Sorry Bennison’s, Gigio’s, etc. It’s not your fault, but I won’t darken your door nearly as much anymore, because after three years, I’ve had enough of the panhandlers.
On Monday, my son stumbled home from his third week as a freshman, dark circles under his eyes from a crappy late-summer cold. “I’m hungryyyyy,” he said, flopping on the couch.
I volunteered get him a couple slices from Gigio’s, two blocks away. Slipping on my shoes, I dashed out the door with $10 and a phone in my pocket.
First, I approached Bennison’s. This is my neighborhood, so I knew to stride past the panhandler sitting on the crate at the corner. Bad luck. The light had just turned red, which made me a captive audience. I pretended not to hear his ‘help the homeless’ request for money as I waited for the light to change.
Across the street, a tall man with a styrofoam cup turned from side to side on the corner. As the light turned green, he walked toward me as I entered the crosswalk. His hand moved his cup toward me. Another panhandler, one I couldn’t escape because we were in the intersection. His mouth opened to ask. I whipped my phone up to my ear, blocking my face as I brushed past him, pinched between the crosswalk’s two white lines.
It wasn’t over. A woman camping out against the building spat out a request to buy her a sandwich while my hand pulled open the door to Gigio’s. “Safe,” I thought when the door closed behind me. I got my son’s pizza and took the rear exit, circling around to my house through the alleys instead of passing the homeless trio again.
This is an everyday experience around here, and I’ve had enough.
Enough of my boundaries being constantly invaded. I want to be able to walk down the street without multiple people asking me for money. In my opinion, downtown is no longer walkable. It’s not *if* I’ll encounter a panhandler, but a question of how many.
Enough of putting on my mental armor if I want to get a quart of milk for my mom. I know I will be forced to respond to requests for money, whether it’s strategically ignoring, saying “Sorry, no,” or giving in out of sheer exhaustion. This is forced interaction, and I hate it as much as I hated that persistent guy in high school who asked me out every single day to the point of sexual harassment.
Enough of being approached by strange men. Most of the panhandlers are male, and that’s intimidating to my female, 5’3″ self. I’m able bodied, but there are so many women and girls who aren’t. How do they feel? Have they just stopped shopping local?
And enough of being chided by Interfaith, Connections, and the usual Evanston do-gooders to “have compassion” because “panhandlers are people.” You know what? The panhandlers today certainly didn’t see me as a person. They didn’t want to know my name or what I did this summer. They were only interested in what I could do for them. I was a mark. An opportunity. A coin purse. A free meal.
And I’ve had enough.
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Thank you, Katherine Marsh. The panhandling in Evanston is out of control. Panhandlers set up shop in Evanston because they know folks will give them money and it’s accessible to public transit. And some of these people are downright aggressive. Before folks come out swinging at me claiming I don’t care, I give to the Greater Chicago Food Depository that helps many people in need. I just choose to give to an organization that helps others rather than to strangers on the street who come at me with outstretched hands and some of them are, frankly, frightening. I’m an older woman myself and I’m not pulling my wallet out on the street to give anyone anything. Later for that.
I just wanted to put my perspective and actual experience out there, and stand up for people who have felt the anxiety and stress at having to physically pass by men at corners, especially women and girls.
Do I think anything will actually happen? No. That’s not what I’m saying. But after a lifetime of, well, being female, knowing that I have to get physically close to idle men who want something from me is a huge environmental stressor that affects my mental health.
Have you ever been ignored by most people you try to talk to? Had to sleep outside? Been hungry? Have to sit in the elements all day, whether that be 90 degrees or 20 degrees? I haven’t, and I’m lucky for that. But I sure as hell know that if I had, I wouldn’t be in the most agreeable place all the time, especially to people who decline to give me a dollar to help me support my basic needs (and for those saying the homeless have all the resources they need in Evanston, you are squarely incorrect. The waitlist for the Margarita Inn, alone, is over 50. That’s 50 people wanting a reliable place to sleep at night). And, despite all of these immense challenges they face, I have never, in my 19 years in Evanston, met an aggressive pan handler. And let me tell you my secret: say hello, ask them about their day briefly, give them a dollar if you have cash, and if you can’t say that you are unfortunately out of cash. Simple as that! Treat people with humanity and you will have a positive experience the vast majority of the time. Every single person that I know that does this (and I have witness this dozens and dozens of times) is treated with respect by whatever community member is panhandling. There are exceptions, as there always are, but they are typically due to mental illness (even so, all of the mentally ill homeless folks & pan handlers that I have met are very kind and appreciative when you say hello and treat them kindly). Before you move away from Evanston because of this, or avoid downtown, I ask that you get to know a couple of the pan handlers that frequent Evanston’s streets. I have a feeling you will be blown away by their life experiences, kindness, and warmth despite the extremely challenging life they live.
Thank you for your article. I am also frustrated with how many homeless people there are. It used to be so easy to pretend poor people didn’t exist. It’s much harder when they talk to you. We need solutions to the problem of homelessness. Maybe there’s an island somewhere…
I was surprised at your comment and all ready to take offense… until I reread what I actually wrote. I substituted ‘homeless’ for ‘panhandlers’ a few times, and that was my mistake. My issue is with the aggressive / intimidating / unpredictable behavior of (mostly male) panhandlers. But homelessness is a separate matter. I should have been more careful. After all, 2 of my close friends and 1 family member have been homeless, but never were panhandlers.
A friend of mine who is a smallish woman was chased by one of the downtown panhandlers. Chased her as he yelled at her.
“I wish to be left alone,” said Scrooge. “Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned: they cost enough: and those who are badly off must go there.”
“Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”
“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”
I only wish I were as rich as Scrooge. I probably come off as ‘yet another white suburban woman’ – which I am – but let me describe my actual social class. Not to shoot you down, because… how would you know? I don’t blame you for the kind of person you imagine me to be. It’s because no one ever hears directly from the working lower-middle class of Evanston. The CVS checkout people. The landscapers. The line cooks. The receptionists.
First of all, I am a single parent. Prior to this year I qualified for Link cards. I and my son were on Medicaid for health insurance since I didn’t even make $30,000 a year, and I did not get benefits. I don’t have a 401k or investments, just the few thousand in my savings account, reserved for a college fund… however little that may contribute these days. We live with my parents both for social support but also because I can’t afford Evanston on my own otherwise.
Looking at Dickens as a reference, I’d be more like a mill worker or laundress hoping that my son can land a better life with a modest clerk job. (Though, I am the one with the clerical job, a lady’s secretary. But those positions typically weren’t available for working class women during the Victorian age.) How I come across through text doesn’t reflect my actual societal position in life, probably because I LOVE to read in my spare time. It has educated me beyond my station.
I am a female and consistently get accosted by the same guy coming up to my car at 6:00 am at Main/Ridge. I waive him off with my foot ready to press on gas regardless if I have a green light. I am contemplating going another direction, but hate that I have to go a longer way to get to work. Never expected that at the crack of dawn. The other day there were 2 of them in the evening. My long term strategy is to sell my house come Spring. Evanston actually had a no panhandling ordinance but clearly not enough police for theft, let alone pan handling. Evanston is no longer a desirable place to live.
I too am tired of the panhandling, and I minimize my downtown shopping and dining as a result. It is intimidating and I no longer feel safe on our streets. Last week when I ignored one panhandler, he yelled ‘kiss my a**, you b****” at me. Evanston is changing, and not for the better. My plan is to sell my home and leave next year.
Agreed, it’s unfortunate you have to deal with this. Unfortunately, this community has declined over the 20 years I’ve lived here. I look forward to the day I move out of Evanston, Crook County and Illinois.
Yes. Evanston needs to stop this abuse. I also give to food pantries, missions, wetland groups, environmental causes, the Salvation army and a local church. I respond to pleas for help, but I will not give into intimidation, which is how these panhandlers operate. Local leaders need to step up and put an end to this.
What exactly do you propose be done? They are citizens here just as much as you are and have rights too.
You ( and to be fair, most of the other commenters on this thread) seem to be failing to identify the most important issue running through the anecdotes being presented. You seem to be one of the few who does not feel an instinctive revulsion however.
The issue is simply that “NO” means “NO”.
It does not mean to follow up refusal with any of the following:
1 – Yell at your target.
2 – Invade the target’s personal space.
3 – Threaten.
4 – Insult
5 – Chase the target
6 – Throw things.
7 – Physical assault.
I’m not sure there is a right to hassle, solicit, scare, and/or verbally abuse someone out shopping, exercising, or otherwise enjoying their day. I’m also pretty sure there are anti-panhandling laws, and I know there are personal abuse laws. I walk for exercise and see many of the panhandlers on a daily basis. I, at most, get a plea for money with no aggression. Often they say nothing to me because I’m male, 6′-3″, and healthy. I don’t appreciate any solicitor while I’m out walking, but do not feel threatened. Many do feel threatened because the panhandler is more aggressive towards them. The panhandlers are profiling just as the writer suggests using the same methodology as any bully in grade school does. The number of help groups in Evanston is many giving all the homeless choices for food and beds among other services. The street people choose to not use those services and some choose to panhandle and/or be aggressive with some. I don’t believe the rights of the abuser or aggressor should in any way outweigh the rights of the law-abiding citizen minding their own business.
As an Evanston citizen who has experienced homelessness, and having worked in homeless services (
(Streetwise and Connections for the Homeless), I see this from both sides. First, as citizens, we pay taxes for city services – and part of that money goes to assure decent public safety – which currently as regards this issue of aggressive panhandling. Secondly, myself and others here are fed up – and thus suffering “compassion fatigue. I’ll add that I currently live at the McGaw YMCA; it’s a nice, clean, and very safe place, and I enjoy living and working in Evanston. However, since the pandemic, the issues cited here not acceptable to me and many others in the neighborhood. The Margarita Inn is part of the problem now, as people are basically “warehoused”, there, some for years now, as Margarita guests are not required to apply for housing opportunities. Lastly, I’m a guy of modest means a renter – but if I were a property owner I’d be furious about how degraded our nice neighborhood has become. It’s awful that this issue is swept under the rug by our local elected officials and the local nonprofits telling us that *we* are the “problem.
I have lived here for many years and love Evanston. We are a caring city, a giving city, but the panhandling in Evanston is out of hand. On any given day they come upon you at the post office, at Gigios, at Bennison’s, at Ace Hardware, at Target, at the Jewel, at Trader Joes, at Whole Foods, at Starbucks. It is never ending. Some of them are polite. Many (most) are not. Can someone please do something?
I absolutely agree. I do not feel comfortable walking along certain parts of Davis street anymore- especially by the 7-11 and near the bus stop because it’s not very well trafficked by other pedestrians. The intersection at Maple where the author talks about being harassed is common for anyone to experience. When you’re a female on the street or with your kids, as I have been, men asking for money (or strange men loitering and staring) make you feel threatened. It’s an unpredictable situation. I’m a Davis street business owner and I don’t know that our nighttime business will be what it was pre-pandemic because of this issue. I used to work with homeless individuals and I remember one man telling me that panhandling was a much better way to make a living than getting a job. Once this is no longer true for someone, it will change the culture. Job training programs, universal basic income, food pantries, mental health and addiction counseling, all of these things will help. And so will increased police presence.
