Billboards are not the solution

(Title courtesy of a Robert Z. Nemeth column of 31 July 2005, “Balance prosperity with compassion”)

I know some of you disagree with me about panhandling.

That’s okay.

Disagreement is healthy.  Informed debate is what allows us to (hopefully) come to compromises and workable solutions.

In Worcester, we don’t have much informed debate.  We usually hover between decrees from above and mobs with pitchforks.

I don’t think there’s anyone in Worcester who’s pro-poverty.

I don’t think there’s even anyone who’s pro-panhandling.

I don’t know anyone who wants to see people begging on the side of the road.  I don’t know anyone who feels comfortable at that sight.

I think this is something we all have in common.

But panhandling is not the problem.

We’re talking about panhandling because it is visible, in the same way that street-level prostitution is visible.

Visible issues like panhandling and prostitution are a symptom of larger societal problems.

We lack a will and an imagination to tackle the larger problems (drug abuse, poverty, and mental illness, among others), and instead focus our brief attention spans on what we see when we get off 290.

We’re not working on — or even talking about — the larger problems, so the visible issues will keep appearing.

How many times a year do we have a push for prostitution stings in Main South?  Has that ever stopped prostitutes or johns from coming back?

How much effort was expended seven years ago on a panhandling education campaign?  It was so ineffective that it doesn’t seem to have stuck in the mind of any councilors.

I don’t think any councilors remember that in 2007 there was a three-year plan to end homelessness.

The plan had a lot of objectives, but it’s unclear whether any of them have been accomplished (except for closing the PIP and establishing a triage center).

Objective 2.2 was “Increase Educational Efforts to Develop an Early Warning System to Target those At risk of Homelessness.”  What is more of an early warning than someone begging on a streetcorner?

Objective 4.1 was to have a 0.5 FTE position to coordinate programs for the homeless  That definitely didn’t happen.  Ditto Objective 4.2, which was to have a commission on homelessness (with 0.5 FTE, paid, from the city side, to support that).

Jordan Levy was supposed to hit up the colleges for developing housing for the homeless (Objective 5.2) and have businesses provide job opportunities (Objective 3.3.1).

There’s a lot of good stuff in here.  It’s probably not a perfect plan, but it did require people doing something besides just asking for a report from the city manager when someone on the street asks them for money.

It does not matter what “side” you are on.

We can do better than this.

But it requires that we ask for real solutions and that we demand real conversations.

Brochures are not the solution for a short attention span on the part of our elected officials.

Billboards are not the solution for a lack of follow-through.

Turtles and Sharks

Our friends at Worcester Film Works will be presenting Jaws on the Common this Thursday at dusk:

As many of you know, there is always live entertainment before the movie, beginning at 5pm.  This Thursday, it will be the bands Heavy Horses and Iza Jane and the Greatwood Acoustics.

Turtle Boy is in desperate need of a weed-and-water session.  We’d appreciate it if you could come down to the Burnside Fountain for a quick TBUG Weed Up between 6-7pm and helping us spruce up his digs.  (Trust me, you can still hear the music from that corner of the Common!)

Groundhog Day

Mike wrote a great summary of the current plan to end panhandling.

In case you need a reminder that we’ve already been down this road before, here’s how the 2012 plan stacks up to the 2005 plan:

Then: Panhandling is protected free speech under the first amendment
Now: Panhandling is protected free speech under the first amendment

Then: If someone is aggressively panhandling, threatening, or otherwise breaking the law, call 911
Now: If someone is aggressively panhandling, threatening, or otherwise breaking the law, call 911

Then: If someone is passively panhandling, and should be referred for services, call First Call for Help
Now: If someone is passively panhandling, and should be referred for services, call DPW Customer Service

Then: Nothing comes between us and our tag days
Now: Nothing comes between us and our tag days

Then:  “Several local social service agencies … are collaborating on an interagency service response plan to support the solution via outreach to the individuals who panhandle.”
Now:  SMOC will provide an “outreach worker [who] will comb city streets, sidewalks, parks, bridges, etc. during both business and non-business hours to assist individuals engaged in panhandling who my be in need of services.”  In addition, “the outreach worker will work collaboratively with the Worcester Police in cases where panhandling interferes with public safety or any other potential criminal activity is identified. … The Worcester Police will dedicate a liaison to work with the outreach worker as needed.”

[Aside: when the panhandlers find out that the outreach worker’s primary city contact is the WPD, and that the outreach worker would work hand-in-hand with the WPD, I wonder what reason they will have to trust the outreach worker.]

