113.4 Panhandling and information acquisition in Miami

Wednesday, August 1, 2012: 1:15 PM
Faculty of Economics, TBA
Oral Presentation
Tiffanie STEWART , Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work, Florida International University, Miami, FL
Panhandling and street vendors are often used to describe socio-economic conditions in the less and least developed regions of the world.  It is not frequently considered as an activity that characterizes urban life in the developed world; yet many urban residents in the developed world routinely experience one or another style of panhandling on a daily basis. A common development in urban areas, panhandling continues to increase with the economic downturn, impacting major cities suffering from high rates of unemployment.  This is particularly the case for Miami, a city which has greatly experienced the present global downturn manifested in high unemployment as well as a high home foreclosure rate.  As the panhandling trend continues to increase in highly visible areas of the city, their presence has led to modifications and expansions of anti-panhandling laws, however the changes in legislation are not always disseminated to the panhandling community. The consequences of breaking the laws include being arrested, fined, or imprisoned, thus it is important for the panhandling community to understand their rights and restrictions; yet many remain uniformed and vulnerable to imprisonment and fines. To understand the ways by which panhandlers obtain information about laws and resources an ethnographic study was conducted in which panhandlers were observed at two popular panhandling sites in Miami-Dade. The observations indicated that a social hierarchy existed among panhandlers and brief interviews revealed that those higher in the hierarchy tended to be more knowledgeable about community resources and laws and had improved self-efficacy. Recurring themes of drug use, mental health, self-shame, and mistrust of philanthropic agencies emerged as important factors in homelessness among panhandlers. It would be beneficial to explore these relationships in detail in order to determine effective ways to disseminate information among panhandlers which could lead to increased self-efficacy and perhaps lifestyle changes.