Good to see this letter striking a chord. The panhandling problem (to be clear, a distinction from a homelessness or poverty problem) has been destructive to downtown. Vacancy is everywhere despite what city leaders insist. The panhandling is aggressive and predatory. The panhandlers argue and fight with each other regularly. They accost passers by. It should not be controversial to desire to walk down the street without being harassed. And yet that’s how it feels in Evanston. Worse of all, none of our political leaders side with the harassed. They protect and make excuses for the harassers.
Thank you for that distinction!
I will agree as a woman it can be intimidating and sometimes quite scary to be accosted. I can’t deny that. But for many of our regular pan handlers…have you ever talked to them? Not saying you should have to, but have you ever tried? Many of them are fine people who have stood up for others and in their own way watch out for the neighborhoods and city. Many have mental health issues and have no where else to go and are barely even seen as people anymore, just nuisances. That has to hurt.
I’m not talking about ones that are rude to you or call people names (even though once again those can often be attributed to mental health issues) I’m just saying in general. Talk to a few of them, you won’t be afraid for much longer and may make a surprising acquaintance.
One can be seen as a person and a nuisance. Happens all the time.
Yes. I appreciate your point that economic hardship doesn’t make for an inherently ‘bad person.’ My son and I have had a lengthy conversation with J.P. in front of Target a few years ago. This was before COVID came to town. I wanted my (at that time) 6th grader to see that people are just people. After all, if some kind of huge environmental event happened, all our careers, our houses, even money itself, would mean nothing. We shook hands and hugged. He showed me the scar that he got in prison, a giant knife wound across his soft belly. I gave him money, just as one human to another.
I’ve given an older gentleman money for the Greyhound, right outside my house. My son ran upstairs and got the money from my dresser. I’ve walked into Gigio’s with a rail-thin woman and bought her a sandwich (French Dip. I didn’t even know what that was, but I’m basic.)
But since COVID, the character of the panhandlers has changed. They’re not the regular “neighborhood characters,” the people I recognized walking to work. They saw me as a person as well. But in the last few years, it’s been different.
Part of the problem is the huge increase in fentanyl use by the street homeless, it’s at epidemic proportions. This makes people much more aggressive and “volatile”…
Also, don’t forget Peer Services, the methadone clinic that is across the street from the Davis L stop, at 906 Davis. Users go there for their treatment, and the drug dealers pop up to serve them… it’s a vicious cycle.
Agreed. Downtown Evanston has become an unpleasant place to be. We need good city governance to address this.
My wife and I now spend our time, and money, in downtown Wilmette. Very sad situation for Evanston.
Thank you for your article. It’s what many Evanston residents have been afraid to say for fear of being labeled rather than listened to.
1) I offered to buy a change seeker outside of bennisons coffee/ donut. “I want cash !” was his response.
2)I pointed to a “help wanted” sign in the bennisons window when hit up for change by another panhandler who sat beneath it . “I can make more an hour doing this,” the panhandler said.
3) On Sherman, a man stepped in front of me as I walked. He demanded “help me out, lady.” “Sorry,” I said and I continued to walk around him. He yelled after me, “You B#tch!”
4) in 2019, my friend closed her business in Evanston and moved it to another nearby suburb because a man took up residence in her vestibule all day, every day, blocking the entrance while he raged on his phone, pausing only to ask each customer for change. Most of her clients were women. She is exactly 5 feet tall. The panhandler was over 6 feet tall. The police stopped coming after her second call.
5) last fall, as I worked in my yard, a young man on a bike pulled up, walked into the yard and asked for $5. I said, “i don’t know you; please leave” . That evening, he returned, came up on the porch, and banged on my front door asking for “his” money. He left when I shouted through the door that I was calling 911.
6) ln April, as I pulled out of a parking space on Oak by the post office, a man in a wheelchair/scooter (who the week before, I saw jogging down Davis to meet up with some of his friends who sit by the train station) sped into the street and pulled behind my car blocking me in yelling “hey roll down your window – I want some change!”
7) at salon lofts on maple, a pair of men came in and panhandled customers inside the salon. Then they sexually harassed several female stylists until the police arrived. Now, for safety, the business is locked 24/7 and clients call from the sidewalk to be let in the door.
I moved to Evanston in the late ‘80s. Raised and educated my kids here. Volunteered in the school system for ten years as a tutor while holding a full-time job. I thought I would never leave this city.
Now, I have stopped shopping locally. I dine out elsewhere. I don’t walk alone past dusk .
Keep quoting from Dickens, the Bible, or the Connections’ annual report all you like. This fall I will move from Evanston. Because I choose to live, volunteer, and spend my income where I feel safe.
We left Evanston around 2004 because it was becoming too dangerous. Looks like we made the right decision for our family.
How is someone asking for money a dangerous act?
Asking for money is different than aggressive panhandling. I have felt unsafe when yelled at, sometimes followed, and occasionally physically blocked from entering a store. And yes, maybe it feels even more threatening as a woman.
Pretty much the only commercial area in Evanston where you aren’t constantly hit up for handouts or navigating some brewing situation is the plaza at Dempster and Dodge, much enhanced in recent years by Valli and diverse businesses. Obviously Downtown Evanston is an embarrassment and I prefer not to take my kids or guests there. Is it ok to have a community where a parent walking a child is harassed by grown men for money? Just because someone has the right to be a menace doesn’t make their behavior any more palatable or any less antisocial. These are problems of both culture and policy, and Evanston is winning the race to the bottom. The Main and Dempster districts can be just as bad. Both La-La-land Coexist sticker types and moralizing secular humanists will admonish the honest author of the letter and the many commenters here. Face it, Evanston is shadow-ruled (though increasingly directly ruled) by folks who use intimidation and shaming to shape the civic response and in effect erode quality of life for the majority of citizens. Come to think of it, not unlike these panhandlers. Be ready to vote folks out.
