Recently I dragged my three t(w)eens and a couple of neighbors along to the Community Conversation on Homelessness & Panhandling offered by Village of Gurnee. Once the t(w)eens cleared off the table of treats they sat behind me goofing around and giggling, so I only stayed for half the presentation. Even so, I learned a few things.
This community forum was prompted, I believe, by the consistent presence of panhandlers in Gurnee over the last few years. I’ve often observed people panhandling near the Hunt Club Rd. shopping areas and near the intersection of Route 41 and Grand Ave. Why are people doing this in Gurnee more than other neighboring communities? Why does Gurnee allow it? How should we respond?
Why are people panhandling in Gurnee? Mayor Kovarik said that the volume of traffic in Gurnee is the main reason. Because we are a tourist destination, there are thousands of people coming through Gurnee every day. If 1% of drivers give money to panhandlers, then more drivers=more money.
Why does Gurnee allow panhandling? If someone is on a public sidewalk, then his or her right to free speech is protected. The Village will respond to complaints from property owners about panhandling on their property.
How should we respond? Everyone on the panel agreed that it is more helpful to give our resources to the local agencies addressing the needs of people who are homeless than to give money directly to people who are panhandling. (A list of the agencies is at the end of this post.) One audience member described a connection he has learned of between drug addiction and panhandling – that the kind of small, daily allowance panhandling can provide can support an addiction by paying for drugs and a hotel room for one day. Addiction is a pernicious disease that requires ongoing support to overcome.
Many, many thanks to the Village of Gurnee, Mayor Kovarik and Immanuel Church for hosting this discussion. Thank you to the community organizations who were on the panel:
- Community Partners for Affordable Housing
- Housing First Lake County IL
- PADS Lake County
- Lake County Health Department
- Mike Nerheim, Lake County State’s Attorney
- Mayor Kovarik, Village of Gurnee
If you are concerned about homelessness in our area, please make a gift to Housing First, PADS, or Community Partners for Affordable Housing.
End note: Even though my kids did not appear to pay attention, it helped us to talk about panhandling, homelessness, and how we choose to love people with big needs. I suspect that exposure to these kinds of discussions is valuable for them even if they are on the margins of it.