Citing riders' complaints about subway panhandlers, Transit Authority officials on Monday announced a new crackdown featuring a public-relations campaign that asks straphangers to help drive beggars out of the trains by refusing to give them money.
"We think it's largely a supply-and-demand issue," the Transit Authority president, Alan F. Kiepper, said at a news conference. "If people stop giving in subways," he said, panhandlers will "go elsewhere and get treatment" or the other social services they need.Transit officials said the transit police would also begin arresting people who are repeatedly caught begging on the trains. They could face up to 10 days in jail.
Advocates for the homeless called the plan cruel and unlikely to succeed. But it seems to reflect a nationwide trend of taking a harder line toward the homeless, as well as the conflict, even within social-service advocates, over whether handouts ultimately help or hurt homeless people.
A report issued last month by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty said cities were increasingly enacting and enforcing anti-vagrancy and anti-panhandling laws.
In Manhattan, an Upper West Side community group recently started a program called West Side Cares to prevent panhandlers from using donations for drugs or alcohol. Like programs popular in a dozen other cities, it has established a system of vouchers redeemable for food or personal items that people can give panhandlers instead of money.
Mayor Rudolph Giuliani backs the plan, a spokesman said.