I’m glad to see people on the same page. It’s harassment whether you’re female (as I am) or not. One panhandler started an argument with my husband, and several times they have been belligerent with me in front of my 3 children. Once I was spat on getting out of my car. The person didn’t ask for anything, just shocked me with “Hey, B*!” (Spits.) Another time I was walking into the UPS Store on Sherman and I dropped a package. Went I bent over to pick it up, a guy got behind me with nasty remarks and laughter. Someone who witnessed it started to call the police. I left. This is all so ridiculous and unfair to businesses!! Please do something. No one wants to circle for parking, pay to park then be harassed walking past For Sale or Lease buildings. Save this town from all the nonsense!
How predictable it is for the virtue signalers to hop on this thread to shame those of us who are fed up with the panhandling. I understand that nuance is out of fashion these days, but it is possible to robustly support fighting poverty and homelessness while at the same time discouraging the panhandling that is happening in Evanston. Also, be aware that not all of these panhandlers are down on their luck Evanstonians and many are in fact housed and fed residents of Albany Care and related institutions.
Others are being attracted to the area by our lax policy and CASH handouts from naïve do-gooders who like to pat themselves on the back and don’t even consider that in some cases they are actually just enabling drug and alcohol addictions. Panhandling is not a policy solution, it is not efficient, it is often unsafe, and it doesn’t lead to good sustainable outcomes. Since we cannot panhandle our way out of poverty and Evanston cannot single handily solve poverty on its own, why then are we pretending that we can? What goal are we hoping to achieve by actively sanctioning panhandling in Evanston?
Thank you for caring and showing some common sense.
Panera Closes, Barnes & Noble shuttered its doors, The Gap left and god know how many restaurants have closed over the last few years. See a Pattern here ?
I had thought that the mismanaged parking system with the new kiosks was mainly responsible for the store closures, but the panhandlers are probably icing on the cake (of local business destruction)…
I thought it was that the rent is too high for anyone but Target and CVS, etc.
Don’t forget that the City is going in the opposite direction, and even taken down the No Panhandling signs. The City administration and City Council needs to read these comments
We should bus them all to Wilmette!
Thanks for a long, genuine, and deep laugh.
I hope the politicians read these comments. EVANSTON IS NOT WHAT IT USED TO BE!!!!! It is time for a positive change.
Thank you for that. It is so helpful to read your feelings and for them to published. I want everything to be perfect in the world, but it isn’t. I am doing the best I can but feel the same about our particular situation at this particular time.
I am really not feeling this letter. I have lived in Evanston for over 15 years and frequent shopping areas regularly. I’ve never been harassed, much less attacked, by a panhandler, nor do I know a single person who has ever reported such a thing. I’m sure that there have been cases of a panhandler genuinely harassing someone, but I would bet my eye teeth that such cases are extreme outliers. People who dislike panhandlers aren’t, I wager, actually afraid of being attacked; they just don’t want to have to confront the unpleasantness of another person’s poverty, mental illness, or extreme need. This is why some people move to the suburbs: to avoid the disagreeableness of people living in poverty. I think that we all should be more sympathetic to the impoverished and to their poignant and desperate expressions of need. These may sometimes make us uncomfortable, but what is mild discomfort when compared to the kinds of separation that would drive a grown person to ask complete strangers for money? Instead of complaining about panhandling, we should put our energy toward seeing what we can do to make the plight of panhandlers better.
I would like to respectfully disagree. I have lived in Evanson for over 30 years and up until before that pandemic I would have agreed with you. In the last few years, I have noticed a change. Definitely more aggressive requests. I have walked in twice on a man fully changing his clothes in the parking lot lobby in downtown Evanston. As a woman who has seen an increase in aggression toward women in the news and countrywide I do get nervous. I know that a lot of us in Evanston are committed to social justice and fighting poverty. There are definitely intersections between those ideals and the issue of panhandlers but I do hope we don’t just dismiss women and femme-identified individuals when they are expressing fear for their safety. We (femme-identified individuals) are told so often to ignore our instinct and I wouldn’t want to enforce that message in this nuanced conversation.
I disagree with your statement Ann… it has become very hostile, especially since the pandemic. Although I haven’t had one to physically touch me, I’ve had a few call me out my name for not giving. This one man felt the need to comment on what I bought when I left the store, saying “you could have given me money instead of buying yourself wine”. I responded, you could be at work right now instead of begging. Seriously, as a black woman, I grew up on this game and recognize the game. These individuals are extortioners, period. It’s a quick hustle for them. One lady told me why should she work if dumba$$ ppl keep giving her money. The real ones who need it are the ones not harassing; they’re quiet with their signs.
I disagree with you. I am a woman and was raised in Evanston. I have never felt less safe in my entire life in Evanston. The people here panhandling are not Evanstonians. They come because they think we have money to give. For some that may be true. I don’t. I don’t want to live in a place that I have to worry about who comes up to me while walking or in my car. I am fearful because some of them are aggressive, unfortunately, they don’t wear signs saying Hey I am not aggressive. So we are valid in being fearful. Completely, different from homelessness and helping those less fortunate. The City Government is doing nothing, and the vacancies make us feel like an extension of Chicago. Pretty soon there will be tent cities. I am out this Spring.
I’m totally with you, Ann. The agonized fear expressed by so many of these commenters sounds misdirected and misanthropic to me, and it comes from typical old-school Evanstonian high horses.
Try again. Working single mom, lower income (LINK card, Medicaid, etc), can’t afford a car, take public trans, live with parents from financial necessity, still living here so as not to rip my son away from the school system and the friends he’s had since elementary school. I guess if that makes me an Evanston high horse, neiiiigh!
