 40-50 per month, with assistance from the 2010 Federal Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program and the City of Lowell Continuum of Care.

However, the statewide affordable housing shortage and funding cutbacks have created new needs: the male dorm is now often full, and only 8 beds are available in the women’s dorm. Normally, men formerly living on the street coming in from winter would be able to have a dorm bed if they would stay sober. Now, the winter program has sometimes exceeded the number of cots LTLC has, and the shelter provides the overflow clients with extra blankets to sleep on the floor.

Who is homeless in Lowell?

(Man with cart, LTLC.org)

In Lowell, I’ve heard a lot of questions about the nature of homeless people. Where they come from, why they’re homeless, and if they’re the same people we see asking for money downtown. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires local communities to submit counts of homeless individuals. Out of about 535 sheltered and 25 unsheltered homeless people, more than a third are children under 18. Around 12% of the total are chronically homeless, 18% are severely mentally ill, and 20% have substance abuse problems [2].

LTLC serves only single adults, which represent a little less than 40% of homeless persons in Lowell. Mr. McCloskey added texture to this number, recounting the presentations he used to do for businesses and colleges:

I would do my homeless Rorschach test, and say, ‘who is the person you see when you close your eyes,’ and typically it was a middle-aged man, and they would talk about him being disshelved, maybe needing a shave, graying hair. …That’s probably about 40% of my client base. But there’s 60% out there that have other issues that made them homeless, many of which they had control over.

These issues are most often a single devastating event such as a fire, a job loss, or a medical issue. In addition, Mr. McCloskey noted that an increasing number of young people are seeking shelter. He explained that the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) charges LTLC with providing services to anyone from the region consisting of Lowell, Lawrence, Haverhill, and surrounding communities, and about 85% of LTLC’s intakes come from this region. Other clients may stay for three days, but must ultimately return to their home community to avoid being assigned multiple case managers, physicians, and others.

Notably, people come from across the region to Lowell, simply because Lowell provides a concentration of services. A social security office, ID registry, mental health facilities, and Lowell Community Health Center are all reachable by foot from Lowell’s central neighborhoods. Mr. McCloskey says that because of poor public transit and the expense of car ownership, “…it makes sense for [clients] to try to house themselves so they can walk wherever they have to go.” In addition, Lowell has more emergency shelter beds than the similarly-sized Lawrence.

Mr. McCloskey and I also talked about Lowell’s and Massachusetts’s policy toward homelessness and panhandling, and what interested citizens could do. Look for that in our next post!

1. Using the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)’s definition of housing costing no more than 33% of the household’s income.

2. January 2013 “Point in Time” counts. Of course, the number fluctuates over time.

Filling “Empty Bowls”

Hey everybody. Today’s post is to make sure you’ve all heard about a cool event this weekend. This Sunday from 11-3 is an annual event called Empty Bowls that benefits the Living Waters Center of Hope and Open Pantry of Lowell.

Handmade bowls that will be sold as part of the event.

For $20, you get a cool bowl handmade by local artists or schoolkids. Then you get to fill that bowl with any of twelve soups made by local groups, including UTEC (vegetarian Portuguese white bean soup with sweet potatoes and kale), Lowell High School (mulligatawny), and Chowder Factory (I am going to guess they might have chowder). It sounds like tasty fun, and this year they have a special table for featured local artists. What a great way to combine some of the best parts of Lowell: local artists, tasty food, and spunky community spirit.

To learn more you should check out the facebook group, and/or RSVP to the event.

Chris and I visited Living Waters for lunch last week, and it’s so clear that it’s an important resource for our community. It’s completely volunteer run, so if you’re looking for a way to pitch in it’s a great place to start.

There are no easy solutions for homelessness, or for hungry people. These are problems every community, and especially every city, had to grapple with. They can’t be swept under the rug. And more importantly, they shouldn’t be. Not only is it our moral duty as a community to help people less lucky than ourselves, it’s in our own self-interest. Treating struggling people like dangerous criminals isn’t just unkind, it’s counterproductive. Resources that help people get back on track restores those people’s ability to contribute to our community.

A volunteer offers hot coffee.

A volunteer offers hot coffee.

Living Waters and their volunteer staff do great work to help the people of our community. They provide breakfast and lunch four days a week, as well as access to donated clothes, laundry, and restrooms. Even cooler, they have art projects, ESL and GED programs, haircuts, and all sorts of other help. While I’m sure they don’t fix everyone’s problem’s instantly, being there even a brief time, it was clear how much these services help people, and what a difference it can make in people’s lives to be treated with respect and kindness. We talked with people whose had been able to make huge positive changes in their lives with the support they received.

Consider contributing to Living Waters by attending the event on Sunday, or donating money, time, or resources as detailed on their website. You should also like their facebook, so you can keep up to date with the work that they do. They have some cool projects in the pipeline!

Panhandling Public Hearing Tonight

There’s a public hearing tonight (City Hall, 6:30 pm) on the proposed panhandling ordinance. The full ordinance can be downloaded as part of the CC packet here (click on the book icon above the agenda items to download the entire packet as a pdf). In summary, it defines panhandling as:

…the solicitation of any item of value, monetary or otherwise, made by a person, other than an exempt organization, acting on his/her own behalf, attempting to sell and item for an amount far exceeding its value, or an item which is already offered free-of-charge to the general public…

It prohibits panhandling in the Downtown Lowell Historic District, which is roughly all of downtown including lower Back Central, a buffer along the Pawtucket and Northern Canals, and the blocks which include the American Textile History Museum and Gallagher Terminal.

Penalties may include criminal and noncriminal dispositions. In either case, it is punishable by  “$50 for each day during which the activity is committed, continued, or permitted.”

This comes on the heels of the clearing of many homeless camps in the City. Here’s one of many Sun articles about it. As one Facebook commenter in an open forum said, this resulted in:

…pushing the homeless camps up my way on the train tracks of n Chelmsford as opposed to under a bridge or in sites where no one else lives. They are not gone. Homelessness is a symptom of substance use, trauma and mental illness. The city released an rfr recently that was due Oct 31st. It was specifically in response to clearing out the camps. It is for tenant based rental.assistance and clearly states NO SERVICES

I haven’t had the opportunity to fact-check that, but it seems in-line with mainstream thinking on tackling homeless problems. I’d encourage anybody interested, especially those who are, work with, or are otherwise directly affected by homeless or panhandling populations to come to the hearing to share their expertise or research.

Aurora and I discussed it, and she summarized our opinions thusly:

I have a couple of concerns about it. I’m worried about a lack of commitment to outreach about the law and alternative options to panhandlers, creating a larger gulf between police (and social services) and the homeless population, and logistics of paying the fine. I’m also not sure what happens if the perpetrator cannot or will not pay a fine. Is this going to get people thrown in jail? Finally, I worry it will just “push” the problem to other areas of the City without addressing root issues.

Although safety, real and perceived, is a very necessary issue to tackle to continue revitalizing Lowell’s downtown, it is also necessary to recognize the panhandling population is diverse. I am familiar with this demographic from working in a substance abuse clinic back in Illinois, and if Lowell is in any way similar, there’s a mix of folks that have homes and don’t have homes; people that feel comfortable accepting social services and those who do not trust, have too much pride, or have other philosophical issues with current social services; and those with substance abuse problems, with mental illness, and those just honestly down on their luck. I believe that each of these groups requires a different strategy.

Kad Barma at Choosing a Soundtrack shares his opinions here.