Editorial: Panhandlers persistent even without milk crates

By Pitt News Staff

When it comes to sparing some change, maybe college students are just more generous. But it’s no… When it comes to sparing some change, maybe college students are just more generous. But it’s no secret that Oakland has a significant panhandling population. The Pitt police will look to the law for a new way to restrict panhandling in Oakland’s streets. State law makes it illegal to use any crates, cases, trays, baskets or boxes used by dairy companies to transport milk without the owner’s permission. After companies that use crates to transport dairy and other goods lost so many of these items, Pennsylvania passed a law to enforce their uncontrolled dispersion around two decades ago. The Pitt police recently applied this law to panhandlers and have already cited individuals. But as an effort to combat panhandling, the enforcement of this law misses the scope of the overall matter. Even without a crate to sit on, panhandlers won’t likely just get up and abandon the Oakland neighborhood. Sure, a milk crate serves as the perfect seat. It’s small, light, sturdy and portable. Without the milk crate, though, the panhandler is not necessarily left helpless. It’s still legal to search through and claim items found in the trash, which is what panhandlers would likely resort to if the police strictly enforce the law. Whether it’s a box, an old tire or a piece of wood, the ubiquitous milk crate has countless substitutes. When it comes down to it, enforcing what panhandlers can and cannot sit on reflects only a minute aspect of the whole issue.’ It’s not difficult to come across a milk crate or similar object on Oakland’s streets. Panhandlers probably find their provincial chairs outside of storefronts or tossed in an alley. If owners don’t want them stolen, perhaps they should not leave them lying around or unsupervised. The Pitt police argue that a panhandling individual stationed on a milk crate on the sidewalk restricts the path of pedestrians. According to the law, a legitimate obstruction ‘renders impassable without unreasonable inconvenience or hazard.’ Typically, however, panhandlers reside with their backs to the building in front of which they station themselves. For the pedestrian passing by, the only real obstruction might be an outstretched hand hoping for a few coins to clench. And without a physical object such as a milk crate to sit on, the panhandler is perhaps more inclined to sprawl out on the sidewalk and thus take up more space.’ ‘ It’s clear that panhandlers tend to reside on streets with heavier pedestrian traffic like Forbes Avenue. The logic behind this is obvious: The more people passing by, the more likely the chance that someone will spare some money. Milk crates or not, panhandlers won’t suddenly retreat to desolate surroundings if panhandling is their main way of making money. Every city has its panhandling population, and as a group they probably won’t diminish anytime soon. Oakland should learn to tolerate their presence on our streets as we steer them toward area shelters instead of pestering them with another law.’ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