Evanston used to be the Dining capital. It was clean and beautiful and respectable. It was a sophisticated destination. When will Mayor Biss see that running this City is not an academic experiment? There are real consequences for people for families and businesses trying to make ends meet? When will the City Council stand up for the residents and business owners? Albany Care, the Margarita Inn, Betty Bogg , they are no longer working alone – Mayor Biss, Jonathan Nieuwsma and the Council that do not voice opposition are opening the Coffers and Streets of Evanston to bad actors and welcoming them with open arms. The Margarita Inn pays for homeless to be bussed in. They have scouts looking for the down and out and addicts and pays for their transportation to Evanston. Neither the Mayor nor the silent council have the City’s best interest at heart. I am not surprised people are selling their homes and looking to leave. To those who say “have compassion for the homeless”- wait till you don’t have pocket change to give and they throw the nearest brick at your head. Our family tradition was going to Bennison’s on the weekend. We have now have a new tradition in Wilmette at the little French bakery where no one accosts me and my children don’t hear foul language.
I moved to Evanston in 2019 from the Northwest Side of Chicago because I needed a walkable area due to being epileptic (as well as other disabilities). I opted for Evanston from other parts of Chicago due to the beauty, lakefront and rumored safety. I work remote and walk a whole lot while on work calls. I live in the Bennison’s/Gigio’s area and have seen and listened to a great deal. I am a petite female and at times have felt unsafe due to some (not all) of the panhandlers and random drugged out people screaming at me as I walk by minding my own business. A few of the panhandlers are rather polite and have never been an issue for me. The regulars all know me and know I do not give money, so they never ask. I have offered to guide them to temporary employment jobs because I am in the employment business — none have been interested.
Some are homeless, some aren’t. Some were former residents of the Margarita Inn run by Connections for the Homeless, and some still are there (yet panhandling at the corner just a block and half away as the Director of the Inn is aware). Many are intoxicated or on drugs — yes I know a dilated pupil when I see one. Some have mental health issues and scream profanities for no apparent reason. I do not feel safe walking next to anyone (and I mean anyone) who is drunk or high outside screaming and/or breaking bottles. I did change where and when I walk as a result. I no longer cross the street to walk by Gigio’s to Church street. I no longer step foot in the Target on Sherman to get my prescriptions.
Not sure what the solution is, but the state of Evanston has impacted where I walk, where I spend money and yet I still pay over 10k in taxes for a condo in a City and pick up the broken bottles and the trash out front left by others.
I think a lot of people don’t fully understand our point of view because they mostly drive. They aren’t regular pedestrians, bikers, or public transit-takers, so their exposure to panhandlers comes from walking to and from their parking places. Which is enough all on its own, don’t get me wrong. But those of us who walk everywhere see far more.
I walk and drive.
Alone and with 3 kids.
Sometimes with husband.
Sometimes with other people’s kids.
I have lived in Evanston since 2000 and I have seen it all.
Most Panhandling is a lifestyle and Evanston shouldn’t support it. Evanston offers plenty of services to assist homeless and those in need and should not condone begging on the street corners from panhandlers who mostly arrive from the train stop at Gigios to hit up Evanston residents. Kids ride bikes and run free in this town and its our cities duty to make sure this town feels safe to all residents and familes. Panhandling is a lifestyle, which often includes drug or alcohol issues…just use your eyes and ears, you don’t have to be an expert… The Panhandlers aren’t looking for food…let’s be real here. Say what you want…but next will be camp cities under bridges. Nip it now or it gets worse…it’s not about being sympathetic, its about not supporting Panhandling lifestyles, I say no…enforce the aggressive panhandling ordinance that already exists…there’s no good that comes from Panhandling in a town that wants a low crime-rate…period.
Can’t we distinguish between the action and the person? The rhetoric of this piece doesn’t do that, and that’s harmful. I don’t disagree with your right not to be assaulted or harassed. It may be illegal to ask for money in certain ways but you are coming for the people in this piece, and contributing to their dehumanization. And that has a real human cost, because if emboldens hostility against an already vulnerable population, thereby also deepening the problem. Even if all you want is fewer interactions, finding ways to respect their humanity is likely the only to way to create a sustainable solution. But beyond that: yes, they ARE people, whether you put it in quotation marks or not.
Dehuminization?? Wake up. This town will support anyone for any cause. If people are angry here, it’s real. Don’t add to the lack of solutions. Or let people shove you and peddle dope to your kids. Not my thing.
That has nothing to do with what I said. Dehumanizing people will make the problem worse, not better. Even if you don’t care about their humanity (which you should), nothing gets better for anyone until sustainable solutions are found. Repeatedly trying to clear people out doesn’t accomplish your goal either.
What is your solution?
Yes, great point. We need to distinguish between the action and the person.
OK, now what? Comments such as yours are so empty and devoid of any worthwhile contribution, honestly. The letter writer wrote this well articulated essay and your only contribution or response is to, quite literally, tone police her. Do you have any input or solutions besides calling out “dehumanization”?
Tone policing and these ‘gotchas’ aren’t helpful and the backlash to this type of “rhetoric” is readily apparent across the country.
Thanks for saying this. I’m absolutely with you. Evanston residents will support any underprivileged group that manages to remain invisible.
Always enjoy the further adventures of the first person singular.
Most panhandlers have addictions. Not everyone who’s homeless panhandles & not every panhandler is homeless. As a former homeless individual for several years, I never once panhandled, the only individuals that did had drug and/or alcohol issues.
The majority of individuals asking for money are not from this area, they come on the bus or El (Yes, I’ve witnessed it). Some now have taken to getting on a bus without paying, yet the driver does nothing.
An anti-loitering law would do the trick, but only if enforced.
Anti – loitering laws are now gone, IIRC they were declared unconstitutional. In the past, some police used anti – loitering statutes as a reason to harass and discriminate against law – abiding people…
Unfortunately, aside from calling the police about “harassment”, a normal person has no other legal recourse when bothered by panhandlers. And as we are now short many police officers in Evanston, something like “panhandling” is not even “on the radar” for Evanston law enforcement… it’s not a priority, unfortunately.
