East St. Louis City Councilman Roy Mosley Sr. wants something done about the panhandling problem in the city’s business district.
They are bothering customers or making them uneasy. Merchants are worried about customers being scared off and heading down the road to stores in Belleville, Fairview Heights and O’Fallon.
Mosley and some merchants want the panhandlers run off. That’s a solution, but not a very good one.
People seeking small change likely need help. They may abuse substances, have mental problems, be hungry, be homeless or a combination of those things.
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Other communities do not offer a homeless shelter, and the shelter in East St. Louis is often full. Pushing these people away once made them East St. Louis’ problem, so push away the panhandlers again and they become a St. Louis problem.
East St. Louis Police have better things to do with their time than roust panhandlers. Taking on well-armed drug dealers and curbing the homicides come to mind.
Still, one theory in criminology is that if you ignore low-level crime such as broken windows, public drinking and panhandling, then it fosters an environment that grows those significant crimes such as murder and drug dealing.
So what to do?
Start by treating this as a regional problem.
If we can cooperate on mutual needs such as public safety on the public transit system — even though that has been a bumpy ride — them we can figure out some homeless solutions that don’t include the Rev. Larry Rice protesting in Belleville, homeless encampments on the St. Louis riverfront or simply chasing panhandlers from one community to another.
“Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”