Northampton study soliciting answers on panhandling

(Western Mass News photo)

Northampton's mayor is taking a very different approach in tackling the long disputed issue of panhandling in the city.

Mayor David Narkewicz has released a new survey asking some very pointed questions that has generated some very heated responses.

The questions in the survey have a lot of people talking. They range from: "Do you support back-to-work programs for the homeless?" to "Should the city ban panhandling all together?"

Panhandling in Northampton is an issue the city has grappled with for years.

Narkewicz and a group including local social service agencies, police, and downtown business owners created a new on-line survey to address panhandling.

It went live two days ago.

"In less than 48 hours, we've had 2,400-plus people take the survey, so it's definitely sparked the attention of folks," Narkewicz explained.

Available on the city's Facebook page and website, 42 questions ask residents and visitors about their downtown experience.

"Some people think it's a good study. Some people think its the worst study they've ever seen and I think that's exactly what we wanted. We tried to write it in a general way and some of the questions are provocative, but they're meant to be that way," Narkewicz said.

Western Mass News took a look at the questions, including "Should panhandling be banned?" and "Should downtown businesses and non-profits provide short-term jobs to panhandlers?"

"Citizens have sent me a Facebook post about a mayor in Albuquerque, New Mexico who started a work program for panhandlers, that might be a great idea," Narkewicz explained.

The survey includes other questions including "Should job counseling and placement services be offered?" and "Should high school equivalency be available?".

"I know people have already reacted that this is somehow an attack on panhandlers or whatever it is. That's not my intention. This is really research and I'm trying to do it in a thoughtful way," Narkewicz added.

The survey is also including those considered most affected.

"We've actually done surveys of panhandlers themselves and gone out and met with them to try to understand who they are, where they come from, and some of the reasons why they panhandle," Narkewicz said.

The idea is to collect as much opinion and data as possible by the May 2 deadline.

Narkewicz said that he hopes to have a report on the survey and possible solutions taken from it by this summer.

Copyright 2018 Western Mass News (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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