Thanks, Ann Marie! You are spot – on with your comments. Years ago I was homeless, and since then I’ve worked with the homeless (two stints as a case manager with Streetwise and Connections for the Homeless, plus volunteering). The VAST majority of homeless are not panhandlers, they are people looking to gain a better life, and ultimately some sense of dignity…
But the panhandlers are seeking $$$ to feed a habit, *not* because they are “hungry”. All homeless folks have LINK cards with which to buy food, and in Evanston alone much free food and full and decent meals are provided by Connections, Interfaith Evanston, and others…
Many of the Evanston panhandlers are from Chicago. Evanston is much nicer, plus you have all the naive students and the usual ” do – gooders” up here who will fall for the panhandlers’ “swindle” – that is a fact.
If you read my OP, please know that I really didn’t mean to equate homelessness with panhandling. They’re not the same, as I well know from people close to me who have experienced homelessness. It was sloppy writing, probably left over from an English teacher’s advice of “don’t repeat words, find alternatives.”
I lived in Chicago for years and dealt with the panhandling. I would always politely say I didn’t have any money to give and was never berated for that. I move here 2 years ago and was approached by a panhandler shortly thereafter. I politely said I didn’t have any money to give and was called a white b**tch. Furthermore, this person was dressed nicer than me. I give money when I can but I should never be berated for not giving.
Other municipalities had challenges during the pandemic, but none have fallen to the dismal point Evanston finds itself in now. Our downtown never had an opportunity to recover from the after effects of Covid 19 with the loss of office workers and a weak economy. Strong leadership from the mayor would and should have helped us through this. The state of the downtown is a clear indicator of his ability, or inability, to successfully govern. He cannot assess a problem before it gets out of hand and the cost is very real. Maybe he can solve math problems, but under no circumstances can he govern. This council, under Mayor Biss, has made every wrong choice for the future of Evanston. I do hope the next mayor will be able to steer us back to solid ground, unless Biss shames and manipulates residents into “reinventing themselves” into wanting to live next to the homeless, panhandlers and drug addicts and gets re-elected. Last week our friend’s lovely young daughter was cornered by three men on Oak by Davis when she went to get a small item from down the street. Who can continue to live like this? I want to live in a safe and clean place where the everyday residents, young and old, man or woman, are respected. Since when does having a home, going to work, and having a job make a person of no consequence to their elected officials? I do not want to live in a place that only caters and legislates on behalf of the downtrodden and underprivileged. They should be in social work, not in government. If this city council doesn’t change, my wife and I will most definitely be moving. I urge anyone who has commented, or who shares these views, to speak to their friends and acquaintances from within the community to consider running for office.
To be clear, the published letter is about panhandlers, not the homeless. And the panhandlers are the same, identical persons day after day after day. They appear, as far as I can tell, to have decided that this is their “job.” Clearly it must be more lucrative than getting another kind of job. But it is only more lucrative because someone in the community must be giving them money. Sadly, I have observed that some of the money comes from NU students who are harassed and guilted into giving. This is an issue that might be addressed.
If there is an indisputable consensus among these posts, it is that downtown Evanston is deteriorating.
How could this possibly be happening in “Heavenston”?
America is an economic experiment. What you are seeing is the predictable endgame. Have you ever played Monopoly and not had one person ending-up with all the money. Can Evanston mitigate the effects of panhandling? Yes, to some extent – barring the violation of anyone’s civil rights. Are the police underfunded and understaffed? Yes. And so, they are not coming to protect you Karens and Kens from mean words and discomfort. This is now the reality of our country nearly 250 years since its inception.
There are quite a few people saying “I want to live in a place I feel safe and won’t get harassed” and “Evanston has changed”; well, move. That’s what happened with the “white flight” from Chicago to the suburbs in the mid-20th century. No one is guaranteed anything in this country except change.
And, since it seems to be important to this crowd here – I grew up here, have lived in Chicago for over 25 years, and live in downtown Evanston, now. Of course it’s different than 50 years-ago. That’s life. The phony liberals in Evanston are finally being tested with reality and their true colors are showing.
Time to take down all the fraudulent lawn signs, be grateful you’re not the one panhandling, and deal with it.
Thanks for calling out Evanston’s performative progressivism and for painting a more nuanced, whole picture of the issues. I would wholeheartedly disagree with anyone who thinks that this particular problem, that of “scary panhandlers,” can ever solved by throwing more money at the police. While I’m here, I’ll also point out the baffling failure of many commenters to acknowledge the numerous effects of the (ongoing!) COVID-19 pandemic on downtown retail. You must have been busy putting up more fraudulent lawn signs while the nearby university went virtual for a whole year.
You’re spot on in some ways, but please bear in mind, the author of this letter is a working gal, not sure if she has a house to put up a please don’t smash my window sign. Healthy people who’d rather beg than work, is antipathy to working class people and just about everyone else. Condoning this and not redirecting the itinerants energies to something more productive than harassing ordinary people is what gets people like Trump elected. But a lot of people don’t understand that.
Working gal, yes. My son and I live with my parents. I pay with both money and help with the upkeep. I literally can’t afford to rent a 2 bedroom place in Evanston on what I make. I’d be rejected due to insufficient income. I’d have no trouble moving if it were just me. But I have no desire to rip my son away from his close-knit social group.
Also, lawn signs aren’t allowed where I live. But I don’t understand about the ‘fraudulent lawn signs’ – where are they? What’s on them?
