by Dawn Stary
In September, a patron was fatally wounded while leaving a bar in the Flats. Prior to the event all seemed peaceful in the area, but since then many questions have been raised. Many patrons are asking, "Are the Flats safe to travel? And, are the panhandlers potentially dangerous?"
Was this an isolated incident or is it truly dangerous down there?
News reports sensationalized the incident by blaming all panhandlers and blurring the lines between the homeless and panhandlers. Businesses posted signs of warning, which created concern among the partygoers that frequented the bars in the Flats.
The amount of media attention to the story exaggerated the problem. When asked, one manager of a bar in the Flats, said that in the last two years she has heard only two complaints about a panhandler.
She went on to say that they were "regulars" in the Flats who came around looking for food, but were turned down. The panhandlers did not become violent or try to start a fight. They quietly left the bar. She said that they may have come back, but they did not hassle anyone.
The homeless and panhandlers are feeling the brunt of the issue. Once it was peaceful to exist in the Flats, but now people are frightened. The homeless are not being harassed by customers except the occasionally the younger people flinging off color comments.
Some of the homeless have decided to leave the area and have moved to other places.
One Grapevine vendor summarized why bars and officials were so eager to push the homeless out of the Flats. He said that people are frightened by strangers, and the homeless and panhandlers do not fit the image of the area.
The homeless make people uncomfortable in a place where they come to have a good time. That is why they don't want the homeless in the Flats according to one vendor of the Grapevine who wanted to remain anonymous.
Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine published January – February 1996 Issue 13