They are everywhere.
Since Lexington did away with a city ordinance banning beggars, they have popped up on every street corner. According to multiple news sources, people are driving into Lexington from surrounding counties to beg and take advantage of the ordinance repeal. Signs read things like, “Hard times. Anything Helps. God Bless!”
You even see some, like the guy in the picture above I took, using a smartphone hidden behind his sign.
These people create a major moral dilemma because on one hand, we all want to give to the needy. On the other hand, we realize that people are liars and most of the sob stories are probably untrue.
Some people are wondering why it’s legal for people to stand and beg. Well, not only is it legal, it’s a good thing that it is.
The ordinance that prevented people from begging was a direct violation of the First Amendment. People should be allowed to stand on a public street corner and hold whatever sign they want. This is called liberty and this is a good thing.
But how do we stop it? How do we control this eyesore that is spreading like weeds across Lexington’s sidewalks? How do we make sure the poor are taken care of and the frauds are repelled?
To get people to stop engaging in a certain behavior, you have to remove the incentive. To get people to stop begging for money, we have to stop giving them money and giving them a reason to beg.
I know how tempting it is to want to give people money when they seem like they’re in need. If you have any moral fiber about you, you want to give them a little something to remind them you see them as a person.
The truth is, the city of Lexington has resources for people that truly need help. Mayor Jim Gray, whom I mostly support despite his liberal ideology, gave great detail about Lexington’s homeless initiative in a press conference the other day.
On Tuesday, he introduced the city’s newest tool to combat the panhandlers and deter the fakers from taking advantage of generosity.
Ronald Reagan famously once said, “The best social welfare program is a job.” Mayor Gray has announced a new program called “Lex Gives,” a van that will drive around the city and offer easy work to panhandlers for pay.
How genius is that? The people that are making the city dirty will start cleaning it up, and get access to what they’re begging for at the same time!
I know the obvious here, I’m a conservative so why am I supporting a social program like this? Aren’t I anti-government?
Well, the first point I’d like to make is that no, I’m not totally anti-government, particularly locally. I’m anti-big government. I actually do believe the government has a role in taking care of people who truly can’t support themselves like the mentally or physically disabled.
There is a world of difference between a local city government making decisions about its own people and the federal government making sweeping decisions for people all over. City and local governments are much easier to hold accountable. If they do something the people don’t like, it is much easier for the people to express disapproval and make a change.
The second point is, by using donation money to fund the pay and requiring the panhandlers to work to earn the money, there is no handout element. These people will have to work for the money they need, just as you and I do. There is no government takeover of anything. It is simply a voluntary-participant government program that allocates resources.
The final point is, this shows what happens when government officials think in terms of business and accountability. Mayo Gray has grown a very successful construction business here in Lexington. As mayor, he has used his business sense to get Lexington’s budget under control, clean the city up, encourage development and growth and now use a creative program to combat a problem that many people have no answers for.
So here’s to you, Mayor Gray, for running my city like an efficient business and making me even more proud than I’ve ever been to call it home.