At Bennison’s recently a man approached our outside table, my family, wife, two small kids. He said hello, he doesn’t mean to bother us, told us he has two daughters as well (same thing he said last time he approached me at the Ace). Then he looked at my wife and said “hi beautiful,” and then repeated again that he has two daughters. As I started to stand up he said “…that’s why I went to prison.” Not sure what he meant, but clearly not a strong filter on this guy, and I think I caught him off guard by getting out of my seat. I walked him away from my family about 10 feet and told him to leave us alone, and to not approach a family with small children again and I walked back to my family. I think when people are commenting that they are “too aggressive” they are refering to their panhandling style, not suggesting they’re violent). There is a difference between stationary panhandling (guy with a cup that says “have a blessed day” as you ignore him) and the much more active roving-the-streets-approaching-you-to-tell-you-a-story type of behavior we are talking about here. We need to punish that specific behavior. I’m sure Covid has something to do with the recent change in style, and there are folks around here with money and naive college kids around, and the CTA goes here, etc., but to me, the reason a different panhandling flavor has taken hold here is obviously because everyone is so nice and friendly, so we haven’t deterred the behavior effectively. Being a friendly community is a good problem to have, but it is still a problem. It seems it is a very small minority of folks panhandling that are over-the-top about it. Most of them don’t need to be told how to panhandle in an appropriate way. The guy on the wheelchair/scooter, and the short guy with the shoulder-length black hair (he’s my “hi beautiful” guy), both always around Bennison’s and the Ace Hardware on Davis, and I’m sure there are more specific individuals around town as well. I think these specifc people just need to be told to do it differently. I’m not being facetious when I say that. I think 99% of the people just say nothing or say “no, sorry” and walk off, so maybe they don’t realize they are being more aggressive than the panhandlers at the Jewel, for example, who are ever-present but not bothersome at all and actually seem to have a nice sense of community with each other and some of the customers. I honestly think it’s up to us to check them a bit and hold the standards for the community to you want to live in. Tell them it isn’t okay to approach you aggressively like that. I think the problem is more behavioral than political or economic, and the behavioral interaction goes both ways in terms of reinforcement/punsihment. This really ins’t the police department’s job to moderate the culture of a community. So if you haven’t told them that they are bothering you and you want them do something differently, you should try it.
The guy on the wheelchair/scooter has been around for years, if we’re thinking of the same one. He yelled at me for walking past him and followed me, cursing. I… don’t think he was in his right mind at the time. Another time, I helped this same man tie his shoe, since he does have legit mobility issues. And right after that, he asked me for money! I did give him some. That was before the cursing / following incident, though.
“This really ins’t the police department’s job to moderate the culture of a community.”
Absolutely. If it were an easy issue to solve, it would have been solved already. This is a cultural behavior problem.
“Tell them it isn’t okay to approach you aggressively like that.”
I… don’t think a woman trying to correct men’s behavior is going to be very productive. In my experience, it only yields escalation. But all 5-3 of me hardly makes for an authoritative presence in person. Maybe someone with greater stature might be more respected.
I agree with many of the above comments, especially:
1) Healthy people who’d rather beg than work, is antipathy to working class people and just about everyone else.
2) Not sure what the solution is, but the state of Evanston has impacted where I walk, where I spend money and yet I still pay over 10k in taxes for a condo in a City and pick up the broken bottles and the trash out front left by others.
There are PLENTY of services in Evanston for the homeless and hungry. Aggressive panhandlers are a completely different lot, and they have become much more numerous & aggressive since Covid began. There are regular loiterers near the parking lots downtown, so I stay away. There are crazy guys on Davis Street near the USPS. The guy in a wheelchair at Howard & Western obstructs traffic every single day and earns quite a bit as well. It IS his occupation, he lives out west, parks nearby and even has a helper. Now there are panhandlers at Main & Ridge, etc. A guy shot another guy at 4p on Thursday (?) at Dempster and Dodge. IS there no shame anywhere anymore??? Violence and aggression are WAY out of hand here.
I already do not frequent any of Evanston’s “downtowns” anymore. I used to walk all over Evanston, but I no longer feel safe to do so when by myself. I have lived here since 1997, and I too am looking to move out of Evanston.
I’m not sure I understand any of Biss and the Council’s actions or motivations, but something’s got to give.
First off I’d like to congratulate Katherine for bringing this “Evanston Sensitive” issue to the the table—-a well stated post that took courage to address—-as a city moving forward from lockdown all Evanstonians need to keep an open mind to this long running debate—-there’s no point in getting ugly or attacking others contributions here—-the panhandling is a nuisance and we have to keep an open mind toward how much impact panhandlers are having on downtown commerce and create a positive kind of downtown experience for all—-the thought of panhandlers adding some element of a unique urban experience?—-NOT!
Let’s keep in mind many need to to do some research here—-the majority of panhandlers are not homeless nor even experiencing temporary financial problems, and in certain cases we’ve seen panhandlers moved into The Orrington, The Margarita Inn and other living places many residents aren’t even aware of—-the truth shows the average panhandler is well exceeding minimum wage per day for begging—tax free!—-and there’s no shortage of various soup kitchens in town offering up meals that far surpass both nutritional quality and taste than a fair amount of non panhandling Evanstonians are having.
The panhandlers are here and will continue to stay, they are making far too serious bank to even think of leaving Evanston—-and yes, many residents have to come to grips with the facts that they are not really helping anyone nor pat themselves on the back thinking they’ve done their part in helping the homeless.
The situation shows a complex variety of people truly in need of help plus many that prefer a lifestyle of living off the grid—-and yes, some are merely preying on the generosity of those willing to feed their drug addictions—-there’s no way to categorize panhandlers into groups or best methods Evanston residents and politicians can find easy answers here, but as said I think we should be able to agree that panhandlers are a part of the problem that’s holding back what downtown Evanston can and should be, a vibrant safe and fun experience for all—-a place showing both small and large business owners can economically thrive, and draw people in from all over Chicagoland for a complete shopping, eating and entertainment experience—-this won’t be accomplished if the panhandlers stay—-there’s viable answers if the majority are willing to be open minded, and stop giving money thinking their helping, their not
Lastly—-great seeing such high volume reply here—-we need more of this feedback Evanston residents addressing city issues—-speak you mind and don’t shy away from using your name—-we have a first amendment and constitution protecting our most sacred right—-never be intimidated by those looking to cancel said rights—-and congrats again Katherine!