Then: A public education campaign to discourage residents from giving money to panhandlers and to encourage them to give to social service agencies.  This included a one-page flyer in excise tax bills, followed by “print and broadcast media coverage, billboards, posters, street sign postings, … and bus placard advertisements.
Now:  A public education campaign to discourage residents from giving money to panhandlers and to encourage them to give to social service agencies.  “This multi-faceted campaign would include radio, print, broadcast, web-based, social media, signage, billboards, buses, informational sessions, and more.”

[Aside: Facebook for the win!]

Reminder: The current plan to end panhandling — which should not be confused with the previous plan to end panhandling — will be discussed at this Tuesday’s City Council meeting.  The meeting will be at 6:00pm in the Esther Howland Chamber at City Hall.  If you care about this, you need to email your City Councilors or show up at the meeting.

I will be writing more about this in the coming days (and weeks and months).  But you need to do your part and let the Council know how you feel about a recycled plan that didn’t work seven years ago.

Belated CWW: Art and Movies

1. Free Family Acitivites, Sunday afternoons at Worcester Art Museum

From the Worcester Art Museum’s Facebook page:

In honor of WAM’s FREE SUMMER in JULY + AUGUST, WAM is offering FREE family activities at WAM from 1-3pm every Sunday through August. This Sunday, join a WAM faculty member for a drop-in cartooning workshop in the Lancaster Lobby. All ages are welcome. What are you going to draw?

(I am so excited about this.  In the immortal words of Montell Jordan, this is how we do it.)

2. Free and Cheap Movies for Kids

Showcase Cinemas shows a free kids movie every Wednesday (where the price of admission is a book report).

Regal (which operates the cinemas in Marlboro and Bellingham) shows $1 kids movies on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

3. Preservation Worcester Summertime Walks

Free for Preservation Worcester  members.  $5 per person for non-members

Sunday, July 15, 2012, 2:00 PM – Lenox: “Where You Say ‘Good Morning’ to Good Neighbors”
A Guided One-hour Walking Tour of an Early 20th Century Planned Neighborhood
Meet at 2:00 PM at the intersection of Pleasant Street and Chamberlain Parkway

Wednesday, July 18th, 5:30 PM – Elm Park: An Idyllic Respite from City Life
A Guided One-hour Walking Tour of Worcester’s First Public Park
Meet at 5:30 PM at the stone entrance gates to Elm Park on Russell Street

Wednesday, July 25th, 5:30 PM – William Street: Home to Worcester Industrialists
A Guided One-Hour Walking Tour of a Stylish Early 20th Century Neighborhood
Meet at 5:30 PM at the corner of William and Russell streets

Wednesday, August 1st, 5:30 PM – Institute Park: Green Space for a Fast Growing City
A Guided One-hour Walking Tour of a 19th Century Park Recently Updated
Meet at 5:30 PM at the Columned entrance of Institute Park on Salisbury Street


Thanks to Tracy and Matt for some of the suggestions!

Obits for RSS junkies had for years offered an RSS feed for its obituaries listing.  This was very convenient if you do a lot of reading online or in a mobile device, especially since it just gave a name & age, a town, and a sentence or two from the obit.

For months now, the RSS feed hasn’t worked.  Because the Telegram relies on to manage the obituaries, I imagine they must rely on to provide a publication-specific RSS feed, and evidently they stopped doing that a while back.

You can get all other T&G articles via RSS, but not obituaries.  A helpful person in the Telegram’s tech team says there is no immediate remedy for this.

One could, of course, navigate to the telegram site, which links out to, and then scroll through names there.  A few “lucky” dead people get listed in the “Spotlight” column and get an information blurb under their photo.  But for many, gone are the helpful clues like town & age that could tell you if that name George Jones you’re seeing is a twenty-something from Oxford or an 80-something from Fitchburg.

A friend of the blog discovered a workaround that bypasses the RSS problem entirely.  In the center of the page you’ll see a block ad titled “FREE OBITUARY ALERTS”.  Via that link, you can subscribe to a daily alert via e-mail using one or more search terms.  If, like many of us, you simply want to be able to scroll quickly through a complete list of that day’s dearly departed, just enter the keyword “funeral” when you subscribe.  The majority of families opt for funerals of one kind or another, and those who don’t often have services coordinated by a funeral home, or else the obit might simply state that there is to be no funeral for that person.  Whichever it is, the term “funeral” seems to occur in almost every obituary, so you’re going to get about 99% of the obituaries e-mailed to you each day, and many of these also have a thumbnail photo if there was one in the online version.

The e-mail alert method may not be quite as handy as an RSS feed, but it gets the job done more quickly than visiting

(This alert system is also handy if you want only obits that mention a certain town or towns.)