“If I have a couple of cents, I might give it [to some panhandler], but most of the time I don’t, ’cause they’re so annoying,” University of Wisconsin student Aaron Rischall said as he walked down State Street.
A significant number of students face panhandlers every time they walk down State Street, and for many, it has become a large problem.
Tuyen Ngo, a UW medical student, is experiencing his first semester here at the university, but he has already heard of the problems that panhandling causes on State Street.
“It’s bad . . . some of my friends who live right on Langdon are afraid to go out and drink because they don’t feel safe walking on State Street,” Ngo said.
“They probably buy alcohol with the money they get anyway,” said UW senior Sue Mui. “When you go up to them, you can smell the stench of alcohol coming right off of them.”
Both Ngo and Mui agree swift action should be taken with regard to the problem. “People shouldn’t have to [feel scared],” Ngo said.
Many students on campus agree the panhandling situation seems to have gotten out of control, but there are also students who feel all the things that happen on State Street create a special atmosphere that is unique to Madison. Freshman Jennifer Barman feels panhandling adds to the excitement of Madison’s downtown.
“Of course the annoying [panhandlers] get on your nerves, but panhandling on State Street adds so much to the environment,” said Barman.
She believes unless the people panhandling for money are acting in a harassing or aggressive manner, no real harm is being done.
Whether harm is being done or not, action will be taken against aggressive panhandlers, according to Madison city officials.
In response to what seems to be the greatest concentration of panhandlers in recent memory, city officials, including police chief Richard Williams; Mayor Sue Bauman; Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4; Susan Schmitz, president of Downtown Madison Inc.; and Enis Ragland, Mayor Bauman’s chief of staff, met Sept. 6 to discuss the ongoing issue of panhandling in the downtown area.
“Our goal is to try to reduce the amount of panhandling overall,” said Verveer, who thinks putting a stop to the panhandling situation would be a positive step for Madison. Madison officials plan to form a committee that will delve into the panhandling issue.
UW student Danny Khalastchi hopes the committee will get underway sooner than later.
“They make a lot of people, including myself, feel uncomfortable sometimes, especially late at night when you are on a street by yourself,” Khalastchi said.
“I try to ignore them, because I never know what they really want.”
Above all, Khalastchi stresses that dealing with panhandlers comes down to an issue of avoiding potential confrontation.
“I feel bad for people down on their luck, but it’s a safety issue.”