How people can dismiss the feelings, emotions, and experiences of others is beyond me. These are the very tools we use to determine if we want to live m and raise a family somewhere. How can a person say “If you speak nicely to them, they will be nice back”? It is astoundingly dismissive. The whole point of this woman’s article is about how deeply unpleasant Evanston has become. Safety, cleanliness, law and order have been abandoned in the name of “progressivism”. I have been spat upon while walking down Davis Street for not giving pocket change. I have seen prostitution and very mentally ill people shouting at the sky, refusing help. Like the writer, I am not excessively wealthy. I am not speaking as a person who has not had hardships. However, I totally reject another person dismissing my experience. If someone is scared, they are scared- simply put. You do not have the right to police others emotions because you may read that person as “privileged”. This is psychological terrorism. Evanstonians are masters are calling others Nimbys and liars- yes performative progressivism at its finest.
I do not wish to watch the demise of what was once an exceptional place. Kindly take your judgements elsewhere. Everyone has the right to a safe and secure home, a place that is free from unwanted solicitations, drunkenness and the front row seats to drug deals- “even” the privileged.
I’m appalled by how vile some of the statements you’ve decided to publish publicly are. If panhandlers don’t see you as human, what do you see them as? Feral animals infiltrating ‘your’ neighborhood? That’s what your language suggests. I hope your ‘mental armor’ would be strong enough should you ever have the great disfortune and bad luck as ending up on the streets of Evanston, having to beg to be recognized as human by a heartless Karen (Katherine*) like you.
Wow, “Vile”? I’m really not sure the original poster was vile at all, just expressing frustrations that anyone who lives or shops in downtown Evanston is familiar with.
This is absurd! Unfortunately we live in a society that has a certain amount of brutality. People slip through the cracks and fall into unfortunate circumstances. The fact that you prioritize your neurotic fear of someone asking you for help over the very real trauma and pain that the average person who panhandles has says a lot. I’m surprised because not once is the question posited if there is a root cause? Maybe there’s a housing crisis, maybe inflation is out of control, maybe getting by is harder than it’s ever been? Instead of complaining and writing an article essentially wishing that these people would disappear you could trace the root of the issue and try to address some of the societal problems that push people into dire circumstances.
Sorry Daniel B, but you are conflating 2 issues. One is triage, and the other is root cause. Being aggressively confronted and feeling unsafe requires immediate solutions, i.e. triage. We can study root cause at the same time, but root cause will not solve anything in the present tense. Until you have been put in a position of feeling threatened/unsafe and often times in broad daylight, then basically you are just an armchair expert theorizing on something you know nothing about.
“This is an everyday experience around here, and I’ve had enough.” Wow, it’s almost like you live in a suburban city with a sizable population that’s only growing. With any city that has a population the size of Evanston, there will be poverty, there will be homelessness, there will be people asking for money. If they are treated with dignity and respect, and not gawked at and ostracized, maybe something will be done to benefit them, and in turn the city as a whole, and not have people complain on forums without anything being done. Yes, panhandling is a problem, but you are highlighting the wrong part. Why should anybody have to panhandle, beg for money on the street, when we live in a well funded, supposedly caring and progressive city? It seems to me like the government isn’t actually doing much of anything to help the panhandlers in this city, lots of which are homeless, and this letter isn’t helping them, demonizing them and acting like they have no place in a city like Evanston!
You complain about the panhandlers not seeing you as a person, but how would you know that seeing as you very confidently described your way of avoiding any type of interaction with them at all? By the way you wrote that, it seems like you don’t see them as people either, just as burdens on our nice suburban city character. Complain about how our taxes are being spent and see if there’s anything that can be reallocated to subsidized housing or more quality shelters. Not the people obviously struggling, because that will do absolutely nothing for anybody, but just make their lives worse.
One, two, three admonishers in a row. Quite a salvo!
Looks like the panhandlers cavalry has arrived.
“Why should anybody have to panhandle, beg for money on the street, when we live in a well funded, supposedly caring and progressive city?” A: They don’t have to. They choose to. As explained, it pays better than working a straight job.
From the director of Albany Care “We had seven repeat offender panhandlers” staying at Albany Care, Marquis noted. But after coming up with social service support for those clients, Marquis added, “we’re now down to two.”
The point of the panhandler signs that were recently taken down were to give to social services if you want to help and NOT give out cash gifts because you are perpetuating the problem of panhandling and enabling those with drug and alcohol problems. That not helping anyone
Wow, it’s almost like you live in a suburban city with a sizable population that’s only growing and STILL EXPECT to have a clean and safe experience where they choose to live! Imagine that!
1. Multiple people have stated that they avoid shopping in Downtown Evanston
2. Multiple people have stated that they have moved or intend to move out of Evanston
Whatever your reasons for criticizing, these are facts that cannot be disputed. You can continue to berate people for their “lack of compassion.” In the end, the City will ultimately decline and suffer because of moralistic virtue signalers silencing them. How people spend their money will ultimately speak what the councilmembers and Mayor Biss are refusing to hear.
I moved away from Evanston kicking and screaming in 2014 and I vowed to one day move back. But I was taken aback by the changes I saw recently. At first I assumed it was due to Covid. Was surprised to hear from friends that remain that the problems began well before Covid. Panhandling is a large problem that makes the city appear unsafe, dirty, etc.
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